From this month on, lauded veteran LA jazz label Blue Note will release a series of vinyl reissues plucked from their incomparable archives; these 14 gems cover some of the most astonishing hard bop and soul-jazz ever recorded, from pioneering pianist Horace Silver to Hammond organ genius Dr. Lonnie Smith to tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine.

These delectable slices of wax were selected, remastered and packaged under the eagle eye of Blue Note President and veteran producer Don Was, and the man for whom the series takes its name, master curator Joe ‘Tone Poet’ Hurley.

We put some questions about this exciting series to Mr Blue Note himself, Don Was.

“When doomsday ultimately rolls around and mankind self-destructs in a cauldron of flame and pestilence, cockroaches and the Blue Note master tapes will survive and rule the Earth.”

Blue Note has produced a gobsmacking behind-the-scenes video for the Tone Poet vinyl reissues, in which we get a peek into every bit of the process. At one point, Joe ‘Tone Poet’ Hurley says: “A stylus dragging through vinyl? It shouldn’t work at all. And yet,it does.” Do you hold a similar awe for the way phonographic playback works?

It’s so crazy, isn’t it??? I’ve studied the science behind the development of the LP – from Eduard Scott through Edison to Peter Goldmark– and it still blows my mind that humans were able to conceive and realise such a wild concept. I love to watch it in action too; the first time I showed my kids a stylus riding through a spinning album they were mesmerised! We sat around watching the turntable spin like we were gathered around a campfire. One of the great virtues of vinyl is that listening to music becomes a communal, action-verb experience.

In that video we also get to see yourself and Joe look over the shelves of Blue Note master tapes,scrawled with [label founder] Alfred Lion’s original handwritten annotations and all. Do these precious shelves live in a fireproof stacker?!

Thankfully, all of our master tapes have been well taken-care of and protected over the decades. They are in great shape. They live in guarded, climate controlled, fireproofed and goofball-proofed conditions. Don’t worry about them. When doomsday ultimately rolls around and mankind self-destructs in a cauldron of flame and pestilence, cockroaches and the Blue Note master tapes will survive and rule the Earth.

The production-quality theme of this series most definitely was “no compromise”! Why did you feel this was the only way forward for the Tone Poet reissues?

I got very involved in our 75th Anniversary vinyl reissue series in 2014. We did the best we could but we were unable to match the level of quality experienced in the audiophile versions that Joe was making at Music Matters. We took a lot of heat from our listeners, and decided to improve the experience for them. There’s no single magic trick that Joe performs… there are like a dozen actionable items, from the mastering, plating and pressing through to creating the tactile feel of the deluxe gatefold sleeves. Joe Harley is the maestro of this – his mission with the Tone Poet series is to apply his talent and knowledge to make the best possible records without cutting any corners.

There are several quotes floating around from Blue Note’s first ever press release, from 1939. The one I find most intriguing is: “By virtue of its significance in place, time and circumstance, [jazz] possesses its own tradition, artistic standards and audience that keeps it alive.”
This is what I think of when I think about the enduring nature of jazz, and the Blue Note catalogue – that jazz won’t die because its authenticity assures its relevance. How do you explain it, when someone asks you why listeners still love jazz?

The rhythms and scales of music that developed as part of the black Atlantic diaspora were a response to the absence of freedom and to the need to communicate when freedom of speech, self-identity and the celebration of one’s culture was forbidden. So at its core, in its DNA, jazz is an incredibly eloquent form of non-verbal expression that is able to portray the deepest of human emotions… as such, it is timelessly relevant and precious to people in all walks of life.

The ‘Tone Poet’ by Blue Note reissues series is available now.

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