By 1955, few people were dancing to jazz anymore. Having become since the bebop era an increasingly complex art music for hipsters and cognoscenti, jazz was enjoying what would turn out to be its last period of booming record sales across the board, roughly the years 1955 to 1965. This book looks at how art designers and photographers marketed the music during its midcentury modern heyday, and how the (overstated) divide between East Coast and West Coast jazz was reflected in the album covers of the era. Photographer William Claxton, one of the stars of this cover gallery, reminds us that the 33-1/3 album cover was a 12"x12" billboard "to display our art and sell the recording artist."
What sold in that era, besides the moody portrait photography of Claxton, Lee Friedlander, Esmond Edwards, Burt Goldblatt, Woody Woodward, Don Schlitten, Paul Weller and Lawrence Shustak, among others, included abstract art, both high-minded (Tom Hannan's cover paintings for Prestige) and more poppish (Ken Deardoff's and Paul Bacon's work at Riverside -- Bacon also designed the infamous BLUES FOR DRACULA cover); dynamic typography (Reid Miles' work at Prestige); cartoons (Guidi/Tri-Arts for Contemporary, Ed Renfro's witty drawings for Fantasy); and, of course, cheesecake (no one ever forgets Hal Adams' va-va-voom cover photos for DOUBLE PLAY! and YOU GET MORE BOUNCE WITH CURTIS COUNCE!). Then again, it took the micro-label Dootone and an uncredited designer and photographer to put a grinning Counce into a cheesy-looking sci-fi spacesuit.
There's nothing from the Blue Note label -- the authors have devoted an entire book to those covers -- and only a handful of covers from Verve, Columbia, and Impulse. It's Callingham's and Marsh's contention that the East Coast/West Coast musical divide was less a reality than a marketing strategy: New York heat (a high energy intellectualism), represented by Prestige, Riverside, and Atlantic vs. L.A. cool (a relaxed, wry playfulness), courtesy of Pacific Jazz and Contemporary. To listen to the music is to reveal this view as the gross oversimplification that it is -- but we got some great album cover art out of it.
I really enjoy this beautifully put together book. For far too long books about “ The great rock album cover “ were like its the only thing that matters. When it was Blue Note a jazz record company who made album covers a art form in the first place. So to have another book on jazz cover art was great new. my only gripe is they should have been more from ESP-disk which was an important label for free jazz to only have one, i wanted to see more.