In 1990, bassist Mark Shelby heard about a performance space in Los Angeles called the World Stage that was funded by drummer Billy Higgins and often featured open jam sessions. In August of that year, Shelby met trumpeter Richard Grant at the World Stage, and a couple months later they were joined by drummer Willie Jones III and altoist James Mahone. Jamming each night at the World Stage from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. gave the musicians an opportunity to form and solidify a group sound. They played their first gigs in January 1991 and among their first pianists were Eric Reed and Kenneth Crouch. However, by the time the group recorded its first set, 43rd and Degnan (for the World Stage label), Ark Sano was Black/Note's regular pianist. When Grant received a scholarship to Rutgers in February 1992, he left the band. After a period as a quartet, Gilbert Castellanos became the group's new trumpeter.
Along with the B Sharp Quartet, Black/Note gained some recognition in the mid-'90s as a fine hard bop and post-bop group comprised of young black players in Los Angeles who wanted to explore acoustic jazz. Black/Note has since recorded for Columbia (Jungle Music) and Impulse (Nothin' but the Swing), but lost some of its personality when Castellanos left the band, which made it a less-distinctive (and part-time) quartet.