Alfred Lion in his United States Army Uniform, 1942

Alfred Lion in his United States Army Uniform, 1942

Alfred Lion


Alfred Lion immigrated to the United States in 1936 and went on to found one of the world’s foremost jazz record labels, Blue Note Records with his longtime friend Francis Wolff.


As a teen in Berlin, Alfred Lion (born April 21, 1908 in Berlin, Germany; died February 2, 1987 in Poway, CA) discovered his calling: jazz. But Germany in the 1920s and 1930s was a risky time for a Jew, particularly one who was passionate about a musical genre banned by his government. In 1936 Alfred Lion immigrated to the United States. Three years after making New York City his American home, he founded one of the world’s foremost jazz record labels, Blue Note Records. He soon was joined in the venture by longtime German friend Francis Wolff, who shared with Lion a passion for music dating back to their teenage years in Berlin. Alfred Lion had a particularly acute sense for the recording industry: he built Blue Note into a label with a reputation for excellence. Lion and Wolff were key figures in defining jazz’s hard bop and soul jazz scenes, and they fostered the early careers of musical visionaries like Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. As Lion’s behind-the-scenes partner, Francis Wolff is best known for his iconic candid photographs of Blue Note musicians, usually captured during recording sessions. Wolff’s sensitive and evocative images were significant to Blue Note’s marketing strategy, creating a branded identity of jazz as hip and cool. The use of Wolff’s photos as album cover graphics also broke through a racially-stereotyped portrayal of the African American jazz musician that had predominated the media during the first half of the twentieth century. Through Blue Note Records, Lion and Wolff helped shape the world’s musical, social and cultural direction from the mid- to the late-twentieth century. Today a new generation of jazz aficionados has rediscovered Blue Note, with many of Lion’s vintage recordings enjoying recent reissues.

Early Memories of Music: Establishing a Lifelong Passion

Born on April 21, 1908, Alfred Walter Lion lived on Unter den Linden, a grand boulevard in the fashionable and intellectual Mitte district of Berlin, Germany. His mother Margarite[1] was a beautiful Berlin socialite, and his father was a businessman who traveled between Germany and Russia. Young Alfred spent much of his adolescence at private boarding schools.[2] One of Alfred’s early memories was of a family excursion that serves as a glimpse of his future career. Alfred was five years old, and the family was vacationing at a summer resort. Each night during their stay, Alfred would sneak out of bed and go down to the stage entrance of the resort’s ballroom to watch his parents dance. The musicians in the band let him hang out in the orchestra pit during the performances.[3] Later as an adult, this joyful memory would play out countless times as he sat transfixed in the recording studios of Blue Note records.

Alfred’s early music preferences were inspired from recordings he acquired of American blues belters like Ma Rainey (ca. 1886-1939) and Bessie Smith (1894-1937). He found a kindred spirit for his musical tastes when, at the age of fourteen, he met Francis Wolff (1907-1971), who would later become his Blue Note business partner. Francis, or Frank, was born in Berlin on April 6, 1907 and lived in Alfred’s neighborhood. Frank’s father was a university professor. His mother, part of Berlin’s Bohemian scene, helped shape Frank’s sense of modernist aesthetics that developed into personal interests in photography and music.[4] Frank and Alfred forged a lifelong bond through their love of music.

With Berlin of the 1920s serving as a hub for touring performers, the city was the ideal place to nurture a growing interest in music. Alfred was particularly energized when he attended a May 1925 performance of pianist Sam Wooding and his eleven-piece band. Wooding (1895-1985) appeared with the Chocolate Kiddies revue, an African American vaudeville/jazz act that performed at Theater am Admiralspalast in the Mitte district of Berlin. Following Wooding’s successful tour, a wave of African American artists began touring Europe. Alfred recalled meeting one of those musicians a few years later[5] when his mother Margarite introduced him to Sidney Bechet (1897-1959), an American soprano saxophonist who would later record Blue Note Record’s first hit. Bechet was booked at the Haus Vaterland, a five-story complex of themed cabarets in downtown Berlin on the southwest side of Potsdamer Platz. Alfred and his mother found Bechet performing in the American-themed Wild West Bar.[6] Throughout the 1920s, African American jazz musicians were in popular demand in Europe, particularly in decadent venues like the Haus Vaterland.

Jazz at the time had an aura of amorality and freedom from inhibitions that was appealing to many German citizens, whose activities were increasingly being monitored and controlled by government authorities. During America’s Prohibition Era (1920-1933), jazz built up an underground popularity in the U.S. as well, as entertainment at illegal speakeasies where bootleg liquor was served. Many of these were located in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, home to a large African American population. Here, white audiences looking for bootleg alcohol were introduced to jazz, an American-born musical genre that was derived from early African American slave spirituals.[7] As the popularity of jazz grew in the U.S., jazz musicians found a new market for their records in Europe and began setting up tour dates in cosmopolitan cities like Berlin.[8]

Jazz in Berlin during the mid- to late-1920s had a strong following in the urban middle class youth market, of which Alfred Lion and his friend Frank Wolff were a part. German teens viewed jazz as a symbol of independence, nonconformity and rebellion against repression. The German National Socialists, however, viewed jazz—with its African American origins—as a threat against Aryan supremacy.[9] In April 1930, Wilhelm Frick, German interior minister, published a racist media campaign, “Ordinance Against Negro Culture,” a proclamation opposing African American Music and Jewish jazz musicians, marking jazz as vulgar and dangerous . Three years later Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels established the Reichsmusikkammer (RMK), or Reich Music Chamber, restricting the performance and broadcast of non-German music, including American-born jazz. The censorship against jazz was aimed primarily at the country’s teens, known as Swing Youth or Swing-Jugend, who defied the government. They sought out underground jazz in forbidden Hot Clubs, organizations that shared records and music reviews with members. Their defiant pursuit of jazz often came at a price: Swing Youth regularly were rounded up, arrested and sent to Nazi prison or war camps. As the war progressed, the Nazi authorities tried to infiltrate this subculture by broadcasting their own jazz performances designed to win over the youth subculture.[10]

Amid these political developments, Alfred and Frank continued their passion for jazz. With disregard for the anti-jazz propaganda campaign, Frank formed the Hot Club of Berlin in 1934. But as Jews, Alfred and Frank also were aware of the country’s growing anti-Semitic sentiments, and Alfred looked for an opportunity to leave. In 1926, at the age of eighteen, he had lived briefly in the United States. With little money and only a slight knowledge of English, he took a job in New York City loading trucks on the city’s shipping docks. During his free time he would visit record stores to supplement his growing collection of jazz records. The docks of New York were a notoriously dangerous work environment, and while on the job one day Alfred was attacked by a dockworker who disliked immigrant labor. Alfred was severely injured and required hospitalization. Upon his release he returned to Germany, where he found work with an export company. In 1933 he moved with his mother Margarite to Santiago, Chile, taking odd jobs, even working for a while as a lobster fisherman and on a tramp steamer.[11] Three years later, in January of 1936, he moved again, this time permanently to New York City. He found a job as a merchant for an import/export firm.[12]

A Date with Destiny: The Life-Altering Concert at Carnegie Hall

As Alfred familiarized himself with his New York surroundings, he gravitated toward locations that fed his passion for jazz, including the Hot Record Society record store on Seventh Avenue and 53rd Street, and the Commodore Record Shop on East 42nd Street across from the Commodore Hotel. There he became friends with Commodore’s owner Milt Gabler (1911-2001), a fellow jazz aficionado.[13] In 1938 Milt started his own record label, Commodore, which became the first independent jazz producer in a market of big-name labels.[14] Other local jazz fans, including Alfred Lion, witnessed Milt Gabler’s growing business and wanted a piece of the action.

Later that same year, in December of 1938, Alfred Lion attended a concert that would offer an entrée into the recording industry. At a chance meeting in a New York post office, he engaged in a conversation with record producer, musician, and critic John H. Hammond (1910-1987), who was organizing a large jazz event at New York’s prestigious Carnegie Hall. As an advocate of racial equality, Hammond desired to introduce African American talent to the New York elite. Hammond offered Alfred Lion complimentary tickets to his landmark production, From Spirituals to Swing: An Evening of American Negro Music. Scheduled to perform at the December 23 event was a wide selection of jazz artists, including boogie-woogie pianists Albert Ammons (1907-1949), Pete Johnson (1904-1967) and Meade “Lux” Lewis (1905-1964). Saxophonist Sidney Bechet performed as well. In addition to promoting the music, Hammond used the event as a forum for his social activism. Concert-goers received a printed program recounting the discrimination, abuse and neglect of African American musicians.[15]

Alfred was overwhelmed by the experience. As he walked out of Carnegie Hall, he envisioned an opportunity to start his own jazz record company, with the intention only of recording important music, not necessarily of making money. “I was absolutely gassed. I made up my mind – having been with jazz for years and years, and always having my own ideas of how I would do it – I decided to record Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis.”[16] He immediately tracked down the two pianists performing at the Café Society, a nightclub in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of the city. The pianists were astonished when Alfred offered them money to record.

On January 6, 1939, just two weeks after the concert, Alfred rented a studio on the West Side of town for Ammons and Lewis to record. Alfred created a welcoming environment for the musicians, providing their favorite foods and beverages: bourbon for Ammons and scotch for Lewis. As a novice producer, Alfred gave the musicians little direction, allowing the artists to play segments longer than traditional recordings. He recognized this as an undiscovered niche within the jazz recording industry: “There were records [of Ammons and Lewis], but they were ten-inch records. 78s. They were so short. People could do maybe two or three choruses and the record was over. I always figured, ‘My gosh, those guys need more room to stretch out!’”[17] Alfred decided on the session’s playlist, “The Boogie Woogie Stomp” and “Honky Tonk Train Blues,” telling them to keep playing the pieces for as long as they wanted. “They had their drinks, I loved what I was hearing. When it was finished I paid them right there.”[18] It was all of the cash Alfred possessed, and he had to wait two weeks before he could earn enough money to pay the studio manager for receipt of the recordings. After listening to the plates back in his apartment, he realized the music should be heard by a wider audience. He needed to make and distribute records.

Out of the session he created one record for each artist, pressing small lots, twenty-five to thirty records, of each on the longer-playing 12-inch 78-rpm discs. Alfred asked his friend Martin Craig, an artist and sculptor, to design the first company label. Another friend, musician and Marxist artist/writer Max Margulis (1907-1996), put up initial seed money. (Margulis, who took little interest in the operation, sold his part of the business in 1947.) The records sold out, marking the beginning of Blue Note Records, named for the “blue notes,” a slightly lower-pitched musical scale often associated with old African American slave spirituals. Alfred’s East Side cold-water flat served as company headquarters. With its introduction in the market, Blue Note became the country’s third independent jazz label. (One independent label, Steve Smith’s Hot Record Society, had formed right after Commodore. Two other labels emerged shortly after Blue Note: Dan Qualey’s Solo Art and Bob Thiele’s Jazz Records.) [19]

Yet Alfred had little knowledge of the music industry. He turned to Commodore founder Milt Gabler for help selling Blue Note issues, although as a Commodore label competitor Blue Note products did not earn a prominent in-store display. Through Gabler’s mail-order clientele, however, Blue Note earned its first customer: the H. Royer Smith music store in Philadelphia. Alfred said in an interview: “I didn’t know about stores and distributors….There was nothing in ’39. No books where you could check out things. Nothing. You had to go by your wits.”[20] After selling one hundred copies of each album, he began a promotional campaign, sending out free copies to newspapers like the Daily Worker, a Communist publication, and The New York Times. Reviews in the papers created positive publicity.

“Summertime” in New York City: Alfred Scores His First Hit Record

Alfred continued his day job at the import/export company, building the Blue Note label in his spare time. He scheduled an April session that included Ammons, trumpeter Frankie Newton (1906-1954), and trombonist J.C. Higginbotham (1906-1973), and a June session that added the soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet. Sidney told Alfred that he had pitched the idea of recording George Gershwin’s “Summertime” to RCA Victor records but had been rejected. Alfred asked Sidney to record it for Blue Note.[21] During the June 8, 1939 landmark session, recorded at the WMGM studio, Bechet’s soulful and plaintive rendition became Blue Note’s first hit and is considered to be one of the greatest jazz recordings of all time.[22]

By now Alfred had developed a unique concept for his recording sessions: he would schedule them in the wee hours of the morning, sometimes starting as late as 4:30 a.m., when the musicians were finishing up their regular live club performances. What began out of necessity (he couldn’t book the artists earlier) turned into a production advantage that Alfred later described as an authenticity missing on mainstream labels: “You get a guy up at eleven in the morning, and rush him to the recording studio at twelve or one o’clock, he isn’t quite together yet. His time is night, and not too early, either.”[23] He also was committed to paying the musicians for their rehearsal time, a rarity in the industry. Through these deliberate decisions, he gradually developed a brand image that was innovative, respectful, and hip. In an industry that appeared to be motivated by commercial gain, Lion set out to nurture a different corporate culture that first and foremost celebrated the musicians and their artistry.

Alfred continued to record handpicked artists, operating as a single-person business, for the next few months. Then late in 1939 he contacted his longtime friend Frank Wolff, who had remained in Berlin pursuing a career in photography. However, it was a dangerous time to be Jewish in Germany, and Alfred helped his friend get out safely by sponsoring his passage. Frank’s brother and sister left safely for England, but the remainder of his family was killed in the Holocaust.[24] Frank found work in New York as a photographer’s assistant and in the evenings photographed the Blue Note musicians during their late-night recording sessions. The Blue Note business was successful enough to open its first official company headquarters in the Lambert Brothers’ building at 767 Lexington Avenue, a small operation with a couple of desks, filing cabinets, and storage for their records.[25]

The two businessmen quickly established a cohesive collaboration. Alfred handled the bookings; Frank took care of business details like accounting, taxes, and royalty statements. As the business developed, the partners were selective in choosing artists to work with. In 1940 they switched their recording venue to the Reeves Sound Studios, working again with Sidney Bechet, Meade “Lux” Lewis, and a host of other artists, concentrating primarily on boogie-woogie and the blues. While their record sales were slow, they were gaining buzz in the industry for their innovative and noncommercial approach.

With a renewed friendship, Frank and Alfred resumed the obsession that had brought them together as teens in Berlin: listening to jazz. They spent their spare evenings in nightclubs, making connections and seeking out up-and-coming artists to record. In New York in the late thirties, 52nd street was the jumping spot for jazz, with clubs like the Spotlite, the Yacht Club, and the Three Deuces on one side of the block; and Jimmy’s Ryan’s, the Onyx, and Tondelayo’s across the street. Two more venues, Kelly’s Stable and the Hickory House, were a block away. It was in Jimmy Ryan’s club one night in 1940 that fate intervened in Alfred Lion’s life.[26]

A Wife and the War: Blue Note is Put on Hold

A young seventeen-year-old girl was at Jimmy Ryan’s with disc jockey Ralph Berton (1910-1993), whose “Jazz University for the Air” show ran on WNYC radio. Ralph leaned over to his young date, Lorraine Stein (1922- ), and pointed out Alfred Lion, who was sitting across the room. Lorraine was no stranger to the world of jazz: with her brother Philip she had formed the jazz fan Hot Club of Newark the year before. She whispered to Ralph: “Tell Mr. Blue Note Records how much I admire him.” An introduction was made and a few days later Alfred called Lorraine with an invitation to visit the Blue Note offices. He gave Lorraine two complete Blue Note albums during the short visit, then called her again with another invitation for a date. Lorraine brought along a girlfriend, and Alfred and Frank took the girls back to their First Avenue apartment. The tiny space was filled with the overflow of their Blue Note operations along with all of the records Alfred had been collecting since his days as a teen in Germany. But the bachelors had little in the way of ingredients for an appropriate dinner. The two girls threw together a meal of eggs with stale bread and served it to their dates.[27] Lorraine immediately was taken with Alfred’s soft-spoken yet charming voice with its thick German accent. In her memoir she admits though that, out of embarrassment for Alfred’s German heritage, she told her friends that he was French. Although Lorraine was still in high school and Alfred was thirty-two, the two started seeing each other regularly for the next year.

Then, with the entry of the United States into World War II, Alfred Lion was drafted into military service. He enlisted into the U.S. Army on August 24, 1942 and was stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey,[28] later receiving a transfer to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. There he worked as a typist at the William Beaumont General Hospital (now the William Beaumont Army Medical Center). A year after enlisting, Alfred wrote a letter to Lorraine, saying “Please come here and let’s get married.” She flew to meet him. With two Army friends serving as witnesses, the couple was married by a justice of the peace on June 13, 1943 in Las Cruces, New Mexico. As a married coupled in El Paso they lived in a boarding house off the base, and Lorraine found work in the offices of a candy manufacturer.

During Alfred’s military absence, Frank remained back in New York trying to keep the business alive. But without steady income, Frank found it difficult to make ends meet. Alfred’s old friend Milt Gabler hired Frank to work at the Commodore Music Store’s new wholesale division, which distributed records to service men and women. This also allowed Frank to sell the Blue Note products through the store’s wholesale channels. While Alfred’s absence during the war put any further Blue Note recording sessions on a hiatus, Frank was able to continue building market share for the company, pressing and selling previously-recorded reissues.[29]

Not long after his marriage, Alfred’s poor vision earned him an early honorable discharge from the military. He and his bride set up an apartment back in New York on 179th Street; Frank continued to live in Alfred’s original apartment on First Avenue. By November Alfred was back in the WOR studios for new Blue Note sessions. Pianist Art Hodes (1904-1993) recalled later of this early Blue Note corporate culture: “You walk in and there’s a big bag of food. Once we started playing, you didn’t have to leave the building for nothin’. Alfred hung his hat in the control room, while Frank was all over the place taking pictures….There was a feeling of ‘at ease’. And considering the times, the bread was good.”[30] Alfred often relied on a regular team of musicians, which fostered a familial spirit. Big Band swing had infiltrated radio broadcasts and dance halls during the war, but Blue Note wasn’t straying too far from Alfred’s early preference for the blues. All of that changed with the entrance of Ike Quebec in the studio.

The summer of 1944 offered two milestones for Alfred Lion. On August 8 he became a naturalized U.S. citizen. (Frank became a citizen the following year.) Additionally, Alfred recorded two sessions with tenor saxophonist Isaac (Ike) Abrams Quebec (1918-1963). Alfred brought Ike into the WOR studios twice that summer. The July 18 session produced “Blue Harlem,” featuring Ike’s signature bluesy tone that became a huge hit for Blue Note Records. While Ike grew up with scat and swing, it is said that his Blue Note sessions between 1944 and 1946 had a different, modern style to them. His visionary instincts would help lead Blue Note into its greatest and most prolific years.[31]

Putting it All on the Line for “Monk”: Alfred as the Risk Taker

During the next two years, Blue Note established itself as a top independent jazz label, second behind Commodore. The industry was becoming competitive, and in 1945 Metronome listed over forty independent jazz labels including Apollo, Comet, Continental, Musicraft, Jazz Man, American Music, Savoy, Sunset, Jump, Varsity, Black & White, and Keynote. The emergence of commercialized swing jazz, peaking during the war, brought a larger audience to the genre. Jazz clubs were flourishing outside of New York in Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and Los Angeles.[32] Blue Note maintained its focus on traditional jazz, leaving the swing market for the corporate labels. The indie labels, however, were finding it difficult to maintain a market share. “Musiccraft, despite a fine roster of talent, has been wobbling, Keynote, Signature, Four Star, and a dozen others have been forced to refinance…But most of the owners do something else for a living, too, or operate on a low level with the boss man also being recording, publicity manager and wrapper.”[33] Between 1944 and 1946 Alfred and Frank carried on, hosting a live jam session at New York’s Town Hall and producing forty-nine recording sessions. They developed a repertory approach to the sessions, nurturing a regular family of musicians that they would bring back often, sometimes as headliners, sometimes as part of a supporting cast.[34] Many of these artists were becoming close friends of Alfred, like Sidney Bechet who often cooked dinner for the Lions in their home.[35]

Meanwhile Alfred and Ike Quebec were developing a close friendship as well, socializing with their wives at clubs like the Royal Roost and Birdland. Ike often tipped off Alfred to new and exciting talent, and the clubs Ike frequented featured a new style of jazz called bebop. With Ike’s encouragement, Alfred began hiring these young bebop musicians. While Alfred Lion was not the first music industry producer to record bebop, he quickly gained a name for producing the best bebop recordings and for taking musical risks with new artists.[36]

One of those was Thelonious Monk (1917-1982). Monk had a unique musical and personal style that was garnering industry buzz, and while he had performed alongside some real jazz greats at bebop clubs like Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem, he hadn’t yet been recorded as a soloist. Ike Quebec, who had befriended Monk, wanted Blue Note to be the first. Alfred decided to sign Monk immediately, giving the musician only a couple of weeks to put together a band.[37] Lorraine Lion by this time was a full-time part of the Blue Note operations, handling all of the company’s marketing efforts and supporting studio decisions. She scheduled meetings with local radio stations and music reviewers to promote the eccentric Monk, marketing him as an elusive genius and dubbing him the “High Priest of Bebop.” She requested interviews with the national African American press, including the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Defender. Lorraine also got a gig for Monk at The Village Vanguard after running into the club’s owner Max Gordon (1903-1989). On September 14, 1948, Monk’s opening night at New York’s Village Vanguard, nobody showed up. Signing Monk was a questionable move in the eyes of the industry. “As before, when [Alfred] was moved by a musician he didn’t sign him based on a calculation of potential sales. He felt an obligation to record players with distinctive stories to tell. So, while Thelonious Monk was a figure of unprofitable controversy, Lion gave him whatever time and space he needed.”[38] But Blue Note continued to believe in and support Monk, and they signed him for several other sessions until, by mutual agreement that the relationship had run its course, Monk changed labels.[39]

The brief sessions with Thelonious Monk spurred Blue Note into a new musical direction and a new leadership position in a market that was looking for something to replace swing. As the forties came to a close, Blue Note was straddling the two worlds, seeking out modern bebop artists while remaining loyal to its stable of traditionalists, including Sidney Bechet. The company still operated as a small-scale outfit, with Alfred producing the sessions, Lorraine handling all marketing and public relations activities, and Frank overseeing administrative functions as well as documenting the sessions with his photography. Additionally, Alfred showed his trust for Ike Quebec’s visionary instincts by bringing Ike on as the company’s artist and repertoire (A&R) man.

All four gave their lives over to the company, fueled by their shared passion for jazz. Alfred, in particular, found little else as fulfilling as Blue Note. When they left the office, Lorraine and Alfred would go home and listen to records, rarely socializing except with musicians and other people in the industry. Meanwhile Lorraine longed to have children. She recalls: “I’d say, ‘Alfred, why don’t we have a baby?’ ‘We’ve got a baby,’ he’d answer. ‘Blue Note Records.’”[40] Thinking a move out of the city might provide some solace, they left their New York apartment for a home in Englewood, New Jersey. But Lorraine was still unhappy and shortly after the move began an affair with The Village Vanguard owner Max Gordon. By 1949 Lorraine had divorced Alfred and married Max. She ended her involvement with Blue Note Records, although she and Alfred remained friends in the business.[41]

Bauhaus and Bebop: Blue Note finds an Aesthetic

While Alfred’s personal life was transitioning, the music industry itself was evolving. On the recording end, new magnetic tape machines, developed originally for military use, were available for studio use with improved sound quality and editing capabilities. On the production end, the original record disc medium of shellac, prone to brittleness, was being replaced by vinyl. Jazz was the first genre to adopt this technology that allowed more content—and longer performances—to be stored on each disc side. The new LPs appealed to a younger, hipper crowd, which was also the market segment for bebop. But because of cost considerations, Blue Note was one of the last jazz labels to switch over to vinyl LPs and magnetic tape recording.[42]

In November of 1950 Blue Note released its first vinyl LPs, still concentrating on traditional jazz. The first vinyl bebop contribution from Monk wasn’t released until 1951. By 1952 the company was having difficulty finding a hit. The new LP format, however, presented another opportunity. Record stores were setting up display racks so that buyers could browse records by their album fronts. Blue Note capitalized on this and was ahead of the industry using album cover graphics as a branded marketing tool. Blue Note initially employed three graphic designers—Gil Mellé (1931-2004), John Hermansader (1915-2005), and Paul Bacon (1923- )—to produce minimal, modernist designs that echoed the German Bauhaus school aesthetics. Later in the decade, Blue Note would hire Reid K. Miles and budding commercial artist Andy Warhol as well.[43]

The first of the new graphics were presented on the Thelonious Monk – Genius of Modern Music album cover, designed by Paul Bacon. It features a grid design with a small inset of a photo that Frank Wolff had taken during the recording session. Soon Frank’s photos would be the primary graphic element and would become a signature brand identity for Blue Note albums. Using the photos on the album covers served a secondary purpose: most of the artists were unknown outside of Harlem. Featuring the musicians prominently offered an introduction to the men behind the music. And in presenting African American men as thoughtful, professional artists, Wolff was breaking through earlier media stereotypes of the black musician as a racial caricature. However, record distributors weren’t as enthusiastic as Blue Note about the new aesthetics: they would have preferred covers with attractive women who could presumably sell more records.[44]

Gil Mellé and his team continued to produce graphics while also recording with Blue Note. In 1953 he introduced Alfred to another key Blue Note contributor, Rudy Van Gelder (1924- ). An optometrist by trade with a home-built studio where he worked in the evenings, Rudy became responsible for perfecting what is known as the “Blue Note Sound,” distinctive for a warmth and clarity that created a benchmark for the industry. A self-trained young recording engineer, Rudy used spare parts discarded by radio stations to build a state-of-the-art recording studio in his parents’ house in Hackensack, New Jersey. The living room had excellent acoustics, with ten-foot-high ceilings and arched doorways for reverberating sound. While Alfred has said that the recordings made at Hackensack studio have the “Blue Note Sound,” Rudy has been quoted as saying they have the “Alfred Lion Sound.”

According to an interview with Rudy, “Alfred knew exactly what he wanted to hear. He communicated it to me and I got it for him technically. He was amazing in what he heard and how he would patiently draw it out of me. He gave me confidence and support in any situation.”[45] After fifteen successful years in the business, Alfred was showing a confidence and maturity that he didn’t have when he first entered the studio in 1939 with Ammons and Meade. Alfred now knew exactly what he wanted for each record, and he guided Rudy until the desired results were achieved.

Besides its distinctive sound, Blue Note set itself apart from the industry in their respect for jazz as an art form. According to Alfred, “The way [the other companies] recorded was completely different from the way I did. They’d make a session in three hours, six tunes, let’s go, boom, boom….I never rushed musicians into the studio and rushed them out. When we went into overtime, which was double for everybody and triple for the leader – forget all this, let’s make the records, right?”[46] What also set Blue Note apart was Alfred’s insistence on rehearsal time, for which he paid his musicians. The industry standard was to call a session time and record the artists playing ad hoc, without rehearsal. Blue Note rehearsals often were held in New York City at Nola’s Studio at 62nd Street and Broadway or at Lynn Oliver’s Studio at 96th Street and Broadway.[47] Paying Blue Note musicians for rehearsal time meant two additional days of earnings for them, a rarity at the time. Blue Note also was committed to paying the musicians royalties, not entirely an industry standard.[48]

In turn, jazz aficionados recognized the high standards of Blue Note musicians and their recordings. In Alfred’s words: “Everything was always quality with Blue Note. I saw to it myself, I got into it heavily that I had to look at the label copy, the print, how the photos came out, the cover. – it had to be right from A to Z. Frank was the same way. There are no mistakes in the liner notes. We read them over three times.”[49] The company developed a loyal following. Buyers would anticipate a Blue Note release and rush to the store to be one of the first to have it. Yet total sales were minimal. In the 1950s, an initial release of a Blue Note record might sell only five thousand copies. Sales per record averaged between twenty-five to thirty thousand copies.[50] Unlike his competitors, Alfred didn’t drop an artist just because a record didn’t sell well. He preferred to develop long lasting relationships with musicians, through hits and misses, some associations spanning over thirty years.[51] Jazz had hit its height of mainstream popularity in the swing era of the 1940s. The new bebop sound was appreciated by a smaller yet sophisticated audience.

That “New Thing” Called Hard Bop: The Growth of the Blue Note Sound

As his company was evolving into its next musical direction, Alfred began the next phase of his personal life as well. In the 1950s radio station WOV broadcast live from Harlem’s Palm Café, with disc jockey Ruth Mason hosting the show “Life Begins at Midnight .”[52] While a student at Howard University, Ruth (Aruthia Elizabeth Phillips) Mason (1923-2011) had interviewed and become friends with Duke Ellington (1899-1974) and Count Basie (1904-1984).[53] Married twice before, she had two daughters.[54] Since moving to New York in 1944, she had formed her own public relations firm and was a well-known figure in Harlem’s jazz scene when Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff showed up at the Palm. The Blue Note owners wanted to meet the woman who was playing their records, and Ruth invited Alfred into her broadcast booth for an on-air interview. The Palm Café was a posh uptown club where people went to see and be seen, and that night Alfred was dressed sharply in a dark suit, starched white shirt and silk tie with his memorable European flair.[55] Shortly after their meeting at the club, Ruth and Alfred started dating. After their relationship became serious, Ruth joined the Blue Note staff as office manager and handled marketing and publicity activities, taking over and expanding Lorraine’s former role. Given Alfred’s wholehearted commitment to Blue Note Records, it would take eleven years of dating and Alfred’s retirement from the business before the couple eventually married.[56]

The mid-1950s ushered in a prolific period for Blue Note Records, and the company honed its new sound of bebop jazz. The company recorded sessions with now-famous artists like percussionist Art Blakey (1919-1990), organist Jimmy Smith (1925-2005), and pianist Horace Silver (1928- ). Horace Silver and Alfred became very close friends, with Horace recording with Blue Note for over thirty years. Most of the Blue Note recordings took place at Rudy’s Hackensack studios, but on February 21, 1954, Rudy set up his equipment to record a live performance of Art Blakey’s quintet at one of the leading bebop clubs, Birdland. While other labels had recorded performances there, Alfred decided to capture an entire night’s worth of music. It is now a classic album, with voiceovers by the club’s emcee Pee Wee Marquette and cocktail glasses clinking in the background.[57] Art Blakey’s rendition of “A Night in Tunisia” would become a Blue Note hit and a jazz world classic. The style he played would be known as hard bop and would become synonymous with the Blue Note label.

While Blue Note was breaking ground with new jazz styles, there were new competitors on the front, like Pacific Jazz, Contemporary, New Jazz, Dial, Contemporary, Verve, Fantasy, Vee Jay, and Roulette. Along with Blue Note, the top labels were Prestige, Savoy, and Riverside. Throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, jazz continued to have a small but dedicated following, with modest record sales supported by a small club scene in the U.S. and internationally. [58] Alfred once said that he considered a “new thing” record a success if it broke even financially.[59] While Blue Note was gaining a reputation for unmatched excellence, its operation—recording , packaging, distribution, and promotion—was still under the realm of only Alfred and Frank with marketing support from Ruth.[60] By music industry standards, the jazz market was hardly profitable.[61] Yet Alfred was willing to trade off financial gain and risk for the promise of groundbreaking artistic gain.

One of Alfred’s notable risks and subsequent successes was promoting the Hammond B-3 organ as a jazz instrument. Known conventionally as the roof-raising accompaniment for black gospel music, the Hammond B-3 had been used marginally in jazz recordings. In January of 1956 Alfred “was gassed” when he saw its potential with organist Jimmy Smith (1928-2005). The following months Alfred brought Jimmy into the studio to record a string of classics, including “The Preacher” and “The Sermon.” Often Alfred could barely contain his enthusiasm about new artists, and Jimmy Smith was one of them. As German pianist Jutta Hipp (who recorded for Blue Note) recalled: “Once I was in Alfred’s old apartment in New Jersey. He played the latest Jimmy Smith record— which he just had released on Blue Note…he was so enthusiastic about the recording and just wanted to listen—with a huge smile on his face. [He was] an unforgettably good human being, also his friend Francis [Wolff]. I will never forget them.”[62] With a steady stream of successful productions with Jimmy and other label mainstays, in 1957 Blue Note moved its offices to 47 West 63rd Street.[63] That year Blue Note scheduled a session with one of jazz’s most famous musicians, saxophonist John Coltrane (1926-1967), and the resulting album, Blue Train, is now a classic.

Coltrane made only limited recordings for Blue Note, a departure from the strong relationships Alfred forged with his other artists. Many considered the Blue Note musicians a “family,” a result of the corporate culture fostered by Alfred. While most musicians worked for a number of labels, they always looked forward to their sessions with Blue Note. The office staff would order deli trays filled with the best meats, German pickles and condiments along with soft drinks and liquor. The food would be delivered to the office at the end of the business day and packed into cabs with the musicians, who would travel in a caravan to Rudy’s New Jersey studios. The next day Ruth’s daughter Frances, who was Blue Note’s executive secretary for many years, would take a check to the musician’s union Local 802 so that the musicians could be paid promptly for their rehearsal and studio time.[64]

In 1960 Blue Note again moved its operations, this time to 43 West 61st Street.[65] The company continued to move in the direction of the “free jazz” style of hard bop, with disappointing sales, however. They made recordings overseas as well, during Frank’s annual European vacations. Then in 1963 trumpeter Lee Morgan (1938-1972) put down what would become Blue Note’s biggest hit, “Sidewinder.” The album reached 25 on Billboard’s LP charts.[66] Success like a Billboard hit was rare in the jazz world, though. According to one jazz journalist, “The history of those independent labels which nurtured jazz has largely been a history of the men who ran them, an intrepid breed who learned early on to survive at subsistence levels, and whose enthusiasm for the music kept them going when saner men would have gone into real estate.”[67]

Twenty Years Without Blue Note: Health Concerns Force Seclusion

After twenty-five years, taking care of the Blue Note business was taking a toll on Alfred. In 1964 Alfred met with Al Bennett, head of Liberty Records, to begin discussions on the sale of Blue Note Records. The Blue Note label was purchased by Liberty in 1965 along with a similar deal with another independent jazz label, Pacific Jazz. There are no records on the details of the transactions, perhaps considerably less than they were worth.[68] Alfred and Frank continued working for Blue Note under the auspices of Liberty Records. On July 28, 1967, Alfred produced his last Blue Note recording. He said in an interview: “’I couldn’t communicate with these people [at Liberty]. I do things my way, and suddenly there were too many people and there were all these rules and procedures.’”[69]

After a lifetime of smoking and countless nights without sleep, Alfred’s health was becoming a concern to Ruth.[70] Ruth felt that his workaholic addiction had to be curbed cold turkey. With encouragement from Alfred’s doctor, Ruth moved the two of them to Cuernavaca, Mexico, after their marriage in Yonkers, New York. After Alfred’s retirement, Frank packed up all of his Blue Note photos and sent them to be cared for by Alfred, who left the boxes unopened for twenty years. Frank continued on with Liberty until his death from colon cancer on March 8, 1971.[71] By then, the audience for jazz had turned to rock, R & B and funk. The Blue Note label continued without its original founders until 1979, when Horace Silver recorded Blue Note’s final session.

Although out of the public eye, Alfred was still in demand by the jazz community, and his natural inclination would have been to accept all offers for public appearances and collaboration opportunities. Mindful of Alfred’s health concerns, however, Ruth limited her husband’s schedule. She was careful to let their location be known to only a handful of close friends: Frank Wolff, Horace Silver, Rudy Van Gelder, and Reid Miles. It was Horace Silver who would be Alfred’s primary Blue Note connection following his 1967 retirement. Away from the jazz scene Alfred tried to take it easy, although his deteriorating health prompted the Lions to move to California for better care. In retirement Alfred pursued his interest in photography, becoming a community photographer for senior groups and winning a Second Wind Hall of Fame Award for his work. Horace Silver brought news of the jazz world to Alfred, vacationing with the Lions at their homes in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and in Rancho Bernardo near San Diego with the stipulation that the locations remain a secret.[72]

Eight years after Alfred’s retirement, jazz insider and Blue Note fan Michael Cuscuna (1948- ) obtained access to a vault of Blue Note tapes, by then the property of the EMI label. Michael began pressing previously unreleased sessions from vintage Blue Note recordings. Since Blue Note had never released them, he made sure Horace Silver had copies to forward on to Alfred. In 1982 Cuscuna and EMI executive Charlie Lourie (1940-2000) formed Mosaic Records to oversee the growing market interest in vintage Blue Note. In the spring of 1983, the pair received a letter from Alfred questioning their rights to his old recordings. A few weeks later, Michael received a collect call from Alfred, still in semi-seclusion, who was phoning from a friend’s house without Ruth’s knowledge. Over the next year, the three men began forming a warm bond that included hour-long phone conversations.

Around the same time, jazz recording veteran Bruce Lundvall took over EMI’s Blue Note Records division. Bruce decided to organize a huge celebration to revive the label, bringing together as many of the early Blue Note family of players as he could find, including Alfred Lion. As Bruce recalled: “I sent Alfred a telegram, on a Friday, saying, we’re doing this concert, and you’ll be the guest of honour. Next day I got a call at home. ‘Bruce? This is Al. You got a pen? Write this down. You’ve got to have Dexter on tenor sax, you’ve got to have Hank – is he still playing? Now, alto – you must have Jackie McLean…’ on every instrument, he wanted to have about a hundred people playing! And it was, ‘Yes, yes, we will be there. I’ll talk to Ruth.’”[73]

On February 22, 1985, New York’s Town Hall, the site of a Blue Note jam session forty years earlier, was filled to capacity for the “One Night with Blue Note” concert. The lineup included many of the Blue Note luminaries including Art Blakey, with a tribute to Alfred Lion, whom most hadn’t seen since his retirement nearly twenty years earlier. Alfred sat in on rehearsals with many of the artists he made famous. According to Ruth, “[It] was like old home week for Alfred…that wonderful live jazz, was something he had never expected to experience again.”[74] On the evening of the concert, he and Ruth were honored with a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd.[75] A year later, Alfred and Ruth were celebrated again on August 29-31 during another tribute at the Mount Fuji Festival in Japan, where Blue Note’s vintage bebop and hard bop had never lost a strong following. At the festival Alfred and Ruth were given a standing ovation by thirty thousand Japanese fans. In a magical moment, Alfred was presented with a CD of the From Spirituals to Swing concert that had inspired his career journey nearly fifty years before. In poor health but high spirits, Alfred required oxygen and a medical attendant during the three-day event.

Ruth later said that it wasn’t until she saw the public adoration for Alfred at these celebrations that she realized the magnitude of his contribution to the world of music. Alfred died of a heart attack the following year, on February 2, 1987, in Pomerado Hospital in the San Diego suburb of Poway, California. At his funeral service, copies of some of his favorite albums were placed around his headstone in Paramus, New Jersey cemetery, not far from the gravesite of his friend and Blue Note partner Frank Wolff.[76]

The Friends and Family of Jazz: Blurring the Lines Between Personal and Private Lives

As a boy in Berlin, Alfred’s life in private boarding schools had often been lonely.[77] Once he discovered jazz, however, he found an entrée into a “family” of like-minded people. The jazz community has been studied for its unique tightknit inclusiveness: jazz musicians and fans tend to go to the same clubs and restaurants, and socialize only with other people who share their passion. The Hot Clubs in the early years of jazz promoted this kind of camaraderie, and their international network helped club members as they traveled around the world.[78] When Alfred came to the United States, he immediately gravitated to the Commodore Record Shop, owned by Hot Club leader Milt Gabler. Within the year following his permanent move to the United States, Alfred found friends in American jazz musicians, socialized with American jazz fans, and attended American jazz performances, the most important of which was the 1938 Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall. He built a business, and a life, around the passion he felt on that evening.

From his first days as a U.S. immigrant, Alfred surrounded himself with people within the New York jazz community, a group from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, races, ethnic origins and religions.[79] It was also a community of people from leftist politics, and in 1930s New York, groups of artists, musicians, and political activists often co-mingled.[80] Jazz clubs like the integrated Café Society served as a mecca for left-leaning social activists as well as music enthusiasts. Alfred found a kinship within both of these groups.

Within Blue Note Alfred nurtured his own close community, treating his musicians as an extension of his own family. More than once he posted bail when a musician found himself in a tough spot with the law, and Alfred would give drug-addicted musicians second chances when other label owners would not.[81] He was particularly patient with genius pianist Bud Powell, a staple Blue Note artist whose erratic behavior found him in and out of psychiatric institutions.[82] Within the industry Alfred built a reputation for fairness and equality. In return, his musicians delivered the best creative output they had. And ultimately, that brought him great joy. As Ruth described, “…the person for whom Blue Note was the luckiest was Alfred Lion himself. He said that he was never happier than when in the midst of a recording session that was going well[83].”

Alfred purposely developed a very narrow focus, with his professional, personal, and social lives blurring together. Horace Silver, Frank Wolff, and Ike Quebec were all trusted business confidantes and the closest of Alfred’s friends. Alfred thought of Ike in particular not only as a professional muse but also as a brother. Alfred’s two wives came from the world of jazz, and both held integral roles with the company that Alfred built. Several of Ruth’s family members also worked at the company as well, with Ruth’s daughter Frances entrusted as executive secretary to Alfred and Frank. Alfred’s first wife Lorraine admitted in her memoirs that part of her dissatisfaction with the marriage was because their life became consumed with the company.[84] With her own career solidly established, Ruth, Alfred’s second wife, was more prepared to turn over her life and business acumen to Alfred and Blue Note.

They lived at the Coliseum Park Apartments at Columbus Circle, with Alfred’s mother Margarite on the twelfth floor, Alfred and Ruth on the eleventh floor, and Ruth’s grown daughters Arlette and Frances on the tenth floor.[85] After spending all night at a recording session, Alfred would be back at the office by 10:00 a.m. listening to the tapes. “Alfred was doing everything. He was taking care of getting the records out. He was getting to the rehearsals. He was getting to auditions. He put in at least a seventy-hour week. Days off were very rare.”[86] Ruth made sure, however, they got away for ten days each summer, returning to the same cottage at Gay Head in Martha’s Vineyard. Away from the business, Alfred would drive around the island in his gray Cadillac and lunch on fried clams and lobster salad sandwiches.[87]

It wasn’t until Alfred and Frank sold the company to Liberty Records that Alfred could broaden his life to include a second marriage. In retirement, for the first time since that Sam Wooding concert in Berlin in 1925, Alfred’s life didn’t revolve around jazz. Ruth and he weren’t in complete exile though: while in Mexico and California they kept a post office box in New York, and Ruth’s daughter Frances would forward their mail to Mexico and California. Alfred and Frank Wolff stayed in constant contact, of course, and Frank looked after Alfred’s mother Margarite until Frank’s death in 1971. In poor health at the time, Alfred could not return to New York for the funeral. He called his stepdaughter and said: “Frances, I am too sick to travel. You have to bury my friend for me.” Frances believes the two men had earlier discussed how this event should proceed, and Frances carried out those wishes. Three weeks later, she visited her stepfather in Mexico, where Alfred asked for minute-by-minute details of the funeral, still mournfully sad that he couldn’t have been there.[88] Although in chronic pain, Alfred outlived his friend from Berlin for another sixteen years.[89]


As a teen, Alfred Lion was undeterred by the authoritarian opposition to the music he loved. While Alfred Lion’s passion was ignited with a 1925 jazz concert in his birthplace of Berlin, once he made a permanent move to the United States his life really began. In America he found a new network of individuals who shared his infatuation for music and drive for excellence. He became fully integrated into American social and economic spheres, and in fact adopted as his passion a musical genre that was entirely American-born. He became part of a culture that was, for the most part, accepting of various backgrounds, religions, and skin colors. And he promoted African American jazz musicians as professional artists at a time when the traditional media portrayed them as caricatures. Alfred Lion seemed to hold no bitterness toward the discrimination he experienced in his earlier life. Instead he found extreme joy and fulfillment with his self-made position in America. He built a life around music, and music was his life. As Herbie Hancock recalled on learning of Alfred’s death: “’He was a German, from the old school, who had a gift, a real insight into the qualities that the great black artists of his day were exhibiting. The world of music won’t be the same without him-I don’t suppose we’ll ever see his like again.’”[90]


[1] She later remarried and became Margarite DeWalters. Personal correspondence from Arlette Ford to Carla Garner, March 22, 2012. The author would like to thank Arlette Ford and Frances Jones-Jackson for their helpful contributions to this article.

[2] Lorraine Gordon and Barry Singer, Alive at the Village Vanguard: My Life In and Out of Jazz Time (Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard Corporation, 2006), 17-18. Also of note: Not much is known of Alfred’s father. It is likely that he was addicted to opium, which was prescribed to him when he developed pneumonia and was used freely as a medication in the early 1900s. Source: personal correspondence from Arlette Ford to Carla Garner, March 22, 2012.

[3] Richard Cook, Blue Note Records: The Biography (London: Pimlico, 2001), 6.

[4] Michael Cuscuna, Charlie Lourie and Oscar Schnider, The Blue Note Years: The Jazz Photography of Francis Wolff (New York: Rizzoli, 1995), 197.

[5] There is an apparent contradiction in chronology about this meeting. Alfred Lion has been quoted several times claiming that this meeting took place when he was in his early teens, placing the event sometime between 1920 and 1925. However a chronology of Sidney Bechet’s European appearances at the Haus Vaterland list only 1929 and 1932. Source: Sidney Bechet, Treat It Gentle: An Autobiography (New York: Hill and Wang, 1960).

[6] Bechet, 157; see also John Chilton, Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz (New York: De Capo Press, 1992), 85-89.

[7] For a discussion of the rise of Harlem in the Jazz Age, see Nathan Irvin Huggins, Harlem Renaissance (New York: Oxford Press, 2007), 87-138. For musical clips, see David Brent Johnson, “Five Jazz Sides for the Era of Prohibition,” A Blog Supreme: NPR Jazz, September 27, 2011 (accessed June 15, 2012).

[8] See Mark Zwerin, “Jazz in Europe,” The Oxford Companion to Jazz, ed. Bill Kirchner (New York: Oxford University Publishers, 2000), 537; and Michael H. Kater, Different Drummers: Jazz in the Culture of Nazi German (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 18.

[9] Alyn Shipton, A New History of Jazz (New York: Continuum, 2001), 274-76.

[10] See Mike Heffley, Northern Sun, Southern Moon: Europe’s Reinvention of Jazz (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), 123; and Thomas J. Saunders, “How American Was It: Popular Culture from Weimar to Hitler,” ed. Agnes C. Mueller, German Popular Culture (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2004), 57; and Kater, 31. For more on the Swing Youth movement, see Lonnie R. Sherrod, Youth Activism: An International Encyclopedia (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006), 1:74-76; and Ralph Willett, “”Hot Swing and the Dissolute Life: Youth, Style and Popular Music in Europe, 1939-49,” Popular Music 8.2 (May 1989). For a fictional representation of Swing Youth, see Swing Kids, DVD, directed by Jonathan Marc Feldman (1993; Burbank, CA: Hollywood Pictures Home Video, 2002).

[11] Personal correspondence from Arlette Ford to Carla Garner, March 22, 2012.

[12] Cook, 8; see also Cuscuna, 15-16.

[13] For an interview with Milt Gabler, see National Public Radio, “Record Producer Milt Gabler,” NPR Music (blog),, July 26, 2001 (accessed June 15, 2012).

[14] See Dan Morgenstern, Living with Jazz: A Reader, ed. Sheldon Meyer (New York: Pantheon Books, 2004), 557-59; and Arnold Shaw, 52nd Street: The Street of Jazz, 2nd ed. (New York: Da Capo Press, 1971), 243-46.

[15] Robert Wasler, Keeping Times: Readings in Jazz History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 101-104.

[16] Ted Fox, In the Groove: The People Behind the Music (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986), 101-02.

[17] Fox, 102.

[18] Fox, 103.

[19] Gordon and Singer, 16; Cook, 8-9.

[20] Fox, 104.

[21] Fox, 106.

[22] Cook, 11.

[23] Fox, 105.

[24] Personal correspondence from Artlette Ford to Carla Garner, March 22, 2012.

[25] Gordon and Singer, 14-16; Cook, 14.

[26] Gordon and Singer, 14-16.

[27] Gordon and Singer, 16-17.

[28] National Archives and Records Administration, U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946 (Provo, UT: Operations Inc., 2005).

[29] Cook, 15.

[30] Cook, 17.

[31] For an audio clip of Ike Quebec, see Kevin Whitehead, “Lesser-Known Sax Players Get Their Due,” NPR Music (blog), January 5, 2006 (accessed June 15, 2012).

[32] Paul Douglas Lopes, The Rise of the Jazz Art World (Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 2002), 168-72.

[33] Lopes, 173 (from Down Beat August 5, 1947: 1).

[34] Fox, 112; see also Cuscuna, Lourie and Schnider. For more on the jazz industry of the mid-1940s, see Cook, 20-21.

[35] Singer and Gordon, 66.

[36] For audio clips of Tadd Dameron, see Nick Morrison, “Tadd Dameron: Bebop Romanticist,” NPR Music (blog), February 22, 2011 (accessed June 15, 2012).

[37] Robin D. G. Kelley, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (New York: Free Press, 2009), 125.

[38] Nat Hentoff, “Early Blue Note Jazz,” Wall Street Journal (October 3, 1997), A-8.

[39] Wasler, 109. See also Kelley, 59.

[40] Gordon and Singer, 82.

[41] Gordon and Singer, 83-101.

[42] Cook, 39-40.

[43] Cook, 49-50. For examples of album cover artwork, see (accessed June 28, 2012).

[44] Cook, 90.

[45] Dan Skea, “Rudy Van Gelder in Hackensack: Defining the Jazz Sound in the 1950s,” Current Musicology 71-73 (Spring 2001-Spring 2002), 69.

[46] Fox, 111.

[47] Cuscuna, The Blue Note Years, 199.

[48] Skea, 57.

[49] Fox, 113.

[50] Cook, 52.

[51] Fox, 113.

[52] Mason was a stage name taken by Ruth in her early career as a singer (personal correspondence from Arlette Ford to Carla Garner, March 22, 2012).

[53] Ruth’s mother Bertha Allena Hansbury was a graduate of the Detroit Conservatory of Music and had studied at a conservatory in Germany. She founded the first African American music school in the state of Michigan. See “James Owen House & Bertha Hansbury Music School”(accessed June 15, 2012).

[54] Her first husband, Andrew Mitchell was the father of daughter Frances. Her second husband Kenneth Rickman was the father of daughter Arlette. See “In Memory of Aruthia E. Lion, August 15, 1923-May 13, 2011,” (accessed June 15, 2012). Additional note: Arlette’s daughter Alena Williams is an art curator and has been living in Berlin since 2004. (Personal correspondence from Arlette Ford to Carla Garner, March 22, 2012).

[55] Personal correspondence from Arlette Ford to Carla Garner, June 18, 2012.

[56] Cook, 82-83.

[57] Cook, 62.

[58] Cook, 99-100.

[59] Iain Anderson, This is Our Music: Free Jazz, the Sixties, and American Culture (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), 130.

[60] Cook, 101.

[61] Cook, 72.

[62] From a correspondence between Jutta Hipp and Heinz Protzer, February 16, 1993. Translation from German by jazz historian Katja von Schuttenbach, in a personal correspondence to Jessica Csoma of the German Historical Institute, June 14, 2012.

[63] Cook, 116.

[64] Personal correspondence from Arlette Ford to Carla Garner, March 22, 2012.

[65] Cook, 136-137.

[66] Cook, 182-183.

[67] Kenny Mathieson, Giant Steps: The Story of Bebop (Edinburgh: Payback, 1999), 90.

[68] Cook, 185-86. See also Cuscuna, The Blue Note Years, 163.

[69] Cook, 192

[70] Although Alfred publicly said he experienced several heart attacks (see Fox), his family later explained that he contracted severe shingles while in Mexico that resulted in chronic postherpetic neuralgia and took a toll on his overall health. (Personal correspondence from Arlette Ford to Carla Garner, March 22, 2012.)

[71] Fox, 119; and personal correspondence from Arlette Ford to Carla Garner, March 22, 2012.

[72] Cuscuna, The Blue Note Years, 9.

[73] Cook, 211.

[74] Marsh and Callingham, 5.

[75] Cuscuna, 10.

[76] Cook, 216; Rita Gillmon, “Jazz recording impresario Alfred W. Lion, 78, dies,” San Diego Union (February 3, 1987), A-4.

[77] Gordon and Singer, 17-18.

[78] Alan P. Merriam and Raymond W. Mack, “The Jazz Community,” Social Forces 38.3 (Spring 1960), 213.

[79] Merriam and Mack, 219.

[80] Jonathan Bakan, “Jazz and the ‘Popular Front’: ‘Swing’ Musicians and the Left-Wing Movement of the 1930s-1940s, Jazz Perspectives 3.1 (2009), 35-56.

[81] See Jeffrey S. McMillan, Delightfulee: The Life and Music of Lee Morgan (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008); and Robin D. G. Kelley, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (New York: Free Press, 2009).

[82] Cook, 42-44; and personal correspondence from Arlette Ford to Carla Garner, May 16, 2012.

[83] Marsh and Callingham, 4.

[84] Gordon and Singer, 80.

[85] Personal correspondence from Arlette Ford to Carla Garner, March 22, 2012.

[86] Green, 79.

[87] Personal correspondence from Arlette Ford to Carla Garner, March 22, 2012.

[88] Personal correspondence from Frances Jones-Jackson to Carla Garner, May 16, 2012.

[89] Cuscuna, The Blue Note Years, 163. Also, personal correspondence from Arlette Ford to Carla Garner, March 22, 2012.

[90] Leonard Feather, “A Musical Lion Passes from the Scene,” Los Angeles Times (February 8, 1987), 58.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Alfred Lion
  • Coverage 1908-1987
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date May 19, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018