The Very Essence of Cool
As a member of the “vinyl” generation, I have fond memories of hours spent in record stores riffling through the albums, making those potentially life-changing decisions on what to bring home.
Back in that pre-instant gratification era, it could be tough choice, usually based on what I knew about the artist’s music. But every now and then, it was the album art, that singular combination of photography and graphic design, that grabbed me. I had to have that record.
Some of the best examples of that kind of album-art seduction can be found leafing through “The Cover Art Of Blue Note Records: The Collection,” a book that sits on my studio shelf and that I refer to often for graphic inspiration.
With trailblazing artists like Art Blakey, Cecil Taylor, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Thelonious Monk, and so many more on the label, Blue Note was at the forefront of an exceptionally vibrant jazz scene in the ’50s and ’60s, a label known for the quality of both their stellar array of artists and their state-of-the-art recordings.
In the case of Blue Note, the music always hit home, but it was the album art, the Blue Note look, that first captured my attention and spurred my imagination. Read the fine print on the back cover of those classic albums and you’ll see credits for photographer Francis Wolff and designer Reid Miles.
Through the magic combination of Wolff’s uncanny knack for capturing a moment and Miles’ boldly innovative graphic style, the pair crafted an instantly recognizable Blue Note brand, with packages as groundbreaking and quintessentially hip as the records they contained.
Thanks to designer Michael Bierut for bringing this video to our attention. It’s a quick take on the story of Blue Note, a place where musical artistry, photography, and graphic design came together to define the very essence of cool.