My Favorite Jazz Album Covers
I bought many for the sleeves and jackets—and I'm not talking wardrobe
I’m probably too obsessed with album covers. You’re not supposed to judge a record by its cover.
But for many years, I had no choice.
I’d visit record stores, and spend endless hours trying to decide which albums to buy. Back in those days, many fans purchased new music on faith—especially if they were obsessed with niche genres like jazz, blues, classical, or anything experimental or alternative
There was no streaming back then. And niche music didn’t get much radio airplay. Like many other fans, I frequently bought records before hearing any of the tracks.
And so I spent a lot of time at record stores staring at album covers.
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I had a preference for mysterious covers.
As you will see below—where I share my favorite jazz album covers—I liked designs that were evocative, not descriptive. I know other fans dig those gritty hard bop covers, with poorly lit monochromatic photos of musicians sweating in Rudy Van Gelder’s recording studio.
They’re very realistic. You can almost smell the perspiration.
But that sweaty stuff is not for me.
I’m looking for magic, not realism. Or, at a minimum, some magical realism. Music has always been my mind-altering drug of choice. Albums are gateways to a higher realm—not a workout on the treadmill.
So I gravitated instead to those ridiculous CTI album covers, designed by photographer Pete Turner—which had zero connection with the music. Take for example, Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Wave. The marketing department at any other record label would feature an actual wave on the cover—maybe something suitably Copacabana-ish for this musician from Rio de Janeiro.
But what does Pete Turner do? He gives us a giraffe on the surface of the planet Mars. (That’s what it looked like to me—although the image actually came from Turner’s photo shoot in Africa for an oil company.)
The cover had no connection to the music (which Turner hadn’t even heard when he chose the photo). But it’s magical. It transports me to another world—almost literally, because I’m off on the Red Planet with my new buddy the giraffe.
By the way, the printers messed up one day, and released a green version of the cover. “They switched the plates by mistake,” Turner explains. “But I kind of like that one, too.”
I feel the same. It’s like that giraffe and I have now been teleported to Jupiter.
The CTI label went to extremes of denial, unknown to even OJ or Kevin Spacey in the witness box. So if the album is called White Rabbit, don’t look for the rabbit. If the album is called Body Talk, the body will be missing.
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