Every now then, as you stumble through design history, you trip over and fall on your ass.
When you look closer at what caused you to stumble, you realise it’s a rather a big rock, one that you should have seen coming. Perhaps it was a big moment when things changed in our industry, in society, in theory and you’d simply been ignorant to it until that moment that it got caught under your foot.
More often than not it’s a person. When we first start studying we hear the names Josef Muller-Brockmann or Paul Rand and when we see more of their work, or read some of their words, we wonder how we didn’t know of them sooner. We could learn of them on our third day of study and argue that we should have heard of them on our first.
For me, the latest person whose name caused me to happily hit the dirt is Reid Miles, an amazing modernist designer who designed over 500 LP covers for Blue Note Records through the 1950’s and 60’s.
Blue Note Records
Blue Note Records was known for their selection of artists, whom they treated with a surprising amount of respect, rather than imposing upon them their own ideals about how their work should sound. They would go as far as to pay the artists for their rehearsal time, as well as their recording time, something which other independent music labels wouldn’t do. The benefits of this was improved sounds, relaxed artists and a comfort from all those involved that translated well onto vinyl.
And while the majority of the music they released was aimed at a wide audience, they would also work with lesser known and slightly eccentric jazz musicians. It’s almost an abstract thought, but the company wasn’t overly concerned with making money with these records as they want to simply write about new developments into the history pages of jazz.
This creative freedom is one worth noting, as it is perhaps this experimental, let the artist be an artist, kind of mentality that extended to their covers and to the ideas Miles had for them.
Personification Printification of Jazz
When you look at the work of Miles, you can’t help but feel as if you’re looking at Jazz realised.
When he first joined Blue Note, he worked as an assistant to John Hermansader, the then creative director of the company. John’s work was quite lovely in its own right, but lacked a certain punch that Miles would go on to deliver. Initially Miles just wanted to keep up and continue the stylistic tradition that Hermansader had started, but in the end he elevated it to staggering heights.
His covers “sound like [they know] what lay in store for the listener“, Felix Cromey, Blue Note: The Album Cover Art which cannot be argued. Even to those who have no idea about—or hardly heard—jazz, the covers just look the way jazz covers should.
Perhaps its the typography? Or the photography? Or maybe it’s the colour? I think of jazz as an explosion of soulful sounds, which are peppered with extreme emotion. The covers that Miles designed have much in common with this idea.