Monday, July 03, 2006

lining the nest

Rare enough to be mentioned: Sonny Rollins guitarist Bobby Broom gives it up for jazz writers.

Remember when part of experiencing a recording for the first time meant reading the credits and liner notes? That was fun reading and so meaningful to me when I was a kid, trying to understand jazz music. There was so much for me to learn and try to make sense of at that time. In my quest to sort out the order of things in the universe of jazz—the seminal figures, their supporting casts, the various groups of players—in other words, the roots and branches of jazz’s family tree, I looked to the back covers of records as my elementary aid in understanding the music.
Because of the socio-political ramifications of jazz, it has always needed scholars and other genuine arts supporters to champion its cause and its musicians, and to help elevate these to their rightful place among the great musical and cultural contributions of the world. French jazz enthusiasts, Hugh Panassie’ and Charles Delaunay were serious supporters who spoke for jazz and helped pave the way for writers such as Albert Murray and Amiri Baraka; musician and scholar, Gunther Schuller; and jazz critics, Rudi Blesh, Leonard Feather, Ira Gitler, Nat Hentoff, Dan Morgenstern, and others. More recent jazz thinkers, like Scott DeVeaux (The Birth of Bebop – University of California Press), Doug Ramsey ( and Joe Moore (, continue to keep up with jazz as art, rather than ordering it according to what is marginal and popular, or worse yet, providing misinformation.
Once upon a time, liner notes were included along with the music as a part of the package—as a way of enhancing the music experience for the listener. They were written by jazz lovers, who intermingled and fraternized with their subjects, and who in varying levels and ways respected, identified with and understood what was special about the jazz musician’s form of expression. Of course, not all liner notes were accurate, informative works of art, but there existed a proper and fundamental understanding of hierarchy, of authority in the relationships between artist, consumer and critic. The means of conveying that understanding, liner notes, is sorely missed by this music lover.

I'm reminded of Wayne Bremser's iTunes versus Preservation article. I took slightly too harsh a swipe at a similar article that no longer seems to be available online.

CD may have thoroughly modified cover art, but it completely killed liner notes. On LPs, you could read them in the store and maybe use them as a purchasing aid. Now, you can't do that anymore. When the liner note writer is talking to effective rather than prospective buyers, the subject matter has to change. Is there really a point to them any more? The added value of liner notes needs to be rethought.

That said, I, too, generally enjoy liner notes. For the longest time, I've been wanting to start a "liner note wisdom" series, but I tend to read them downstairs and the computer is upstairs... Still, old liner notes serve as neat summaries of the state of criticism at the time. The old school musician interview format is often interesting. Then, there's the musician-penned essay, which Brad Mehldau has taken to new, but very interesting, lengths with House On Hill. Ellery Eskelin also writes interesting ones. The Figure Of Speech liners are by Kevin Whitehead, but they're essentially an interview and continue to serve as a useful manifesto for Eskelin's approach. Perhaps integration between CD and website can bring worthwhile new forms.

Totally unrelated: TV On The Radio's Return To Cookie Mountain is totally killer.