Where is the edge?

Phil Ford

Another day, another Oblique Strategy: "Where is the edge?" is the card I pulled this morning. I confess that this isn't the first one I pulled, but it seemed most relevant to the day's business. (Am I doing this wrong?) I'm going over to WFIU later today to do and interview with David Brent Johnson on the 1957 film noir The Sweet Smell of Success for an upcoming Night Lights show. This is one of those miraculous films where absolutely everything went right: a crackling script by Clifford Odets, gritty black-and-white location photography, a great charismatic villain in Burt Lancaster's JJ Hunsecker, Tony Curtis's turn as a corrupt, brilliant, doomed press agent "running a fifty-yard dash with both legs cut off"  — and, of course, the jazz score, which like I Want To Live had both a crime jazz underscore and a first-rate diegetic jazz performances, here by the Chico Hamilton quintet. So it's an obvious great subject for a jazz show, but there's something less obvious as well. It's a hip movie –  hip in the sense of knowing, but knowing in a particular way. It's not just smart but wised-up, spinning fantasies of hidden power, wheels within wheels, luxuriating in the mechanisms of conspiracies,  finding and following the hidden boundaries and lines of force between things: parts of the city, angles of conscience, connections between people, official stories and secrets. There is an edge to everything, and noir finds it.

More Blue Note covers, since you can never have too many Blue Note covers. How could I have forgotten the inspiration for this blog's name?


I had this cover, not the Hitchcock film, in mind when I came up with "Dial 'M' for Musicology." Its just so cool: Sonny Clark's photo on a desk blotter with a notepad and uncradled phone, like a clue to a crime investigation or a Person of Interest in an ongoing investigation, maybe our source in the street, Our Man In Jazz. Commenter Rootlesscosmo writes that he tends to imagine Blue Note covers "as always including an upward-drifting plume of cigarette smoke under a strong spotlight in a darkened space." I think this says something about the way Blue Note draws noir imagery into its overall aesthetic. The Blue Note look (which is to say, the look Reid Miles created for it — notice how different the post-Miles, post-1967 albums* look from what we think of as "Blue Note") is a compound of different influences — black vernacular culture, Bauhausy design modernism, and film noir. Some more noir-ish Blue Note covers:



And of course there is the wonderful 'Round About Midnight at the Cafe Bohemia cover in my previous post.

*Generally a sad scene, although this McCoy Tyner album from 1970 makes a rather witty move within the Afrocentric space of the time:


About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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6 Responses to Where is the edge?

  1. rootlesscosmo says:

    Oh my, where to begin? Well, if you haven’t heard Sonny Clark on Serge Chaloff’s “Blue Serge” album, stop what you’re doing–unless you’re applying a tourniquet to arterial bleeding–and listen to it right away. Best bari sax player ever, I think, and wotta rhythm section. Next: if I’m not mistaken, that Blakey album has what might be the only recordings of the voice of Peewee Marquette, the tiny, squeaky-voiced doorman and emcee at Birdland in the 50’s, a midtown character who may have crossed paths with Sidney Falco once or twice. And finally, what are we to make of the fact that Sweet Smell was directed by a Scot previously best known for the pawky comedy “Whisky Galore,” released in the US as “Tight Little Island”?

  2. Jonathan says:

    Were you indeed thinking of Dial S? I seem to recall your telling me, perhaps in a private E-Mail around August 2006, “I guess I was in a Hitchcockian frame of mind at the time and just named it Dial M” or something like that. You’ve just created an unanswerable question for your biographers, Phil…nice going. Perhaps they’ll eventually divide themselves into two warring camps, Hitchcockians and Clarkists.

  3. PeeWee Marquette! Once famously referred to by Lester Young as “half a mother#$%@er.”

  4. David Cavlovic says:

    Oh! You’ll enjoy this! From the Weblog Not Always Right:
    Not Bad For A 164-Year Old Dead Guy
    Copy Shop | Dallas, TX, USA
    (A customer comes in wanting to copy a full musical score, which is against copyright laws.)
    Me: “I’m sorry, I can’t copy that for you.”
    Customer: “Why not?”
    Me: “It’s against copyright laws.”
    Customer: “What?! I wrote this!”
    Me: “You’re… Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov?”
    Customer: “Yes. Yes, that’s me!”
    (Link: The real Mr. Rimsky-Korsakov.)
    Link provided is for the Wiki article btw.

  5. tony smith says:

    yes, my fave is the dial ‘S’ for Sonny – an excellent moody piece of deisgn full of unanswered questions…
    I mmight run a piece on my Instrumental Jazz Music blog on album cover designs… may i reference this post?

  6. Phil Ford says:

    Sure, by all means, reference away. Glad you liked it!

Comments are closed.