My friend Don is into vinyl records. He claims their superiority – “warmer” tone or better mix – over CDs or electronic versions. This may be true in many cases, although it is an argument difficult to prove to those who grew up only listening to CDs or downloads. One area we agree on, however, is that the record sleeve is a disappearing art form. The often wonderful (and in the Fifties and Sixties sometimes hilariously sexy) artwork and design that went into album covers loses a great deal of impact when it goes from something you held in both hands to a thumbnail on your iPod.
The other loss is the flip side of the album, the liner notes. (Yes, they’re included in CD booklets, but often in an unreadable, small font.) Now that many people download individual songs, we often don’t know who is playing drums or bass behind the album’s main artist, we don’t know recording dates, and we get none of the flavor of the moment that liner notes often provided. For jazz recordings, these things are crucial. Liner notes were often written by leading critics of the day, to place the recording/artist in some kind of context, or by producers or others just trying to push the record. So, they could vary from prescient analysis to desperate attempts to sound “hip.”
In the liner notes to Introducing Johnny Griffin (Blue Note, 1956), Joe Segal states: “Among saxophonists, Johnny Griffin, by many, is considered to be ‘the man’!” Oh, really. We also find out that Griffin is performing at Chicago’s Flame Show Lounge. The “man” was truly hot apparently.
I suppose this is indicative of our age. We have access to almost unlimited amounts of information, but the connection to meaning seems to be loosening.