Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, two Jews who fled Nazi Berlin in the 1930s and later started a trad-jazz and boogie-woogie record label, became prime movers for modern stuff in the ’50s.
Their advocacy of iconoclast Thelonious Monk alone would have ensured their place in history, but key recordings by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Art Blakey, and many others aded to an indelible mark. The label’s funky side, repped by Lee Morgan, Grant Green, and Lou Donaldson (who wheezingly appears here), kept finances afloat, with their sounds widely sampled in the early hip-hop era. The film contains complete new performances by Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, and will be riveting even for folks who know most of the story. Unlike other labels, BN paid for all rehearsals (at Rudy Van Gelder’s stellar studio), encouraging original compositions with challenging arrangements, while Wolff snapped soulful photos that have since helped keep the music alive. (By the way, Nora Jones is almost the only woman on hand.)