Paul Morris is a graphic designer and writer who collects album art of the 1940’s and 1950’s. He finds his examples of influential mid-century design in the used record stores of Portland, Oregon.
In this edition, Paul shares some jazz covers from the 1950’s
The PDX Jazz Festival has come to Portland, and to recognize the event I’ve gathered some jazz covers from the 1950s.
The first two originated in a photo studio, not a gritty nightclub. The image of Jeri Southern and Johnny Smith is by Chuck Stewart, the African American jazz photographer. The headphones and microphone are great. The second cover shows Shorty Rogers in front of a wall of sheet music, all Rodgers and Hart. The book at his feet is The Rodgers and Hart Songbook. Photograph by William Claxton.
More sheet music in this 1957 photo of Billy Eckstine and Sarah Vaughan. The Wild Bill Davison strings album has a photo by the noted photographer Arnold Newman that is fun to look at but has a contrived feeling. Pictured with the cornet-playing leader are trombonist Cutty Cutshall and clarinetist Bob Wilbur.
Here the musicians are staged on a pretend-sidewalk with a backing of Broadway posters. The leader of this excellent album was Eliot Lawrence, shown standing between Jimmy Cleveland (trombone and argyle socks) and Al Cohn on baritone sax. The enlargement shows the 32-year-old Cohn blowing in a manner not recommended by his saxophone teacher. The picture was by David Hecht, a staff photographer for RCA. Marc Meyers wrote about this recording in JazzWax a couple years ago. You can read it by clicking here.
Bobby Troup is shown singing in two photos by Burt Goldblatt, a prolific and fascinating designer who will get his own column later. You decide whether it was a good idea to mash the two faces together.
In this Goldblatt design picturing Gerry Mulligan and Sonny Stitt, the darkroom technique of combining two photos worked well. The unfortunately red cover is the one I own. Next is a black and white version that must have been the original.
For Coast Concert Bobby Hackett flew west to California in 1955 and here he is on the runway in L.A., photo by Herman Leonard. Great music ensued in the Capitol studios. The Randy Weston cover from 1959 is atypical for featuring the musician’s family and for the woman photographer, Joan Martin. Design by Martin Israel.
Phil Stern’s backlit portrait of Ella Fitzgerald for Like Someone in Love was a challenge for the printer. The design for the 1957 cover was by John D’Emilio. I found a variant online in which they decided to give prominent billing to Stan Getz, the star sideman.
The Pearl Bailey album draws from the W.C. Handy bio film St. Louis Blues, set in Memphis at the turn of the 20th century. The singer looks good in the period dress, while at the same time wondering, “How did I get here?”
Herbie Mann’s 1957 session with Buddy Collette first appeared on Mode with the title Flute Fraternity. This 1962 reissue is retitled Hi-Flutin’. The art is credited to Dave Pell, who was mainly a bandleader and arranger. The illustration shows Collette and Mann wearing color-coordinated shirts. In the band are two jazz stars, Mel Lewis on drums (recognizable) and Jimmy Rowles on piano (not so much).
Take a Number from 1 to 10 came out in 1961 from Argo, a Chess label in Chicago. Tenor saxist Benny Golson was a versatile arranger, and for this “project” he scored five standards and five originals for solo, two, duo, trio, etc., with the last song swelling to ten musicians. The gimmicky design is by Emmett McBain, a prominent African-American artist, advertising designer, and executive. If you look closely at the lower right corner of the cover you’ll see the “cut-out” that used to mark records that went unsold and were returned or dumped on the used market.
I’m including Chicago Jazz because the Jazz Panorama label is obscure and I’m hoping someone can send me some information. The modernist geometric design by Murray Stein frames a nice pen-and-ink drawing of a band. The music is a reissue of some Louis Prima sessions on Brunswick in 1935.
The bright red Explosion! By Terry Gibbs’ big band was designed by Daniel Czubak. It shows houses, people, and debris being blown into the sky. This 1961 album has liner notes by Jerry Lewis, from which I learned that the overuse of exciting is not a new language problem. Jerry also liked enchanted, wonderful, and the greatest. They didn’t find room to credit the band members, which included soloists like Conte Candoli and Richie Kamuca.
Next time…The influential mid-century designer Eric Nitsche
In Volume 1 of “Cover Stories,” Paul shared his collection of covers by Alex Steinweiss, known as the father of the record album cover, and for many years in charge of Columbia Records’ art department.
Volume 2 focused on Columbia covers
Volume 3 featured jazz illustrations from the early years of the record album
Volume 4 revisited the 1950’s with images of fans holding and enjoying their albums
Volume 5 explored the work of Alex Steinweiss when he used the pseudonym “Piedra Blanca”
Volume 6 featured teenagers of the 1950’s enjoying their music
Volume 7 featured Steinweiss album covers from his prime period — the late 1940’s and early 1950’s
Volume 8 featured a “disturbing” and fascinating trend in 1950?s album art — Records on the Floor!
Volume 9 featured a selection of RCA Victor album covers from Paul’s collection
Volume 10 featured a selection of covers by Curt John Witt, the prolific illustrator for mid-century budget record labels
Volume 11 featured a selection of “glamour girl” covers
Volume 12 featured the “late Columbia” era of master designer Alex Steinweiss
Volume 13 focused on Everest Records, the last of several new labels that Alex Steinweiss helped launch
Volume 14 Paul shares some of his personal jazz record collection, concentrating on the lesser known and sometimes quirky covers that emphasize photographs
Volume 15 took a look at the art of London Records