I was first introduced to jazz, I mean "real" jazz, when I was in Air Force. My next door neighbor, Charles, had an extensive collection of jazz albums. Up until that time I was listening to a little of everything, Soul, Rock, Pop, Disco, Classical, even Easy Listening and Country. As long as it fell on my ears pleasingly, I listened. I loved music. It had been with me through many pleasant and not so pleasant times in my life, and so the song I knew held deep meaning to me. But I had avoided jazz.
My perception of jazz at that time was that it was chaotic, random noise with no discernible rhythm. There is a faction of artists who produce such, but, just like there's genres of R&B and Rock, there are categories of jazz that I had completely missed because of my generalized conceptions.
One day, Charles introduced me to Friends and Strangers and Satin Doll, albums by Ronnie Laws and Bobbi Humphrey respectively. Laws is a saxist, Ms. Humphrey plays a flute. Both produced music with such beauty, precision, and meaning that even my naive musical tastes could readily appreciate their talents.
(Friends and Strangers isn't available on iTunes, but The Best of Ronnie Laws has the title song of that album.)
I fell in love with music all over again.
Here was music that had the sonic depth and breath of classical, the playfulness of Pop, and the soul stirring beauty of R&B. I could listen to some tunes over and over, and each time I'd find something new to love about it. I wasn't a fan of every tune or every artist, but my assumptions and prejudices about a whole class of music had been nuked by two albums.
I had no idea back then, but labels played a big role in making music accessible. There were many record companies that made products for the masses, meaning the records were cheaply recorded and cheaply made. There were other labels, however who offered superior products. Get an album from them and you know you'll hear the best they can offer. Mr. Laws and Ms. Humphrey played for Blue Note which, at that time, was the quintessential label for jazz artists. Blue Note hosted the likes of Art Blakey, Donald Byrd, John Coltrane, Lonnie Smith and many other jazz giants.
Blue Note was founded in 1938 and has gone through a lot of changes, but its heritage is something that cannot be changed. If you're like me and want to learn more about the jazz, artists, and the company that was Blue Note then you're in luck. EMI, the parent company of the current Blue Note, has released an iPad app that is an absolute must-have. The app is called Blue Note by Groovebug, and before you read any further, go grab it now. Don't worry, it's free/subscribe, and you'll want it whether you shell out bucks or not.
The app is part magazine, part art collection, part music history resource, and part music player, and it does all of that well.
Open the Blue Note app and you are greeted with a page full of large thumbnail sized squares. They look like album art arranged in neat columns, but they are really links to different features. Some point to featured playlists, some to articles, some to photo galleries, while others point to the history of Blue Note or Blue Note merchandise.
Tap on or search for an artists and you'll get cover art for all his or her Blue Note releases, song index, and links to videos, articles and other paraphernalia surrounding the artists. I'm not talking about some silly Wikipedia entry, I mean clips of actual newspaper articles, concert and show videos, liner notes, and so much more.
Bios and histories of albums are artists abound in Blue Note
This app is done right, too. Kick off a video or tune and it plays in the background while you browse album art and other juicy nuances. Apple TV owners (2nd gen or better) will get a kick out of AirPlaying vids and tunes over their big homes systems while leaving them free to explore the app some more.
Here's a hint: You can find some complete tunes, not just 30 second clips, in the video section. Not every tune is available and it doesn't automatically move on to another tune once it's done playing. Still, you can find a wealth of free jazz this way.
Album cover art of Art Blakey. Typical in Blue Note
Earlier I said this app was free/subscribe. It is. While the history, articles, photos and videos are all free, the music (except where I've just explained) is only delivered in 30 second clips. All-you-can-eat streaming will set you back a paltry US$2.00 a month. That's right, top shelf jazz by world class artists for just two bucks a month! Heck, it may as well be free.
Vintage vids and more
This is a premium app whether you subscribe to the music or not. The videos alone are worth the download. It looks good, works great, and it delivers the quality of the music you might expect from Blue Note.
And actual article enhance your jazz experience
Blue Note. Good stuff here. Get it.
That's a wrap for this week. I'm done with featured freebie apps for a while so week it's back to the standard 3-app format. Have a great weekend and week, and see you next Friday.