Even some of the sessions that were made after the Liberty Records buyout of 1966 are worthy additions.
Since I am not at all a purist, I don't mind mixing in a few commercial organ jazz records, or some from the avant-garde.
I like many sub-genres of jazz, and have absolutely zero problem including albums from Brother Jack McDuff and Candido Camero, and placing them along side traditional modern jazz classics from Eric Dolphy, Dexter Gordon, and John Coltrane.
Here's my list:
Eric Dolphy: Out to Lunch
Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch is the perfect example of chamber jazz. It is avant-garde, and high brow to say the least. Dolphy's only record for Blue Note, and it was his best.
Out to Lunch is one of the best, and most unusual album recorded for the at the time predominately hard bop jazz label.
Other artists like Jackie McLean, Cecil Taylor, and Granchan Moncur III also pushed the envelope further into free-jazz territory throughout the decade.
If ever there were an album that demands repeat listens, this is it! Out to Lunch is structured and composed, and not the "over blowing cliche," that the genre is sometimes known for.
For me, other than Dolphy, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson is the real standout, his icy hot delivery matches perfectly, bouncing around the music, he melds together with Dolphy really well.
I have been into jazz since about 1997, I remember the first time I heard "Straight Up and Down": I thought, "Man this is some crazy stuff".
The track sounds like a drunk person stumbling down the street. After a dozen listens or so, you begin to acquire the taste for Dolphy's seemingly out of key playing. Like Monk's style before Dolphy, I suppose it takes us a while to get it?
Out to Lunch is easily one of the greatest modern jazz albums of all time, if not the greatest, right up there with Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz, and John Coltrane's Ascension. Unlike those albums. Out to Lunch sounds more structured and composed than they do. Free jazz is another genre you might want to explore.
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Moanin'
I love Benny Golson, he's the star of the show on this self titled Jazz Messengers album nicknamed Moanin'. Benny gets forgotten sometimes when mentioning the best jazz composers and saxophonists.
His compositions "Blues March", "Along Came Betty", "Are You Real", and "Drum Thunder Suit", easily make this well rounded album a cut above an ordinary hard bop album.
The most famous tune, "Moanin'" for which the nickname comes from, is one of the greatest themes of post WWII jazz too. "Moanin'" is pianist Bobby Timmons' composition. My favorite track on the album is "Along Came Betty".
Betty must have been one fine lookin' lady that's for sure. The other Golson tracks are also very good, "Blues March" and "Drum Thunder Suite" really had some hard bop power to balance out the softer standards.
Benny Golson is the man, and I think he his underrated as a player and composer. If you like Moanin', you must check out Lee Morgan's Volume 3 as well.
Wayne Shorter: Speak No Evil
Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil is one of the greatest examples of hard bop and modal jazz coming together to make a complex, yet accessible album.
The Subtlety of side men Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Ron Carter on bass, Herbie Hancock on piano, and Elvin Jones on drums may surprise you, as these usually dominate musicians, "especially Hubbard" really fade into the mix in a good way.
I wonder if any old session band could have done the same job? Wayne is the show here, everything sounds like him, the sensitivity of the accompaniment to his personality astounds me. Shorter should have received a medal for taming the usually brash and brassy tone of Hubbard.
While composing the music, Shorter stated in the Liner notes that he had visions of fairy tales, and misty landscapes with out-of-focus figures standing in the background.
The title track and "Which Hunt" are the highlights in my mind. The themes, and their sing along quality stand out to me the most. Speak No Evil has influenced nearly every jazz musician the past 50 years.
Johnny Coles: Little Johnny C.
Duke Pearson composed 5 of the 6 compositions on Little Johnny C. Pearson essentially serves as the leader of the date.
The band delivers the goods on this date, Joe Henderson on tenor, Leo Wright on alto and flute, Pearson on piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass, and Johnny Coles on trumpet.
This band really plays with fire on the date, turning these Pearson compositions into something special, Coles has very brittle tone, that sort of reminds me of Miles Davis in his early days.
Duke Pearson shows up a lot on the best Blue Note Dates of the 60's, as he was the musical director for the label after Ike Quebec passed away in January of 1963.
Duke appeared as a side man on many sessions, including, Donald Byrd's Fuego from 1959, and Byrd's Electric Byrd from 1970, he also arranged a Huge Donal Byrd hit "Christo Redemptor". Check out Little Johnny C. for yourself.
Andrew Hill: Dance With Death
Dance with Death was made in 1968, but was not released until 1979. Who knows why?
Andrew Had all kinds of great music resting in the vault, some of it not released until 2003, with Passing Ships, and the extremely entertaining Andrew Hill Mosaic Select #16 Box.
I suppose one of the many sessions that got lost in the shuffle in during the late 60's shakeup after founder Alfred Lion Sold Blue Note to Liberty Records. EMI Capitol owns the label in 2013.
Instrumentalist Joe Farrell, an underrated player in his own right, shines brightly on Dance With Death. I love "Yellow Violet", the Melody is exotically intoxicating. Hyperbole aside, Dance With Death is one Andrew Hill's best.
John Coltrane: Blue Train
John Coltrane's lone session for Blue Note Blue Train couldn't be better, one of the quintessential hard bop albums of all time.
Yeah I know it should be in the top 5, but that would be so cliche, and honestly Other than the title track, its a bit derivative in my opinion.
Trumpeter Lee Morgan and trombonist Curtis Fuller add front line support and deliver one of the most memorable themes "on the title track" in jazz history. Tracks like "Lazy Bird" and "Locomotion" are worth hearing, I don't think anything matches the power of the title track.
Brother Jack McDuff: Moon Rappin'
"Brother Jack" was one of the many Hammond organists on the Blue Note roster in the Mid to Late 60's. Moon Rappin' is one of his best.
Ironically their most prized organist Jimmy Smith, Left for Verve in the early 60's, to do a more commercial sounding style that actually became the rule rather than the exception for the label after the Liberty buy out in the mid 60's.
Moon Rappin' is not what I would consider a dance album or anything, it does have some grooving on it for sure, but the atmospheric embellishments add a real serious modern jazz vibe as well as a touch of psychedelia.
Moon Rappin' starts of with "Flat Backin" a 10 minute track that has a nice opening bass groove then turns into a straight ahead large band jazz number then back again.
"Oblighetto" starts of with the aforementioned psychedelic elements, complete with age of Aquarius style female back ground vocals, then turns into a gut bucket grits and gravy soul jazz workout.
The Combo of Jazz and funk is startling on Moon Rappin', and that is what I enjoy the most about it. The CD version here actually sounds as good as the Vinyl copy I have, the bass doesn't sound distorted at all, only a natural fat bottom end.
There is whole lot of soul-jazz rare grooves out there to discover on Blue Note and else where for that matter.
Beautiful is easily one of the best Latin funk fusion style albums I have ever heard, vinyl copies still bring a pretty decent price too. Yeah this a groovin' dance album, with a bunch of reworked pop standards.
Richie Haven's "I'm on my Way", Steve Cropper's "Tic-Tac-Toe", Joe Garlands 'Serenade to a Savage" and Jerry Butler's " Hey, Western Union Man" are 4 fantastic Latin funk send ups.
Beautiful is one of those albums that really works well while exercising, or out on a long country drive.
The heavy bass grooves and Candido's congas deliver an irresistible combination of Afro Cuban jazz and funk.
Joe Grimm offers some tasty down and dirty sax playing, and guitarist David Spinoza gives us some nice bluesy licks to round out that Saturday night feel of the album. Beautiful is a party album pure and simple.
Herbie Hancock: Speak Like a Child
I consider Speak Like a Child to be Herbie Hancock's best Blue Note album among many classics, I really think the arrangements for the sextet are just gorgeous.
Herbie, along with Ron Carter on bass, Mickey Roker on drums, and a trio of Jerry Dodgion on alto flute, the great Thad Jones on flugelhorn, and Peter Philips on bass trombone make the music sound twice as a big as the band playing the music is.
The album was recorded around the same time that his stint with Miles Davis Ended, and he was about to go in a more rock and funk direction. Herbie had not released an album on Blue Note in almost 3 years.
Speak like a child worked out pretty good for Herbie, really showed a maturity from his last masterpiece Maiden Voyage. Herbie mentioned he wanted a more positive sounding album, with a real swinging feel.
Speak Like a Child is a very colorful album, the music has an enigmatic quality to it, feels like a real concept album. I also hear a bit of Gil Evans' influence, probably more through Miles than anything else.
The Title Track, and "Riot" went on to be standards, also the Ron Carter Composition "First Trip" is interesting, Herbie stated: "" it has the kind of progression that goes in and out of the traditional dividing lines."
Herbie really built a solid book of fantastic albums on Blue Note, all of them are worthy of having in your collection. Soon Herbie would form the Mwandishi band, and really ramp up the funk and experimental rock element.
Cecil Taylor: Conquistador
Pianist Cecil Taylor is not subtle, his style is percussive and in your face. His music is an acquired taste, if you come from a traditional jazz listening background, Cecil will probably be nails on a chalk board.
Conquistador is an album very unusual for Blue Note, seems like only a handful of free jazz style albums were ever recorded. Ironically though, those seem to end up being classics in the genre, Conquistador is no different.
After Conquistador was recorded in October of 1966, Cecil would not be recorded in the studio again until 1973.
This recording should be of a particular interest to free jazz fans.
I really don't know how to describe this music, as it's not something you have a frame of reference for, as it really isn't jazz, it isn't classical music, but it feels more like avant-garde chamber music to me.
Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder
The Sidewinder was a smash hit, and the title track actually landed on the top 100 pop charts, Lee Morgan would never have a bigger hit, and the title track was worthy of the jazz tradition as well.
The Rest of the album isn't quite as commercial, but for jazz fans, that is no problem, as the music is advanced hard bop. Guess what? Joe Henderson pops up here too, the saxophonist sure shows up a lot on these classic 60's Blue Note sessions.
Donald Byrd: Free Form
Free Form recorded in 1961 is trumpeter Donald Byrd's best pure jazz album, elements of hard bop, modal and the avant-garde show up on this versatile recording.
Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock offer support on tenor sax and piano respectively, Donald Byrd really displays a singular voice on Free Form. Byrd would be off to commercial funk jazz soon enough.
Free Form is definitely not your generic hard-bop date by any means. Wayne Shorter on tenor, Herbie Hancock on Piano, Butch Warren on bass, and Billy Higgins on Drums offer fine advanced playing that is quite frankly very underrated.
Larry Young: Unity
Larry Young might be the most important Hammond organ player besides Jimmy Smith in jazz history, Larry plays it completely different than Smith, with an eye for the avant-garde.
Larry Young was the first organist to be influenced by the the John Coltrane quartet of the mid 60's.
Unity features criminally underrated trumpeter Woody Shaw, Shaw brings 3 compositions to the album, "Zoltan", "The Moontrane, and "Beyond all Limits". The first two have become standards.
Young's organ has a vibe that is hard to pin down, sort of misty or foggy sounding, enigmatic I suppose, he certainly doesn't sound like Jimmy Smith in the least.
Unity is one of my favorite Blue Notes of all time. Woody Shaw on trumpet, Joe Henderson, on tenor, and Elvin Jones on the drums make this quite frankly a legendary post bop date.
Freddie Hubbard: Breaking Point
Freddie Hubbard had so many great Blue Notes, like many on this list, it is hard to chose a favorite. "Far Away" is my favorite Hubbard track, with its Middle Eastern vibe, and sweet James Spaulding flute playing, it is hard to beat. "D Minor Mint" is a close second.
The Breaking Point in the title might have to do with the champions of the avant garde who partake, Spaulding and drummer Joe Chambers, with the drummer being a fantastically sensitive player.
You can check more of Chambers out on Vibist Bobby Hutcherson's Blue Note album Components, where he composes half of the album.
Duke Pearson: Introducing Duke Pearson's Big Band
Duke Pearson, the house arranger for Blue Note after the death of Ike Quebec in 1963 delivers one of the few big band dates for the label. Lew Tabakin and Frank Foster shine brightly with their own solo voices.
Introducing Duke Pearson's Big Band shows a lot of creativity in the arrangements, personally I like "New Girl" the best. All the arrangements are unpredictable and very creative, the band is tight and plays at top levels.
Lee Morgan Vol. 3
Lee Morgan's Vol. 3 album for the label, and a fine hard bop date at that. Benny Golson, like on Blakey's Moanin, contributes considerably to the album, this time, composing the entire album.
Golson offers some fine tenor and flute playing on many exotic themes woven into the classic hard bop style.
Over the years I have really grown to appreciate Benny Golson, you never hear him mentioned as an all time great. but I assure you he is, an I am mentioning it now.
Hank Mobley: Soul Station
One of the best saxophone quartet sessions of any label in the 1960's. Hank Mobley played a bit with Miles Davis in between Coltrane and George Coleman. Mobley for some reason sounds over his head with Davis.
Mobley is in complete command on his own Blue Note albums however, pllaying with a very interesting sax tone. Mobley's own tunes always please the ear with his ingenious melodies.
On Soul Station Hank is out in front, large and in charge, playing confidently. You need this record, or any other 50's and 60's Mobley Blue Note in your collection.
Dexter Gordon: One Flight Up
No saxophonist can milk a ballad like Dexter Gordon, he just toys with your emotions, and then lets you down gently. Dex speaks the unadulterated truth, his smokey tenor sax tone pares best with dimmed lights, an Ashton cigar, and your favorite Kentucky Bourbon.
"Darn That Dream" is worth the price of the album alone, just hearing this example of ballad mastery is enough to warrant the purchase. But it is side one, and my single favorite Blue Note performance of all time that puts One Flight Up in my top spot.
"Tanya", 17 minutes of hard bop mastery, is Trumpeter Donald Byrd's greatest composition This Dexter Gordon version is the definitive rendition, Byrd offers one of his best solos on record as well on the track. For me, the tune just sounds like Blue Note in a nutshell, It is as if every note ever played for the label is summed up on this one epic composition.
Dexter would go on to record "Tanya" again in the mid 70's, this time without a trumpet companion. Gordon's tenor-sax tone is even more mature on this recording, if that's possible? Dexter's tone is the most mature and honest tone I have ever heard.