Sleeve Notes

Maybe it was the invention of the CD, and then the MP3 that did for it. 

The signs prising the shrinkwrap of the latest album to crash through the letterbox, for a change, though were promising. A striking image on the cover. But hmmm, only a four-page booklet. So no great shakes, and the paper as thin and shiny as a flier from the latest kebab shop to tempt the hungry and frankly desperate back to the ever struggling high street.

Sheesh. But what’s this? Two blank sheets, not creative white space the best designers know how to deal with. No, this was a decision: the liner notes don’t matter in the slightest, you could practically hear the producer mouthing. Blank will do.

But as any fool knows liner notes do matter and not just because writers – many of who find themselves in drastically reduced circumstances these days impoverished by the insatiable demands of readers on the hunt for free music journalism online – need a commission or two to help keep them in biros.

Liner notes are the extra element that makes the music come alive, along with good graphic design, and attractive photography. It’s the story behind the music. The myth-making, the phrases, those “sheets of sound” invented on the spur of the moment that enter the lexicon, along with the studio anecdotes perhaps, the arcane explanations of nicknames and odd cranky diets, the fear of flying, the superstitions, the pen pictures of the people we only know via their music that in a liner note-less world would otherwise remain as inscrutable as the Mona Lisa.

Whether it was a Ralph Gleason, or a Leonard Feather, Nat Hentoff or LeRoi Jones, or notes written by the musicians themselves, Bill Evans for instance writing about Kind of Blue or even Charles Mingus’ psychiatrist Dr Edmund Pollock enlisted to the cause to pen the outrageous notes to The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, it made little difference to the overall effect.

It’s no coincidence that some of the best albums as albums these days, produced by labels such as Resonance, come with great liner notes and that attention to detail remains so important. A shame that it is becoming a lost art along with music journalism itself.

Maybe we’ll all wake up one day from consuming that prolific article on Facebook and ephemeral dreaming on blogs such as this and recall what we used to treasure from reference books and magazines but now stuff into us like the choicest of rare truffles for the princely sum of nada to wonder where all the jazz writers have gone. And if we do however unlikely that possibility may be we might realise that you know those social misfits and music nuts, the jazz writers, did bring something to the table after all that had value but suddenly now doesn’t seem to have any at all looking at those blank pages in the CD booklet, that proud byline of some scribe of note rendered invisible.

Not always blankety blank: Bill Evans’ liner note for Kind of Blue, pictured clockwise from top left, Charles Mingus, and the Leonard Feather notes issued with Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder