02 January 2009

Friday Album Cover: Serious Music

Let's get 2009 started on the right foot, with a Friday Album Cover. One of the dominant narratives of jazz history has been the struggle for acceptance of jazz as a high art. From the early days of jazz, when Duke Ellington was calling his music an African American art, to the academization of jazz after the 1960s, jazz musicians have defined their music as an art form, and not simply a folk or popular music. Some musicians have used album art to present themselves as serious musicians who have worked painstakingly hard to develop their music.

As I wrote earlier this year, Charles Mingus used this technique on the cover on his album Blues and Roots, released in 1959. Around the same time, avant-garde wunderkind Ornette Coleman posed with his quarter for the cover to his album This Is Our Music. The album cover was a self-conscious presentation of something new in the jazz world. It tells the viewer/listener that whatever he or she thinks about it, the music of Coleman and his band is their own artistic expression that deserves to be taken seriously.

Ornette Coleman

Almost thirty years after Coleman, another wunderkind, trumpeter and spokesperson for the Young Lions Wynton Marsalis, used the Serious Artist archetype on an album of his own, Standard Time, Vol.1. Like Coleman on This is Our Music, Marsalis strives for the listener to take him seriously as an artist. Like jazz itself, the Serious Artist archetype lives on in the inferiority complexes of musicians everywhere...

Wynton Marsalis
Standard Time, Vol.1

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