On April 1, 1995, Starbucks launched its line of CDs with Blue Note Blend, a selection of thirteen tracks from the catalogue of the venerable jazz label and its sister labels. Available as a standalone release or bundled with a pound of Starbucks’ same-named coffee, the album was an unqualified success, selling over 75,000 copies and spawning sequel volumes. Twenty years later, the coffee house is returning to its roots for a new edition of Blue Note Blend which features many of the same musicians and brings the Blue Note story up to the date as part of the label’s 75th anniversary festivities.
However, this release of Blue Note Blend has a taste not usually associated with Starbucks’ coffees – bittersweet. A top Billboard headline on February 19 was “Starbucks to Stop Selling CDs,” confirming that the chain would no longer create or sell music in the physical format in favor of more “relevant options” (read: digital downloads). Though Starbucks’ own offerings had been limited of late, notable recent successes include its long-running holiday album series as well as a charting compilation of Burt Bacharach’s music and anthologies dedicated to George Gershwin and Linda Ronstadt.
That said, producer Steven Stolder – the gent responsible for many of these coffeehouse creations – has compiled a fine single-disc tribute to Blue Note, presented in Starbucks’ usual deluxe packaging format. A number of artists return from the first Blue Note Blend, among them Thelonious Monk (“In Walked Bud,” dedicated to Mr. Powell), Horace Silver (“Señor Blues”), Julian “Cannonball” Adderley (“Dancing in the Dark”), Dexter Gordon (“I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry”) and Herbie Hancock (“Cantaloupe Island,” which was sampled on the original Blue Note Blend via US3’s “Cantaloop”).
Virtually every track here is an all-star session. Miles Davis makes an appearance with his 1954 rendition of the Rodgers and Hart ballad “It Never Entered My Mind,” supported by the aforementioned Horace Silver on piano, plus Art Blakey on drums and Percy Heath on bass. Blakey as leader is represented with Benny Golson’s “Blues March,” from 1958, with Golson on tenor saxophone, Lee Morgan on trumpet, Bobby Timmons on piano and Jymie Merritt on bass. Tenor great Johnny Griffin is heard with an original track from his 1956 debut, “Nice and Easy,” backed by Wynton Kelly on piano, Curly Russell on bass and Max Roach on drums. The oldest track here comes from Blue Note’s very first year: Sidney Bechet’s 1939 take on the Gershwins and DuBose Heyward’s “Summertime,” on which the clarinetist was joined by Meade “Lux” Lewis (the first Blue Note artist) on piano, Teddy Bunn on guitar, Johnny Williams on bass and Sidney Catlett on drums.
From more recent years, the compilation has vocal tracks from Cassandra Wilson (her reinvention of Patti Page’s “Tennessee Waltz” with pianist Jacky Terrasson), Norah Jones (the standard “The Nearness of You”) and contemporary R&B/jazz fusion artist Gregory Porter (the title track of his album Liquid Spirit from 2013, the newest track here). On the instrumental side, it offers music from pianist Jason Moran (“Gentle Shifts South”) and tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano (“Body and Soul” with pianist Michel Petrucciani).
Blue Note Blend, housed in a digipak, includes a 26-page color booklet designed in the style of classic-period Blue Note, with Stolder’s track-by-track liner notes. It’s available now as the final release on CD from Starbucks Entertainment, and can be found at a local Starbucks near you!
Various Artists, Blue Note Blend (Starbucks/Blue Note, 2015)
- Blues March – Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (from Moanin’, 1958)
- In Walked Bud – Thelonious Monk (rec. 1947, collected on Genius of Modern Music: Volume One, 1956)
- It Never Entered My Mind – Miles Davis (from Volume 3, 1954)
- Nice and Easy – Johnny Griffin (from Introducing Johnny Griffin, 1956)
- Señor Blues – The Horace Silver Quintet (from 6 Pieces of Silver, 1957)
- Dancing in the Dark – Julian “Cannonball” Adderley (from Somethin’ Else, 1958)
- Old Folks – Grant Green (from Grantstand, 1961)
- I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry – Dexter Gordon (from Go, 1962)
- Cantaloupe Island – Herbie Hancock (from Empyrean Isles, 1964)
- Tennessee Waltz – Jacky Terrasson and Cassandra Wilson (from Rendezvous, 1997)
- Body and Soul – Joe Lovano (from From the Soul, 1991)
- The Nearness of You – Norah Jones (from Come Away with Me, 2002)
- Gentle Shifts South – Jason Moran (from Modernistic, 2002)
- Liquid Spirit – Gregory Porter (from Liquid Spirit, 2013)
- Summertime – Sidney Bechet (rec. 1939)