Guymon Ensley & G.E.Q. Jazz


Your Next CD's Coverart Should Be "Whatz-up!"

Last week, I attended the 2015 Jazz Connect Conference, held at the St. Peters Church in New York. In attendance, were musicians, producers, music educators, record company executives, music journalist and more. The panel and plenary sessions were complete with information on branding, artist owned and run labels and the role of social media, just to name a very few. However, a common thread throughout most of the presentations had something to do with the replenishing of the jazz audience. This was articulated very well by keynote speaker, bassist Christian McBride. As only Christian can do it, he used his humorous approach to sum it up advising everybody to bring a young person to jazz.


There are fine young jazz performers, composers ad educators showing up all over the world and among their following, are young consumers. The rich history of this artform, born in New Orleans and nurtured in other great American cities, has seemed to carry with it, a tradition. Over the years, I remember the artwork on the front of album covers of many jazz artists being photos or drawings of the artist or their instruments. For the most part, the great jazz Katts through the years dressed “hip” or “cool” . . .  or maybe there was something pretty cool about an outdoor scene that was pretty appropriate at the time. 


But I got a reminder of how important the artwork on album covers are. It was right after Christian McBride’s keynote speech on getting young people interested in jazz.  I was in one of the large rooms outside of the sanctuary where the speech occurred. As I stood there, a young lad walked up to me and introduced himself. He was a musician, a drummer from Brooklyn . . . and he had a certain humbleness that seem to indication that he was accomplished in a since. We exchanged business cards and CDs and continue to talk. He glanced at my CD and placed it into his bag. Then, he very deliberately, however respectfully stated: “do you know why a lot of young people are not interested in learning about jazz . . . because many times there are pictures of older people, or something older on the front in the artwork.” He also referred to a photo of “Sun Ra” on the front of this month’s Jazz Times Magazine. I found that to be interesting and pondered that thought for the rest of the afternoon and evening.


That evening, I found myself sitting in “Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola,” checking out the jam session night with students from the Juliard School of Music taking the stage. Those young people were playing some of the hottest licks, and taking command of the music. I enjoyed every second of it. I introduced myself to a young tenor player who had just stepped from the smoldering stage that he just set on fire. As we talked, I took advantage of the opportunity to get his take of  how important cover artwork is. I showed him a copy of the image on my newest CD. As you know, it sports an image of tweed trousers, pointed toed shoes and white socks . . . the photo is from about the knees down. He studied the picture for a few seconds and told me that he liked it. Then I asked him about its appeal to a younger musician like himself and a younger consumer of jazz music . . . someone that might want to buy a CD “cold” . . . or does he think it’s a pretty cool photo. The young sax player hesitated a few seconds and commented on the white socks, stating “the picture is OK . . . but if the socks . . . if the socks weren’t just white . . . if they had some color . . . then that’s  “whatz-up!” So . . . that’s what I did, I added some colored socks!


 The lesson I learned here is that artwork should not be just “hip,” “cool” or even an image of my own mug . . . but it’s got to be an image that's “whatz-up!”



Greetings, I am very Intrrested in your work and think that I would love to see if you have the time some mock ups for a future industrial somg I will be releasing. I would love to get s creative director on my time and you seem to hold all the qualifications. My music, demos, soundscapes can be found on search under Robert Raymond Britz. I look foreward to hearing from you. Your friend, Robert Zraymond Britz 760-861-0123
I agree with your comments. The young kids like jazz when they HEAR it, but the image gives them fits...So many older albums had fabulous artwork on the outside--some of those covers were by famous artists and are now collectible as pieces of art--, with the vanity shots of the group members on the liner notes on the inside...maybe we need to collaborate with the visual and graphic artists, and give them full credit on the covers.....I have several albums that I purchased just because I liked the artist, but even more importantly because I loved the artwork.....
Guymon I was at the conference and noticed there weren't many young people present. There were a few but the conference seemed to have been made up of folks trying to figure out what do we do next. I was surprised to learn that album sales were greater than CD sales in 2014. It used to be a treat for me to listen to an album and read the liner notes to understand who the players were - these eyes have a few miles on them and I can't read the info on a J-Card/CD inserts. The continuation of this art form (Jazz) has to be a global community effort. Since terrestrial radio stations supporting jazz are disappearing we have to continue to put it in the clubs and on Multi media sites. As Linda Yohn said "we don't have to change what we do"... we just have to keep the folks producing the music in the ears of the listeners and entice them and excite them enough to become either creators or consumers. Have A Very Musical Day -- In the Key of Gee!
Hi Guymon, I was at Jazz Connect as well1 I'm so sorry we did not hook up while we were both in New York. The meetings were meaningful and I came away with some of the same thoughts. We don't have to change what we do, we just have to have that splash and attitude that will bring new people to us. Thanks for sharing and I really enjoy what you write.

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