My record collection is growing every day and what attracts me to purchasing an album apart from the music is the sleeve design.
For this post, I dove into my collection and hand-picked my favorite jazz covers.
Giant Steps – John Coltrane
1960 / Atlantic 1311 / Marvin Israel (design) / Lee Friedlander (photo)
What makes the design of this album sleeve so good is that you immediately recognize it. The red text and frame are unique for this album. The photo itself, taken by Lee Friedlander, is an upwards close-up of John Coltrane doing what he does best.
Marvin Israel, the artist behind it, knew how to frame it. These are the words of famous photographer Robert Frank in the documentary “Who is Marvin Israel” (Doon Arbus). The documentary brings to light the life and work of the artist. Marvin Israel worked as a freelance art director for Atlantic Records from 1957 to 1963 so, Giant Steps is far from the only sleeve design he did. He painted several abstracts of famous jazz musicians such as Charlie Mingus (Atlantic 1416) and Milt Jackson (Atlantic 1417), and he designed the cover for the albums: Joe Turner Sings Kansas City Jazz (Atlantic 1234), Charles Mingus’ The Clown (Atlantic 1260), and Ornette Coleman’ The Shape of Jazz To Come (Atlantic 1317).
Afro Blue – Dee Dee Bridgewater
1974 / Trio Records PA 7095 / Katsuji Abe (design & photo)
If you’re a fan of 70’s soul-jazz, there is a big chance you have this record sitting on your shelf at home. Afro Blue, the debut album from Dee Dee Bridgewater, is not only one of my favorite albums for listening to, but also the artwork inspires curiosity. This is how I got familiar with the album, I spotted the cover, got curious, and bought it.
The cover design and photography on the backside are credited to the Japanese photographer Katsuji Abe. Abe was a designer for Trio Records and Whynot Records during the 1970s. He also published several books including 50 Jazz Greats From Heaven (1995).
The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady – Charles Mingus
1963 / Impulse! AS-35 / Joe Lebow (design) / Bob Ghiraldini (photo)
This powerful release from Charles Mingus, where he takes on the role of composer and band-leader, consists of a single continuous composition that is written as a ballet. The record is among the most acclaimed jazz records of the 20th century thanks to Mingus’ perfectionism and ability to improvise.
The sleeve design is from the American designer Joe Lebow who worked for different record companies during his career. He used the photography of Bob Ghiraldini who was specialized in photographs of jazz stars. The cover features Charles Mingus in front of a white wall and above him, you read his name, the title, and the words: “From the poem: Touch my beloved’s thought while her world’s affluence crumbles at my feet“
Love Matters! – Jowee Omicil
2018 / Jazz Village 33570118.19 / Yannick Le Vaillant (artwork) / Renaud Monfourny & Sylvain Cherkaoui
For this album, Haitian-Canadian Jazz musician, Jowee Omicil, impressed us with this gatefold cover design. It gives you a direct impression of the music you can expect. The photographs include a lot of light and color, what is in contrast with his previous album, Let’s Bash! (Jazz Village 33570120.21)
The artwork is by the graphic designer Yannick Le Vaillant, who is a true master when it comes to cover design. The photography used for the artwork is credited to 2 artists. The first is the French photographer Renaud Monfourny, who captures the cultural scene with his portraits of musicians, actors, and writers. The second is the French photojournalist Sylvain Cherkaoui.
*Renaud Monfourny is misspelled on the record sleeve
Miles Ahead – Miles Davis
1957 / Columbia 1041 / uncredited
Miles Davis released his second collaboration with Gil Evans in 1957. The original release of this record features a photograph of a white woman and child aboard a sailboat. Miles Davis was dissatisfied with this choice and complained to Columbia Records‘ executive producer George Avakian. No clear reasoning was given to him but in the early 1960s, a picture of Miles Davis was used on the cover (although reissues with the original cover are still being released).
Displaying a white woman on African American album covers was done quite frequently during the 1950s and 1960s. This was done with the sole purpose to easily reach and sell to the white audience as they thought it was a more attractive display. Other examples of this are the soul records Otis Blue from Otis Redding and Arthur Conley’s album Sweet Soul Music.
I prefer the cover featuring Miles Davis. It gives a stronger indication of what he does and who he is. The original cover is playing with the title, Miles Ahead, but does not reveal what to expect.