I fancy myself to be something of a jazz cat (as the parlance goes). Before that point, I was mostly a metal/hard rock guy. Mind you, I didn’t go from Metallica to Mingus in one easy step. I first dipped my toes into jazz via fusion.
For those not as hip as me (it’s such a coincidence that you’re both reading this), fusion (often called jazz-rock) is a genre of music that has it’s roots in the jazz music scene but incorporated elements of genres like rock and R&B such as distorted electric guitar, synthesized keyboards, and danceable rhythms. It can come in more conventional forms with mainstream crossover potential, like with Weather Report’s Heavy Weather or Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. It can also come in the form of more loosely-structured jam sessions with connections to free jazz, found on such recordings as Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew or Tony Williams’ Emergency. In fact, I even lifted the name of my blog from a song by fusion band Vital Information.
All of my first jazz recordings would fall under the fusion umbrella, and that’s where my passion for jazz developed. Some of my earliest forays into jazz/fusion came with artists found on the label GRP Records.
Say what you will about some of the music on this label, but I can say with certainty that I was never really impressed by any covers on the album that GRP Records released. One of the main factors of this is that most of their covers seemed to basically be photos of the artists. After looking over a large number of their releases, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only ways it seemed that you can get some more interesting covers is:
- You founded the label
- You’re a living legend
- You’re one of their top-sellers and on the verge of becoming a living legend
- The artwork was commissioned by Gallagher
I’ll explore some of the others.
Dave Valentin – Light Struck
Is this one of the side effects of a lightning strike? It can transform Geraldo Rivera into his flute-playing alter-ego? It may seem reminiscent of a super hero origin story, but transforming into a latin jazz artist won’t grab the headlines away from The Hulk any time soon. On the other hand, like Peter Parker’s freelancing work with The Daily Bugle, Geraldo can build up his own press.
“Dave Valentin: best musician living, best musician ever, or best musician there will ever be? Who is this elusive figure, and why won’t he appear on my show? We’ll discuss this with members of the KKK on the next Geraldo.”
Tom Browne – Browne Sugar
Bobby Broom – Clean Sweep
It was actually rather commonplace back in the 1950s and 1960s for jazz albums to simply show a photo of the artist on the front cover. There was just something about many of these older covers that worked better. It must be the suits they wore. They came across at a Rat Pack level of cool, as opposed to a “check out the latest spring fashions at Sears” level of “cool”.
I wonder how the label sold this as a good idea? If your surname is also a noun like in the case of Bobby Broom, you think you’d be sick to death of people making puns with your name. He’d been told his whole life he’s destined to become a janitor. The curling club he joined left him on designated sweeping duty, not letting him throw the stone even once. Perhaps a few remarks about his mother riding a broom were made by the neighbourhood kids.
You know? I’ll be damned, but this got me inspired. If these two men can use this silly wordplay on their debut albums, why can’t I? I’d just want there to be a bit of relevance behind the title. Something that really summarizes the album.
I’ll call my debut Dan To No Good, and I’ll assemble a band of my own. There’s only one rule: you must never have played a musical instrument in your life. I play bass, and while I certainly couldn’t hang with these guys, this disqualifies me from playing on my own recording. I’ll stick to more of a visionary role as I’m more of an ideas man (meaning I don’t want to do any work).
We’ll cut the album old-school. A dozen jazz standards recorded over the course of a single weekend. Surely the dream team I assembled can handle that type of pressure, right? I’m not counting on it. If all goes according to plan, perhaps “My Favorite Things” will become one of your least.
Time to get my “I can’t believe they didn’t lock me out the studio” pose ready for the cover.
Either this or arms folded, against a brick wall, right next to a “No Loitering” sign.
Lee Ritenour – Portrait
Did they at least include the picture he was taking of himself somewhere in the liner notes? It’d be a shame for them to waste a beautiful close-up of his right ear. Maybe he honestly intended on taking the cover photo all by himself, but someone else ruined his shot by taking this one. At least Lee looks like he’s fine with it. I was almost ready to congratulate them on actually picking an album cover that matches the title, but this is more of a behind-the-scenes of a portrait.
Kevin Eubanks – The Heat of Heat
Before landing his band leader role on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Kevin “The Heat of Heat” Eubanks was employed by Chippendales. He made a very good living off it, even incorporating his nifty axe-work into the job by playing lead during his trademark “Superfreak” routine. Unfortunately, his employment was terminated early for busting into fits of laughter whenever the evening’s host took the mic (even when he wasn’t being funny).
Did this cover actually help Mr. Eubanks and GRP move units? Or were they a little over-ambitious, hoping this would become the Whipped Cream & Other Delights for a new generation (and opposite gender)?
Nevertheless, a few years later they felt the world couldn’t get enough of this ebony god. They weren’t wrong. It turns out that his fellow vegetarians would hold him in very high esteem nearly twenty years later.
David Benoit – Freedom at Midnight
Think back to your childhood and remember how awesome you thought it would be to sleep on a racecar bed. Then when you got older, you’d move on to real cars and some of us would be so attached to our vehicle that you’d sleep in it if not for the negative perception that it doubles as living quarters. David Benoit had a similar passion, but for the ivories. He may not have had a piano bed, but his music teacher let him sleep on the top of his once if he promised that he’d re-enact the event on a future album cover.
David Benoit has hip substitute teacher written all over him. That’s why he has so much freedom at midnight. He’s not the one who marks the papers. Heck, he might have conveniently misplaced the lesson plan just to kick back, ask students what it is that they normally do, and make thinly veiled hints that he was no stranger to the reefer back in the day.
Dave Weckl – Master Plan
If a picture isn’t even notable enough to make the front of your instructional video, what makes you think it would make a compelling album cover?
And why the transparent drum set? We don’t need the hint about what his instrument of choice is, given that the clearly visible sticks he holds in his hands aren’t used on a woodwind. Maybe some of his sponsors pulled out at the eleventh hour, and this was the best they could do to eliminate the kit from the shot.
By his next album, Weckl finally reached a settlement, and was good-natured enough about the incident to reference one particularly heated round of negotiations at the Yamaha headquarters.
Mark Egan – A Touch of Light
Mark Egan came to prominence in the mid-to-late 70s as bassist in the Pat Metheny Group. Apparently, he went on to spend the mid-to-late 80s wondering if puberty would ever kick in.
Dig that stache!! Selleck showed more potential in preschool. But seriously, Mark, did you really think an album cover was the best place to demo that first moustache?
Having a hard time spotting it? I don’t blame you. This is one of those moustaches you see that make you do a double-take, triple-take, however many takes needed to shake off the shock of spotting such facial hair outside of a high school locker room. Light needs to catch it in the right way to make it seem prominent, and this photo is doing it no favors.
It reminds me of a university professor of mine. Sitting near the back of the lecture hall, you couldn’t see the pencil-thin moustache he cultivated. I went up front at the end of one class to ask him a question, and I was so stunned at my discovery that I could barely focus on what he told me. It took me damned near a month to catch that lip caterpillar.
I happen to own this recording. It cost me three dollars at a flea market. I already knew he was a talented bass player, but what really drew me to buy this CD? I’m sure you’ve already eliminated one possibility by now. Was it the ever-popular Miami Vice attire he’s wearing? The Christ-like glow which radiates off him? The fact that the graphics scheme reminds me of the paper plates and napkins I used on every birthday from ages 6 through 9 and again from 11 to 14 (I convinced my parents to spring for a Jurassic Park motif for the big 1-0)? None of the above.
It’s all in that bass. I don’t have any immediate interest in acquiring a double-necked musical instrument, but guitarists and bassists always get curious when they lock their eyes on one of these multi-necked mammoths. What are we dealing with here? Looks like a 4-string on the top neck, and an 8-string at the bottom. Or is the camera out of focus, giving the illusion of doubled strings? I see fret lines on both necks, but they make fretless basses with lines drawn on the fret board to help with note positioning. And the cover seems to cut off part of the instrument. The possibilities are endless!! What do we got? Three necks? Four? FIVE!!????
You mean I have to actually buy the album to find out? It’s 1988 for crying out loud! Bass Player magazine won’t arrive for another year, and Guitar Player never answers my letters. Besides, it’s not as if there’s some magic box that can give me the answers to these questions with the push of a button. LET THE TORTURE CEASE!!!!!!