By Nomali Cele
For many years, the joy of music was both in listening to it and holding the physical copy in your hands. Jazz is no different. From vinyl of the 1950s to cassettes and CDs later as things began to change; holding a jazz album in your hands gives you a chance to expand the story from beyond what comes out of the speakers.
Holding a Jazz album means having the chance to look at the art. It means knowing every last musician and vocalist that was in the sessions. Liner notes are just as much a part of the project as what you hear. Writing for All About Jazz in 2016, Jakob Baekgaard emphasised the importance of Jazz liner notes when it comes to placing the music.
“The inclusion of liner notes in albums is a crucial part of the ceremony of choice. Reading the notes puts you in the right frame of mind. It confirms your choice and prepares the experience of listening.” Wrote Baekgaard.
Also in 2016, we ourselves took a closer at the art of liner notes and the role they play in preserving the context of South African Jazz. From Mankunku to the Jazz Epistles, we took a closer looks at what was happening between the notes.
Here, we focus on physical Jazz records for their album art. Much like the stories told in the music and in the liner notes, Jazz album covers are a microcosm of their time and carry. What makes the art for these three albums cool is how introspective they or surprising they are.
Bitches Brew by Miles Davis
Still heralded by many as one of Davis’s defining work Bitches Brew was released in 1970. The artwork that came with it was ahead of its time and would fit right in, in a year like 2018 with the release of the likes of “Black Panther”. The artwork was by German artist Mati Klarwein, whether they were looking towards the future or a world beyond Jazz, we will never know.
Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollings by Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollings
This 1954 collaboration album between pianist Thelonious Monk and saxophonist Sonny Rollings came with interesting album art. The art for Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollings is cool because it was done by Monk himself.
Jazz Giant by Bud Powell
Bud Powell was the peers of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk and was impactful in the development of bebop Jazz. With Jazz Giant, legend has it that the first session was in 1949 when Powell was freshly released from a psychiatric hospital, the second session would be recorded a year later. The artwork is melancholy, featuring a tall figure standing a distance away from a tiny piano in what could be a field or a large body of water. The artwork was done by the Jazz legend himself.