#98) When it’s OK for sex to sell

Note: this post is a companion to my review of Hilton Ruiz’s album “Strut.”

That sex sells is a given; the variable is how people react. Most responses are either outrage or a shrug of the shoulders. Don’t like chicks pouring water on themselves? Don’t buy the product. However, there just might be a legitimate upside to the use of sexual images in selling: when sex serves as a gateway to a longer-lasting relationship.

Observe. Fall, 1990. It was my sophomore year and as most of the world was in 1990, I was getting tired of heavy metal. I had been dabbling with jazz for a while, both as a listener and as a player, but it was yet to really click for me. One day while browsing CDs at the library I noticed one with a tasteful and understated cover.

Hilton Ruiz's record, What I didn’t know was that this pair of legs would unlock jazz for me. When I listened to this record by Puerto Rican pianist Hilton Ruiz, I heard the jazz language with which I was still not comfortable mixed with rock energy and a Latin flair that was an exotic contrast to the Boston winter that was rapidly approaching. Suddenly jazz was exciting, not just an academic subject to be graded on. Within weeks I was listening to the Modern Jazz Quartet, Brubeck and Lee Morgan, the doomed trumpeter whose signature composition “The Sidewinder” was covered by Ruiz on this disc. To be sure, the image on the cover of “Strut” may have turned some people off, but it also begat at least one jazz snob. My relationship with jazz has been contentious at times over the last quarter century, but at least I have a relationship with it. Might I have become a fan without Ruiz’s salacious cover? Perhaps, but there’s no doubt that that pair of legs served as an agent for change.

Is the creation of a jazz geek worth the price of objectifying a woman? Maybe, maybe not. Sometimes you have to wait a quarter century for the answer. Perhaps if the woman on the album cover was someone I knew or loved, I’d feel differently but because of the impact that this record had on my life, using sex to sell will never be a black and white issue.

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