Miles Davis - In Person Friday Night at the Blackhawk, San Francisco, Volume One
The content: a haunting black and white shot of Miles lighting a smoke, alone save for the face of a woman. The message: mood, and lots of it. The picture: shadows, scotch, smoke...what else? Obvious, maybe, but so be it.
This is one of my favorite jazz album covers, owing largely to the fact that the composition is exquisite. Strong, even vibrant typography sits side-by-side with one of the most evocative pictures ever to grace a sleeve. The sense of Miles as a personality is obvious, both in terms of his figure dominating the scene and the way in which he's striking an indifferent, thoughtful pose. But this cover also has a way of bringing out a sense of Miles Davis the man. Look closely at the face of the woman: what is she thinking? Is she worried? Jilted? Intimidated? Has Miles just left her following a tryst? Or is he simply enjoying a smoke after a particularly hot performance, and this woman wants nothing more than a piece of his world? These and any number of other possibilities are all suggested, and by doing so the cover both stands on its own and serves the music it holds.
I don't know much about this cover, which means that I sadly can't credit the photographer. I do know that the album was recorded in 1961, shortly after Coltrane left the group, and that this was the first official live recording Davis ever released. This particular record is a small sliver of the complete recordings, which have since been released on CD with basically the same album art. I'd recommend it to anybody with even a passing interest in jazz.
I didn't include a picture of the back cover this time because it's just text and wouldn't translate very well to this forum. The notes, however, are interesting. They're more a subjective portrait of Davis than they are liner notes for the record, but I prefer that in a way. In particular I'm fond of this excerpt:
At one point, almost as if seeking to get his mind off recording, he gave a vivid lecture, with illustrations, on the theory and practice of the art of picking pockets.
One of a kind.