5 for Friday: Blue Note by the Numbers – Top 5 Most Common Instruments for Session Leaders – 1500 Series (Part 1 of 3)

Pt. 1 – The 1500 Series | Pt. 2 – The 4000 Series | Pt. 3 – Both Series Combined

Regarding the Blue Note 1500 & 4000 series, I’ve always wondered which instruments were the most common for the session leaders. In other words, I knew there were lots of tenor sax and organ albums, but just how many and what other instruments would round out a “top 5”? I haven’t seen this data online anywhere, so I decided to do the research myself. I will present my findings in a series of three 5 for Friday posts.


The first thing to do was to get a list of all 1500 and 4000 series records. For the 4000 series records, I used Horace Silver’s The Jody Grind (BLP 4250) for the cut-off, as it was the last pre-Liberty release. Once I had the list of records, I included only those titles that were released, as some sessions were assigned catalog numbers only to be shelved. This resulted in a total of 97 titles in the 1500 series and 238 for the 4000 series.

Thus armed with my list of titles, I created a spreadsheet with column headings of Catalog Number, Artist, Title, and Instrument(s). For records like Jimmy Smith’s House Party, it was simple: It’s Jimmy’s record and he’s an organist. But there were some records that required me to make “rules.”

  • One artist is credited with another artist—count only the first artist.
    • Example: On View at the Five Spot (4021), Kenny Burrell with Art Blakey
  • Two artists are presented as Artist 1 and Artist 2, or even without the “and”—count both artists.
    • Example: Blowing in from Chicago (1549), Clifford Jordan [and] John Gilmore
  • The Three Sounds—piano.
  • Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers—drums.
  • Artist(s) plays more than one instrument on the album—count each of them.
    • Example: Soulstream (4161), count tenor sax, soprano sax, and stritch for George Braith

This week’s post is look at the most common instruments for session leaders of the 97 albums in the Blue Note 1500 series.

Part 1 of 3: The Top 5 Instruments in the 1500 Series

1. (TIE) Piano and trumpet, 19 albums each, 19.6% each of the series total

Number of different piano players: 6
Most albums: Horace Silver, 5

Number of different trumpet players: 7
Most albums: Lee Morgan, 6

3. Tenor sax, 18, 18.6%

Number of different tenor sax players: 9
Most albums: Hank Mobley, 5

4. Organ, 13, 13.4%

Number of different organ players: 1
Most albums: Jimmy Smith, 13

5. Alto sax, 7, 7.2%

Number of different alto sax players: 3
Most albums: Lou Donaldson, 5


1500 series

Miscellaneous Stats

Total number of different instruments played by session leaders: 12

Least common instruments (1 each):

– Baritone sax (Gil Mellé)
– Conga (Sabu Martinez)
– Vibes (Milt Jackson)


Coming next week: the 4000 series!

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