A New Documentary Explores the History of Blue Note Records

Sophie Huber’s Film Traces a Musical Legacy From Miles Davis to Kendrick Lamar

Blue Note: Beyond the Notes
"Blue Note: Beyond the Notes" opens this month in New York and Santa Monica.
Blue Note Records/Mira Film GmbH
By Tobias Carroll / June 16, 2019 12:42 pm

Founded in 1939, Blue Note Records helped establish the sound of jazz for generations of listeners. The label’s influence went beyond that: the designs of many of the albums the label released have become as recognizable and acclaimed as the music heard on those records.

Now, a new documentary from filmmaker Sophie Huber delves deeply into the label’s history — and demonstrates how Blue Note’s influence extends far beyond the jazz community.

As noted jazz writer Nate Chinen puts it in his exploration of Huber’s film for NPR, Blue Note: Beyond the Notes was produced by the label in celebration of their 80th anniversary. Chinen argues convincingly that the project’s origins are quickly eclipsed by the quality of the film itself. Though the film’s focus is on jazz, its themes are weighty and ambitious:

With a brief collage of artist voices, a few larger ideas are introduced, if not fully fleshed out: how a reverence for the past can cohabit with a compulsion to push forward; how the legacy of the label contains an inherent call to innovation; how the artistic imperative impels a response to the human condition.

Huber is no stranger to iconic artists: her previous film was the acclaimed 2013 documentary Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction, a portrait of the actor’s long and impressive career.

The musicians interviewed for the documentary include legendary figures like Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Huber also explores Blue Note’s influence on music beyond jazz per se, including interviews with A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and producer Terrace Martin, who discusses his work on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.

Fascinating subjects, great music, and amazing style — it’s a welcome reminder of why Blue Note has mattered so much to so many people.

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