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  • Andrea Bogoni

The man who sold jazz.


The man who sold jazz

What I appreciate most among the privileges that the Internet offers us today is probably the endless music catalogue provided by various streaming music services such as Spotify, Deezer, Tidal and Apple Music.

These services allow us to choose among thousands of different artists, explore new genres and discover authors suggested according to each own personal musical taste. I honestly find it difficult to reduce all this value to the classic monthly plan, don’t tell Daniel Ek!

Having said so, there is only one small thing I envy about the analogue era and it is not about the vinyl sound quality nowadays only appreciable through professional instrumentation. What I miss today is the cover that is reduced to a clickable thumbnail on the interface of a software. It has lost its dignity and I would say its very function.

In this regard there is one thing I find noteworthy: jazz album covers have in common a particular style for which they are almost always recognizable as such. You can easily guess the genre even by hiding the name of the musician. The same doesn't happen for other music genres, except for heavy metal which is characterized by a precise and redundant iconography.

But what do the covers of John Coltrane's albums have in common with those of Tony Allen or Jon Batiste?

The answer lies in the name of Reid Miles, the brilliant American modernist designer who, thanks to the support of photographer Francis Wolff, designed over five hundred covers between the 50s and 60s. He defined the visual identity of Blue Note Records and established the canons of jazz iconography.

Miles designed the most beautiful jazz covers ever and also influenced many designers who helped to establish the style in music over the years to this day. The creative use of typefaces and his predilection for contrast and asymmetry contributed to evolve the graphic style of jazz music records to the point where they are all somehow linked together by a subtle thread, regardless of the record company.

Below is a selection of my favorite covers. When you look at them you feel like framing them and hanging them on the nicest wall of your home rather than hiding them in the Spotify graphic interface.

PS: Curious is the fact that Mr. Miles didn't even like jazz. If he loved it anyway, how could he sell it?

No room for squares - Hank Mobley

"No room for squares", Hank Mobley, Blue Note, 1964 - Cover design: Reid Miles.

Mode for Joe - Joe Henderson

"Mode for Joe", Joe Henderson, Blue Note, 1966 - Cover design: Reid Miles.

It's time - Jackie McLean

"It's time!", Jackie McLean, Blue Note, 1964 - Cover design: Reid Miles.

A new perspective - Donald Byrd band & voice

"A new perspective", Donald Byrd band & voice, Blue Note, 1964 - Cover design: Reid Miles.

Into Somethin - Larry Young

"Into somethin'", Larry Young, Blue Note, 1965 - Cover design: Reid Miles.

John Coltrane - Blue train

"Blue train", John Coltrane, Blue Note, 1958 - Cover design: Reid Miles.

Sonny Rollins - Volume 1

"Volume 1", Sonny Rollins, Blue Note, 1957 - Cover design: Reid Miles.

Kenny Burrell with Stanley Turrentine - Midnight blue

"Midnight blue", Kenny Burrell with Stanley Turrentine, Blue Note, 1963 - Cover design: Reid Miles.

Jon Batiste - Chronology of a dream

"Chronology of a dream", Jon Batiste, Verve, 2019.

Gregory Porter - Liquid spirit

"Liquid spirit", Gregory Porter, Blue Note, 2013.

 

Credits: - English version by Paris Nobile

- Cover image by Mick Haupt via Unsplash

Reading:

- "Jazz covers", Joaquim Paulo & Julius Wiedemann, Taschen