2002 SAMLA
Blue Notes: Jazz History, Fiction, and Poetics

Philippe Carrard
University of Vermont


"Titling Jazz: On the Front Cover of the Blue Note Records"



Do not cite without permission of the author.


Whether they take the form of LPs or CDs, records usually come with a cover that supplies some basic information about the music, starting with who is playing and what is being played. This information is part of the records' paratext (paradisc?), more precisely, of what Gérard Genette calls the "publisher's epitext" (Seuils 20): the "uncertain zone" that comes between the text and the context, admitting-in the case of a record's front cover-such items as the name of the artist(s), the title of the album, and the name of the label (to which a serial number is usually added). My purpose is to contribute to the "poetics" of jazz (defined as the study of the rules, codes, and conventions that shape discourses about jazz) by examining the covers of some celebrated records: the albums released by the company Blue Note between 1939 and 1976. Those covers are well known because of their graphic design, especially their photographs, which have been anthologized in attractive picture books like Graham Marsh's Blue Note: The Album Cover Art and Michael Cuscuna's The Blue Note Years: The Jazz Photography of Francis Wolff. I touch later upon the role of this iconography, but my main objective is to examine another component of Blue Note album covers, namely, their titles. For those titles, though admittedly less glamorous than Francis Wolff's photographs, are integral to the "poetics" of jazz; they offer several imaginative solutions to the problem of naming an album, that is, of distinguishing it from other albums, telling about its content, and attracting potential listeners.

Most studies of titles thus far have concerned literature (Hoek), or such specialized domains as film (group Mu), painting (Fisher), advertising (Calbris), newspaper articles (Dubois), and scholarly essays (Carrard). Titles of music albums, however, have not been scrutinized to the same extent. In the area of jazz, critics have mostly focused on the titles of individual pieces. Frank Kofsky, in his thorough study of the jazz "revolution" of the 1960s, has thus pointed out that many compositions of this period have names that evoke African and African-American cultures: "Dakar," "Bantu," "Dahomey Dance," "Message from Kenya," "The Sermon," "Home Cookin'," "Them Dirty Blues," "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting," etc. Yet Kofsky does not ask how these names are related to their co-texts (i.e., the other texts that figure on the jackets), for example, whether a title like "Dakar" also designates the album on which it appears (it does in the instance of John Coltrane's Dakar), and whether that album contains other numbers whose titles refer to Africa. Such questions are important, though, because jazz records are mostly known by their titles and usually include not just one piece but several. In this respect, titles of jazz albums are comparable to titles of collections of poems or short stories. All make parts into a whole, in the case of poems and short stories by highlighting features which those parts have in common on the thematic level (Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal), on the generic level (Ernest Hemingway's The Short Stories), or even on the level of both genre and theme (Paul Verlaine's Les Poèmes saturniens).

Issues concerning titles of jazz records are many, and I deal here with very few of them. Thus, although the problem is important from a historical standpoint, I do not take up the question of knowing--to use Jacques Derrida's pun--who had the "title" to coin the titles of the Blue Note records (7). Were those phrases suggested by the musicians? Did they originate with the talented graphic artists (Gil Melle, Reid Miles, etc.) who were reponsible for designing the album jackets? Were they devised by the label's owners, Francis Wolff and Alfred Lion, who until 1965 (when they sold Blue Note to Liberty Records) were deeply involved in the production of the records that they released? Or were titles picked during a brain-storming session, to which the above parties contributed in various ways? Being unaware of any research on this subject, I assume that the titles I examine were conceived by an editorial authority that included one, two, or all the groups I have just mentioned. As far as grammar is concerned, I don't investigate the syntactic structure of the titles under review. Leo H. Hoek has treated this subject with regard to literary works, and I take for granted that his analyses also apply to music albums: most utterances that make up titles are semi-grammatical, more precisely, "verbless" and "elliptical" (Hoek 54). Leaving historical and stylistic questions aside, I consider the titles of the Blue Note records from the perspective of the information that they provide. I first establish a typology, asking what those titles are telling about the musical content of the albums that they earmark. Then I take up some of the issues that titling a record raises for the poetics of jazz, that is, not for the music itself, but for the study of the discourses that pertain to it.

Viewed from the standpoint of the data that they furnish, the titles that figure on the cover of Blue Note records can be distributed into three basic categories: denotative, connotative, and index titles.

1. Denotative titles. Such titles "inform correctly" about the content of the album on which they figure and do not have to be "interpreted" by prospective listeners (Hoek 171), at least not by competent ones. They usually list a fact, or a series of facts, which are regarded as relevant to a jazz record. Those facts may include:

1.1 The name of the artist and/or the group he is leading: Sonny Rollins, Sonny Rollins; Tal Farlow, Tal Farlow Quartet; Lou Donaldson, Lou Donaldson Sextet; Hank Mobley, Hank Mobley and His All_Stars. The information may be limited to the artist's first name and/or include an evaluation, often in the form of an adjective qualifying the artist: Andrew Hill, Andrew; Bud Powell, Bud!; Fats Navarro, The Fabulous Fats Navarro; J.J. Johnson, The Eminent J.J. Johnson; Herbie Nichols, The Prophetic Herbie Nichols; Thad Jones, The Magnificent Thad Jones; Jimmy Smith, The Incredible Jimmy Smith at the Organ (the adjective "incredible" recurs on several albums by Jimmy Smith, suggesting that Smith's use of the organ is "beyond belief"). Insofar as they repeat the name/s of the artist/s already supplied on the cover, these titles answer in redundant manner the question that probably is the most significant in jazz: Who is playing? For jazz, unlike classical music, emphasizes interpreters and pays less attention to composers. In fact, my corpus includes only two titles that foreground the authors of the music on the albums: Horace Silver, Six Pieces of Silver, and Jimmy Smith, Jimmy Smith Plays Fats Waller. Yet Silver and his group are also the interpreters of Six Pieces, and the album featuring Waller's music is intriguing because that music is played by Smith (encounters of this type of course are frequently staged on classical records, leading to a profusion of titles of the type "X Plays/Sings Z").

1.2 The genre of the music: Albert Ammons, Boogie-Woogie Classics; Ike Quebec, Heavy Soul; Kenny Dorham, Afro-Cuban; Art Hodes, Dixieland Jubilee; George Lewis, Echoes of New-Orleans; Charlie Rouse, Bossa Nova Bacchanal; Grant Green, The Latin Bit. These titles situate the album on the map of the types of jazz that are practiced at the time of the album's release. They may confirm what we know about the featured artist: Ammons is a specialist of boogie-woogie piano playing; Hodes, of Dixieland as practiced in Chicago; and Lewis, of the New-Orleans style as it has survived in its place of birth. But titles of this type may also signal that the artist is doing something that for him is unusual: Dorham is not known for his forays into Afro-Cuban; Rouse, unlike Stan Getz, did not convert convert to bossa nova; and Green was a hard bopper at the time of the Latin Bit's release (1962). In other words, titles like Bossa Nova Bacchanal and The Latin Bit do not just inform about the content of the album, showing Blue Note's eagerness to diversify beyond "just jazz." They also set up a confrontation between the music and its interpreters, positing knowledgeable listeners who are curious to hear how such artists as Rouse and Green handle fashionable South-American rhythms. Similar remarks apply to titles that in themselves are inconspicuous but become attractive when they are read in conjunction with with the name of the artist, like Horace Silver, The Trio Sides. Indeed, Silver has worked mostly with a quintet or a sextet. The information "the trio sides" is thus noteworthy for competent listeners, the definite article "the," which shows that all those sides are gathered on the album, being especially appealing to the "completists" who make up a sizeable part of the jazz collectors community.

1.3. The circumstances surrounding the production of the album: Clifford Brown, Memorial Album (i.e., Brown had recently died); Kenny Burrell, Introducing Kenny Burrell (i.e., this was Burrell's first album for Blue Note); Art Blakey, A Night at Birdland (i.e., the music was recorded live at the club "Birdland"); Freddie Redd, The Music from The Connection (the numbers on the album were composed for the play The Connection); Dexter Gordon, Our Man in Paris (the music was recorded in Paris); Clifford Jordan and Don Gilmore, Blowing in from Chicago (both saxophonists went to Chicago's Southside famous DuSable High School, which trained other outstanding jazz musicians like Richard Davis, Johnny Griffin, and John Jenkins). Some of these "circumstances" seem to be more memorable than others. Thus, besides the Burrell album mentioned above, several titles indicate that the record is a "first" for the label (e.g., Introducing Johnny Griffin, Here Comes Louis Smith), emphasizing Blue Note's willingness to sign new artists or hire them away from other companies. But the most frequently used titles in this category are those identifying the place, especially the club, where the music was recorded: Jutta Hipp, At the Hickory House; Kenny Dorham, 'Round Midnight at the Café Bohemia; Sonny Rollins, A Night at the Village Vanguard; Jimmy Smith, Groovin' at Small's Paradise; Donald Byrd, At the Half Note Café; Stanley Turrentine, Up at Minton's. Such titles draw on name recognition, transporting listeners to famous places that they probably know but cannot visit very often unless they live in New York. The information "recorded live" also includes a promise of authenticity, grounded in the widely held belief that the "best," most "genuine" jazz is played in clubs, not in the unnatural, spontaneity-killing environment of a studio.

2. Connotative titles. Such titles do not "inform correctly" (in the sense of "literally") about the content of the album (Hoek 171). Admitting one or several connotations, they have to be "interpreted" by potential listeners on the basis of shared cultural codes. Those connotations may concern:

2.1 The "mood" of the music: Jack Wilson, Easterly Winds; The Three Sounds, Feelin' Good; Stanley Turrentine, Blue Hour; Erroll Garner, Overture to Dawn; Ornette Coleman, Love Call. Obviously, a title like "Easterly Winds" cannot be taken at face value: the album does not offer recordings of winds, blowing from the East or from elsewhere, although such recordings exist for the pleasure of both audiophiles and ecologists. The phrase "easterly winds" is used here in its connotative meaning ("softness") to describe Wilson's quiet, nonaggressive music.

("Easterly Winds" is also one of the song titles, which comes to designate the whole album in synecdochic manner.) Similarly, the sadness that "blue" suggests accords culturally with the slow tunes on Blue Hour, as the idea of "happiness" is inscribed in the fast, bouncing numbers that make up Feelin' Good. As for Love Call, it draws on the associations with "primitivism" that jazz often uses--associations that are justified in this case given the violence and disruptiveness of Coleman's music.

2.2 The genre of the music: Freddie Roach, Mo' Greens Please; Horace Parlan, Headin' South; Jackie McLean, Destination Out. Whereas titles like Boogie-Woogie Classics and Afro-Cuban give direct information about genre, Mo' Greens Please and Destination Out proceed by way of association. In fact, those last titles point to two of the main trends of the 1960s that are abundantly represented in the Blue Note catalog. "Greens" designates metonymically the "funk-soul" style, which is alluded to in several other titles: George Braith, Soul Stream; Lou Donaldson, Gravy Train; Hank Mobley, Soul Station; Jimmy Smith, The Sermon; Don Wilkerson, Preach Brother Preach. As for "Out" in McLean's title, it stands for a "new," "free," "out" kind of jazz (though not for radical "free jazz" in the Albert Ayler-Archie Shepp mold), to which other titles refer in the same oblique fashion: Donald Byrd, Free Form; Joe Henderson, In 'n 'Out; Andrew Hill, Point of Departure; Grachan Moncur, Evolution; Sam Rivers, A New Conception; and especially Jackie McLean, It's Time, Let Freedom Ring, New Soil, One Step Beyond, and Right Now. Connotations, of course, are sometimes ambiguous. "Spring" can thus suggest "freshness," as it is supposed to do when brands of shampoo, perfume, or deodorant are named after this season. But it can also mean "turn" and "reshaping," as it certainly does on Anthony Williams's Spring, a record that features the "new" music of the mid-1960s. More serious ambiguities characterize the titles of McLean's albums. If "it's time," is it "time" for musicians to start playing "out" of the traditional chord structure of the blues and the 32-bar, AABA standard? Is it "time" for all African-Americans to finally obtain their due in such areas as civil rights, jobs, and housing? And can't the two meanings be superposed, "right now" telling when the changes that are required in both the artistic and the social spheres must take place? I shall return to these questions in my conclusion, when I address the subject of the "meaning" that can be conferred upon music.

2.3. The relationship of the artist to the album: Art Blakey, Buhaina's Delight; Paul Chambers, The Whims of Chambers; Walter Davis, Davis Cup; Herbie Hancock, My Point of View; Joe Henderson, Our Thing; Jackie McLean, Jackie's Bag; Horace Parlan, Speakin' My Piece; Freddie Redd, Shades of Redd; McCoy Tyner, The Real McCoy. Titles of this type assert that the artist enjoys the music he is playing on the record, even that he "delights" in it. They also certify that the artist is doing "his thing," that is, playing what he wants, without compromising his standards. By way of pun, finally, they state that the music offered on the record reveals the artist's true personality, or at least that it provides "shades" of it. Such titles, of course, are meant to answer charges that are frequently leveled at records, e.g., "the artists obviously have no pleasure," "the producer must have imposed the songs," or "the whole endeavor is clearly commercial." But the plays on "cup," "bag," and "real" also testify to the ideology of "authenticity" and "expressiveness" that permeates discourses about music in general, jazz in particular. The assumption, which I already described while discussing live recordings, is that musicians have a true self. It is also that the best records are those on which they are allowed to express that self, to do "their thing" with as few constraints as possible.

3. Index titles. Such titles do not refer to the music in any immediate manner. They merely "index" the record, distinguishing it from other records in bins, in catalogs, as well as on the shelf on which its buyer has finally put it. To be sure, all titles serve as "indexes." But some of them seem to fulfill mainly (only?) that latter function, insofar as they could hardly characterize the music and/or the musicians. Titles in this category may include:

3.1. A catchy phrase, usually of the ready-made kind: Lou Donaldson, Sunny Side Up; Kenny Drew, Undercurrent; Freddie Hubbard, Open Sesame; Hank Mobley, Roll Call; Lee Morgan, Indeed; Stanley Turrentine, Look Out; The Three Sounds, Good Deal; and especially Wayne Shorter, Night Dreamer, Speak No Evil, and The All Seeing Eye. It goes without saying that some of these titles can be viewed as including a connotation: the songs on Donaldson's album establish a "sunny" mood; Drew's music is atypical-it belongs to an "undercurrent"; it is "indeed" Morgan playing here (who else could it be?); Shorter's music has a "dream-like" quality; it is also challenging, but listeners should make an effort and "speak no evil" about it. Yet other titles in this categoy seem to resist interpretative recuperation and function strictly as indexes. Am I supposed, for example, to be on the "lookout" for Turrentine's Look Out? And should I buy The Three Sounds' Good Deal because it is a "good deal?" Coming from a classy label like Blue Note, these invitations and promises are too crass to be taken literally. But if "look out" and "good deal" mean something else, how can I select among the many figurative senses which those phrases suggest? Similar problems arise when we try to make sense of Shorter's The All Seeing Eye, since the phrase "all seeing eye" can apply neither to the music, nor to some known aspect of Shorter's personality. These last titles can thus be viewed as pure "index titles," although I am confident that skilled literary critics could come up with plausible interpretations for them, as they do for the most hermetic pieces of poetry.

3.2 A pun on the name (or the nickname) of the artist: John Coltrane, Blue Train; Grant Green, Green Street, Grant Stand; Freddie Hubbard, Hub Cap, Hub Tones; Clifford Jordan, Cliff Craft; Duke Jordan, Flight to Jordan; Lee Morgan, Lee-Way, Delightfulee; Louis Smith, Smithville. Some of these titles could figure in the "relationship to the artist" category, as they state that the musicians were able to play what they wanted (Lee-Way), and that the record reflects their true selves (Smithville). The pun in Grant Stand serves the same function, but it also contains an antiphrasis: Green cannot be "grandstanding," unless we admit that his "stand" consists precisely of a "grandstand"--a version that the Blue Note braintrust probably did not have in mind when they picked this title. The index function of titles punning on the name of the artist is most visible in the case of Coltrane's Blue Train, since the music played by "Trane" on this celebrated album is not particularly "blue," in the sense of "slow and melancholic" (as it is on Turrentine's Blue Hour). "Blue" possibly was selected here because it accords well with "train" phonetically (try "orange" or "yellow train"), just like "street" was selected for Green Street because it accords (even better) with "Green" (try "green road" or "green path"). For that matter, most titles in this category include what Yvan Fónagy calls "figures of sound" (140), insofar as they combine puns with alliterations (Cliff Craft), with assonances (Smithville), and even with both figures in the same word (Delightfulee).

3.3 A phrase that links the name of the artist with the cover art, sometimes in the form of a pun: Donald Byrd, Byrd in Flight (the jacket shows a bird flying over its nest), Byrd in Hand (the cover shows Byrd standing with his hands loosely clasped); Sonny Clark, Dial S for Sonny (the cover shows a photograph of Clark and a large telephone receiver); Lou Donaldson, Lou Takes Off (the cover shows a missile taking off); Horace Silver, Horace Scope (the cover shows the signs of the zodiac arranged in a circle); Baby Face Willette, Face to Face (the cover shows Willette's face, and the phrase "face to face" is also spelled both normally and with inverted typeset, the words "face," "to," and "face" literally facing each other).

3.4 A phrase that is linked with the cover art, although it does not play with/on the name of the artist: Donald Byrd, Royal Flush (the cover shows Byrd holding five cards, though toward himself, making it impossible to know whether he actually has a "royal flush"); Sonny Clark, Cool Struttin' (the cover shows a woman stylishly pacing the streets); Lou Donaldson, Blues Walk (the cover shows Donaldson walking); Gil Melle, Patterns in Jazz (the cover shows color patterns--drawn by Melle himself, who at the time was employed by Blue Note both as a musician and a graphic artist); Jimmy Smith, Crazy! Baby (the cover shows a woman in flashy clothes posing next to a luxury sportscar--a Jaguar). Like Good Deal and The All Seeing Eye, titles in 3.3 and 3.4 come as close as possible to being pure "index titles." True, metaphors of height on Byrd in Flight and Lou Takes Off suggest that the quality of the music offered on these records is particularly "elevated." But such worn figures are less likely to attract prospective listeners than the whole concept, which associates verbal and iconographic messages in an engaging manner. Some titles in this category are even misleading, as "cool" in Cool Struttin' (like "blue" in Blue Train) does not describe correctly Clark's music (though the adjective certainly fits the woman's stride), and only two out of the six numbers on Blues Walk are "blues" in the technical sense of the term (a 12-bar structure that follows a specific chord progression). In these instances, too, the point seems to lure potential buyers by combining a catchy title with a high-quality picture, not to supply precise information about the content of the album. Such information, on the Blue Note records, is provided by lengthy, well-documented liner notes, to which inquisitive customers can turn if they want more details concerning the performance.

As I said from the outset, my main purpose here is to establish a typology of the Blue Note titles, not to explain where those titles originated or why they took on the forms I have inventoried. I will thus limit my conclusion to three brief remarks, which should help to contextualize the phenomena I have examined and to situate my analysis within the more general "poetics" of jazz.

I first must emphasize more than I have done so far that titling jazz records (but also other cultural objects like books and paintings) must comply with commercial exigencies. Competition is fierce in the music business, and the way an album is titled can contribute to that album's success or failure. Economic considerations, therefore, certainly account for Blue Note's use of such devices as hyperbolic assertions (The Fabulous Fats Navarro), easily decodable metonymies (Gravy Train), and no less easily understandable puns (Byrd in Flight). But the requirements of marketing may also explain the high number of index titles, whose sole function is to set a record apart from other records, making it stand out in stores, catalogs, and magazine advertisements. Whether such schemes are effective or not is of course open to question. I am not aware of any empirical survey in which listeners were asked, among other things, whether they decided to buy or not to buy a record because of its title. As for sales figures, provided that we could obtain them, they depend on so many elements (the price of the record, its format, its availability, etc.), that it would be difficult to establish direct correlations between the number of copies an album sold and the way it was titled. At the very most, we collectors can attest that the Blue Note records are sought after not just for musical reasons, but because of what we regard as the attractiveness of their jackets (of which titles of course are major components). Thus, we may have acquired Donald Byrd's Royal Flush simply because we liked the game played on this disc's cover between verbal and iconographic messages. Those of us who are most enamored of graphics may even have bought Bud Powell's Bud! because of the title's design, in this case, because the letters forming the word "Bud" are brightly lit against the dark, claustrophobic background of the picture. (The same contrast is found on several other Blue Note covers.) The fact that the Blue Note jackets have been anthologized is relevant in this regard, confirming those jackets' desirability as aesthetic objects that have become independent from the product they are supposed to promote and describe. Blue Note, for that matter, is the only jazz label to which an exclusive picture book is devoted; other anthologies gather the jackets of diverse companies according to those companies' location (e.g., Marsh's California Cool and New York Hot), or they are focused on the production of one designer (e.g., Manek Daver's Jazz Graphics, which collects the jackets drawn by David Stone Martin).

While the titles of the Blue Note records are indicative of the economic requirements involved in producing an album, they also point to the contractual aspects of the information offered on that album's cover. Philippe Lejeune and other literary theorists have described this side of a book's paratext, arguing that such a generic subtitle as "autobiography" establishes a "pact" between a text and its readers; in this instance, the text's author, narrator, and main character are the same "person," who is committed to providing a truthful narrative of his/her life (Lejeune 26). In my sample, the contractual nature of the items that figure on a record's front cover is particularly noticeable in denotative titles: Sonny Rollins's Sonny Rollins must feature Rollins; Albert Ammons's Boogie-Woogie Classics must consist of boogie-woogies; Kenny Dorham's 'Round Midnight at the Café Bohemia must have been recorded at the Café Bohemia; and Introducing Johnny Griffin must "really" be Griffin's first album for Blue Note. Listeners would feel betrayed if they did not get what the titles say they are getting, for instance, if it turned out that Rollins only plays on one number on Sonny Rollins, that Ammons has abandoned boogie-woogie, or that Dorham's disc was in fact recorded in a studio, background noises and applause being added to create the illusion of a club date. (We have all been frustrated upon discovering that the music on a pirate or supermarket label did not match the information supplied on the record's cover.) But the same constraints also apply to connotative and index titles, showing how the (sometimes) conflicting demands of marketing and truth in advertising are the objects of a negociation. Thus, a title like Easterly Winds can only designate soft music (though not necessarily Wilson's music), and it could not be used as the title of, say, one of the McLean's albums of the early 1960s. Such a use would clash with the shared cultural code that associates "easterly winds" with "softness," breaking the contract which is grounded in that code. Conversely, Free Form could hardly become the title of a conservative, "commercial" record, like Turrentine's Dearly Beloved. As for the titles I have labeled ambiguous (Spring) or misleading (Cool Struttin'), they do not really jeopardize the pact with prospective buyers that the information on an album's cover establishes. Rather, they posit an informed audience, which knows that "spring" on a Tony Williams album can only mean "renewal," and that Sonny Clark's music does not fall under the "cool" style developed by Stan Getz and others in the late 1940s (though it certainly can be described as "cool" in the sense of ""chic" or "fashionable"). Irony, in short, is not found in the titles of the Blue Note albums, and the occasional games that are played on those albums' covers remain most subdued. My corpus, at any rate, reveals none of the prankish frauds that are sometimes committed in literature, such as Boris Vian's titling L'Automne à Pékin a novel that takes place neither in the fall nor in Beijing, Eugène Ionesco's calling La Cantatrice chauve a play that includes no bald singer among its characters, or Mathieu Bénézet's naming L'Histoire de la peinture en trois volumes a collection of poems that do not concern painting and are gathered in one 116 page-long volume. The Blue Note catalog, at this point, does not offer a Saxophone Summit to which no saxophonists have been invited, and I am not sure whether the jazz audience is ready for this kind of ludic deception.

Last, but not least, the titles of the Blue Note records point to the larger issue of knowing whether music has a "semantic level" (or a "content plane") and where that level is located (Eco 11). To pose the problem in a somewhat simplistic manner: Do musical signs only refer to other musical signs, according to such relations as "equivalence, contrast, symmetry, and complication" (Nattiez 138)? Or can they can refer to the world outside music, for instance, to "concepts, actions, and emotions" (Nattiez 132)? I am not competent to intervene into a discussion that has involved semioticians, philosophers, and musicologists, pitching the "absolutists," for whom "one musical event... has meaning because it points to and makes us expect another musical event" (Meyer 35), against the "referentialists," for whom "musical meaning... lies in the relationship between a musical symbol or sign and the extra-musical thing which it designates" (33). (These issues are comprehensively discussed, for example, in the essays collected in Scher.) Thus, I will only observe that the titles of the Blue Note records offer different answers to these questions--albeit unintentionally. A few among those titles sidestep the issue altogether. A phrase like A Night at Birdland, for example, involves no theory of musical meaning; it does not claim that the pieces on the record picture the Birdland, only stating that the disc contains (some of) the sounds that were produced there on a certain night. Similarly, Green Street does not assert that the music on the record describes a street or any green object; this title, as I argued earlier, functions strictly as an index, serving to distinguish the album from Green's previous records. Other titles, however, illustrate Meyer's "absolutist" position. Thus, Dixieland Jubilee and Afro-Cuban imply that musical events have meaning in relation to other events in the same semiotic category; proceeding by symmetry and contrast, they describe what the music on these albums is ("dixieland," "Afro-Cuban"), and also what it is not, or not quite ("dixieland" is not truly "New-Orleans" and "Afro-Cuban" not exactly "latin" nor "be-bop"). Finally, such titles as Blue Hour and Feelin' Good exemplify Meyer's "referentialist" position. Indeed, they indicate that musical signs can designate extra-musical "things," just like linguistic signs can designate extra-linguistic objects, actions, and emotions. In these cases, as I surmised while discussing connotative titles, the recordings (specifically the music's tempi) refer conventionally to a certain "mood," which the adjectives "blue" and "good" describe by way of a metaphor ("blue") and a direct qualification ("good").

The Blue Note titles bearing on the "avant-garde" jazz of the early 1960s best pose the problem of the "aboutness" of music. To reframe the question I already asked while examining those titles: Do such phrases as Evolution, It's Time, Right Now, Let Freedom Ring, and A New Conception refer to music, describing the "new," "free" kind of jazz that was developing at the time? Do they refer to the social context, calling for changes in the situation of African-Americans? And, most importantly, does the music on these albums have in itself a social meaning? Kofsky, in the study I quoted earlier, rehearses the familiar thesis that aesthetic and social "revolutions" cannot be separated. According to him, the major transformations that jazz underwent in the 1960s were "responses" to a "massive constellation of social and economic forces," such as the "increased technological unemployment of unskilled Negro laborers," the "consolidation of Afro-American determination to remove, and the white insistence on maintaining, the chains of second-class citizenship," the "movement for African independence," and the "growth of explicit black-nationalist sentiment" (263). Yet Kofsky does not ask whether Rivers's or Coltrane's music can be "about" these phenomena, as a novel, a poem, or a painting can be "about" them. Thus, when he states that the title "It's Time" means "it's time for liberation" (75), he merely interprets the phrase in light of some aspects of the social context; he does not claim that the music on the record actually describes that context, picturing such things as ghetto unemployment or the growth of black-nationalist awareness. Whether music can represent this kind of extra-musical content or not, however, is precisely the issue that the titles under review permit us to raise. If we take the "It's Time" that Kofsky mentions to be McLean's It's Time, numerous musical signs on this record inscribe a "liberation" in areas like song structure (most pieces on the record no longer fall under the 32-bar, AABA pattern), rhythm (the usual 4/4 is frequently broken), and instrumentental range (McLean's saxophone deploys harmonics and shrieks). But this "liberation" is from the conventions of hard-bop, that is, specifically musical (revealingly, the first piece on It's Time is titled "Cancellation"). To extend it to the social sphere, we need a code that tells us how to translate musical signs into social signs, more precisely, how to assign a social signified to a musical signifying like the modal structure that McLean is using in three out of the six numbers on It's Time. Does such a code exist? If it does, is it structured like the linguistic code (as I have assumed by speaking of a "signifying" and a "signified")? And can we learn it, as we learn, besides language, the codes of such components of our social universe as fashion and advertising? The titles of the Blue Note records do not answer these questions in direct, explicit manner. But they they make it possible to pose them, and, in this respect, they contribute to the conversation.

Titles cited

The dates are the recordings', as given in Cuscuna's and Jazz Magazine's discographies. Neither Cuscuna nor Jazz Magazine provides information about the year of an album's issue, and that information usually does not appear on the album itself (with the exception of a few reissues, e.g., Horace Silver, The Trio Sides).

Ammons, Albert. Boogie-Woogie Classics. Blue Note, 1939.
Baudelaire, Charles. Les Fleurs du mal. Paris: Garnier, 1961 (1857). .
Bénézet, Mathieu. L'Histoire de la peinture en trois volumes. Poèmes. Paris: Gallimard, 1968.
Blakey, Art. A Night at Birdland with Art Blakey Quintet. Blue Note, 1954.
---. Buhaina's Delight. Blue Note, 1961.
Braith, George. Soul Stream. Blue Note, 1963.
Brown, Clifford. Memorial Album. Blue Note, 1953.
Burrell, Kenny. Introducing Kenny Burrell. Blue Note, 1956.
Byrd, Donald. At the Half Note Cafe. Blue Note, 1960.
---. Byrd in Flight. Blue Note, 1960.
---. Byrd in Hand. Blue Note, 1959.
---. Free Form. Blue Note, 1961.
---. Royal Flush. Blue Note, 1961.
Chambers, Paul. Whims of Chambers. Blue Note, 1956.
Clark, Sonny. Cool Struttin'. Blue Note, 1958.
---. Dial S for Sonny. Blue Note, 1957.
Coleman, Ornette. Love Call. Blue Note, 1968.
Coltrane, John. Blue Train. Blue Note, 1957.
---. Dakar. Prestige, 1957.
Davis, Walter. Davis Cup. Blue Note, 1959.
Donaldson, Lou. Blues Walk. Blue Note, 1958.
---. Gravy Train. Blue Note, 1961.
---. Lou Donaldson Sextet. New York: Blue Note, 1954.
---. Lou Takes Off. Blue Note, 1957.
---. Sunny Side Up. Blue Note, 1960.
Dorham, Kenny. Afro-Cuban. Blue Note, 1955.
---. 'Round Midnight at the Cafe Bohemia. Blue Note, 1956.
Drew, Kenny. Undercurrent. Blue Note, 1960.
Farlow, Tal. Tal Farlow Quartet. Blue Note, 1954.
Garner, Erroll. Overture to Dawn. Blue Note, 1944.
Gordon, Dexter. Dexter Calling. Blue Note, 1961.
---. Our Man in Paris. Blue Note, 1963.
Green, Grant. Grant Stand. Blue Note, 1961.
---. Green Street. Blue Note, 1961.
---. The Latin Bit. Blue Note, 1962.
Griffin, Johnny. Introducing Johnny Griffin. Blue Note, 1956.
Hancock, Herbie. My Point of View. Blue Note, 1963.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Short Stories. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.
Henderson, Joe. In 'n Out. Blue Note, 1964.
---. Our Thing. Blue Note, 1963.
Hill, Andrew. Andrew. Blue Note, 1964.
---. Point of Departure. Blue Note, 1964.
Hipp, Jutta. Jutta Hipp at the Hickory House. Blue Note, 1956.
Hodes, Art. Dixieland Jubilee. Blue Note, 1944.
Hubbard, Freddie. Hub Cap. Blue Note, 1961.
---. Hub Tones. Blue Note, 1962.
---. Open Sesame. Blue Note, 1960.
Ionesco, Eugène. La Cantatrice chauve. Paris: Gallimard, 1950.
Johnson, J.J. The Eminent J.J. Johnson. Blue Note, 1953,
Jones, Thad. The Magnificent Thad Jones. Blue Note, 1956.
Jordan, Clifford. Cliff Craft. Blue Note, 1957.
Jordan, Clifford, and Don Gilmore. Blowing In From Chicago. Blue Note, 1957.
Jordan, Duke. Flight from Jordan. Blue Note, 1960.
Lewis, George. Echoes of New-Orleans. Blue Note, 1943.
McLean, Jackie. Destination Out. Blue Note, 1963.
---. It's Time. Blue Note, 1964.
---. Jackie's Bag. Blue Note, 1959.
---. Let Freedom Ring. Blue Note, 1962.
---. New Soil. Blue Note, 1959.
---. One Step Beyond. Blue Note, 1963.
---. Right Now. Blue Note, 1965.
Melle, Gil. Patterns in Jazz. Blue Note, 1956.
Mobley, Hank. Hank Mobley and His All-Stars. Blue Note, 1957.
---. Roll Call. Blue Note, 1960.
---. Soul Station. Blue Note, 1960.
Moncur, Grachan. Evolution. Blue Note, 1963.
Monk, Thelonious. Genius of Modern Music. Blue Note, 1947.
Morgan, Lee. Delightfulee. Blue Note, 1966.
---. Indeed. Blue Note, 1956.
---. Lee-Way. Blue Note, 1960.
Navarro, Fats. The Fabulous Fats Navarro. Blue Note, 1947.
Nichols, Herbie. The Prophetic Herbie Nichols. Blue Note, 1955.
Parlan, Horace. Headin' South. Blue Note, 1960.
---. Speakin' My Piece. Blue Note, 1960.
Powell, Bud. Bud! Blue Note, 1957.
Quebec, Ike. Heavy Soul. Blue Note, 1961.
Redd, Freddie. Shades of Redd. Blue Note, 1960
---. The Music from the Connection. Blue Note, 1960.
Rivers, Sam. A New Conception. Blue Note, 1966.
Roach, Freddie. Mo' Grease Please. Blue Note, 1963.
Rollins, Sonny. A Night at the Village Vanguard. Blue Note, 1957.
---. Sonny Rollins. Blue Note, 1956.
Rouse, Charlie. Bossa Nova Bacchanal. Blue Note, 1962.
Shorter, Wayne. Night Dreamer. Blue Note, 1964.
---. Speak No Evil. Blue Note, 1964.
---. The All Seeing Eye. Blue Note, 1965.
Silver, Horace. Horace-Scope. Blue Note, 1960.
---. Six Pieces of Silver. Blue Note, 1956.
---. The Trio Sides. Blue Note, 1976.
Smith, Jimmie. Crazy! Baby. Blue Note, 1960.
---. Groovin' at Small's Paradise. Blue Note, 1957.
---. Plays Fats Waller. Blue Note, 1962.
---. The Incredible Jimmy Smith at the Organ. Blue Note, 1956.
---. The Sermon. Blue Note, 1957.
Smith, Louis. Here Comes Louis Smith. Blue Note, 1958.
---. Smithville. Blue Note, 1958.
The Three Sounds. Good Deal. Blue Note, 1959.
---. Feelin' Good. Blue Note, 1960.
Turrentine, Stanley. Blue Hour. Blue Note, 1960.
---. Dearly Beloved. Blue Note, 1961.
---. Look Out. Blue Note, 1960.
---. Up at Minton's. Blue Note, 1961.
Tyner, McCoy. The Real McCoy. Blue Note, 1967.
Verlaine, Paul. Les Poèmes saturniens. Paris: Nizet, 1967 (1866).
Vian, Boris. L'Automne à Pékin. Paris: Minuit, 1956.
Wilkerson, Don. Preach Brother. Blue Note, 1962.
Willette, "Baby Face." Face to Face. Blue Note, 1961.
Williams, Anthony. Spring. Blue Note, 1965.
Wilson, Jack. Easterly Winds. Blue Note, 1967.

Works cited

Calbris, Geneviève. "Structure des titres et enseignes." Le Français dans le monde 166 (1982): 26-54.
Carby, Hazel. Race Men. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1998.
Carrard, Philippe. "Part of the Way with Verbal Play: The Ludic Mode in Scholarly Titling." Style 30 (1996): 566-83.
Complete Blue Note Book (The): Tribute to Alfred Lion. Jazz Critique 2 (1987). Special edition.
Cuscuna, Michael, Charlie Lourie, and Oscar Schnider, eds. The Blue Note Years: The Jazz Photography of Francis Wolff. New York: Rizzoli, 1995.
Cuscuna, Michel, and Michael Ruppli. The Blue Note Label: A Discography. Greenport, CT: Greenwood P, 1988.
Daver, Marek. Jazz Graphics. Tokyo: Graphic-sha Publishing, 1991.
Derrida, Jacques. "Title (to be specified)." Sub-Stance. 31 (1981): 5-22.
Dubois, Jacques. "La métataxe dans les titres de presse." Rhétorique générale. Paris: Larousse, 1970. 86-90.
Eco, Umberto. A Theory of Semiotics. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1976.
Fisher, John. "Entitling." Critical Inquiry 11 (1984): 286-98.
Fonagy, Yvan. "La poésie des titres." Semiosis: Semiotics and the History of Culture. In Honorem Georgii Lotman. Ed. Morris Halle, Krystyna Pomorska, Ladislav Matejka, and Boris Uspenskij. Ann Arbor: Michigan Slavic Publications, 1984. 139-56.
Genette Gérard. Seuils. Paris: Seuil, 1987.
Groupe Mu. "Titres de films." Communications 16 (1970): 94-102.
Hoek, Leo. H. La Marque du titre: Dispositifs sémiotiques d'une pratique textuelle. The Hague: Mouton, 1981.
Kofsky, Frank. John Coltrane and the Jazz Revolution of the 1960s. New York: Pathfinder, 1998.
Lejeune, Philippe. Le Pacte autobiographique. Paris: Seuil, 1975.
Marsh, Graham, and Glyn Callingham, eds. Blue Note: The Album Cover Art. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1997.
---. California Cool: West Coast Jazz of the 50s and 60s, The Album Cover Art. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1992.
---. New York Hot: East Coast Jazz of the 50s and 60s, The Album Cover Art. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1993.
McClary, Susan. "The Impromptu that Trod on the Loaf: or, How Music tells Stories." Narrative 5, 1(1997), 20-35.
Meyer, Leonard. Emotion and Meaning in Music. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1956.
Nattiez, Jean-Jacques. Fondements d'une sémiologie de la musique. Paris: Union Générale d'Editions, 1975.
Scher, Steven Paul, ed. Music and Text: Critical Inquiries. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992.


1 I am using the masculine "he" advisedly. To my knowledge, no Blue Note album is led by a woman (the label employed very few singers).

2 Some labels grant more importance to composers than Blue Note does. In the 1950s and 1960s, for example, Verve released several "Songbooks" that featured Ella Fitzgerald performing the music of famous American composers (Porter, Gershwin, etc.). These albums were aimed at a cross-over audience that potentially was interested in the music of the composer as well as in the way a jazz singer interpreted songs that in themselves were not "jazzy."

3 A similar game is played on the cover of Dexter Gordon, Dexter Callin', which shows Gordon calling from a telephone booth.

4 On the subject of the structure of the pieces on It's Time, see the liner notes that Nat Hentoff wrote for the album on the basis of information provided by the musicians.

5 For a provocative illustration of the referentialist position, see for instance the chapter that Hazel Carby devotes to Miles Davis in Race Men. Adopting Susan McClary's view of instrumental pieces as "cultural texts" which must be read in terms of not only their "formal properties" but their "content" (21), Carby argues that Davis's music is about the "contradictory sexual politics" of the "different historical moments" through which Davis lived and produced (165). Specifically, she seeks to demonstrate that Davis's music underwent a significant change, moving from the "phallocentricity" that Milestones still displays to the "refusal to resolve the tension through any single climax in the album" that characterizes Kind of Blue (164). Carby, though, does not consider the theoretical issue of determining how a semiotic code can be transposed into another, in this instance, how a musical convention (a piece's or an album's "climax") can be "translated" into a sexual attitude ("phallocentricity"). Neither does she consider whether her interpretation is grounded in a shared code, that is, whether any competent listener should be able to realize that "So What" is about sexual politics, as any competent reader is able to realize that, for example, Duras's L'Amant is about that same subject.