I’m not jazz fanatic, but I can certainly appreciate the style and its place in history. But what really blew my mind was the series of cover art produced by Blue Note Records. Their most celebrated artist, Reid Miles, designed over 500 covers for the label.
Born in Chicago in 1927, Reid Miles began at Blue Note as an assistant to the John Hermansader, the then creative director of the company. Hermansader had set a style for Blue Note’s graphic style. When Miles took over he worked on maintaining Hermansader’s style, but instead he took it to new levels.
With modernist influences, Miles’s layouts seemed meticulously aligned. Yet at the same time he was able to convey motion and movement in his type. Many of the photographs used were taken by Francis Wolff, co-founder of Blue Note Records. They captured the artist during rehearsals or recording, adding to the character of the artist and their record. Instead of a mugshot of the artist, which was typical of the time, Miles would treat them in a refreshing way—incorporating unusual crops and duotone styling.
The marriage of Wolff’s photography and Miles’s type and graphics created beautifully balanced layouts. And occasionally there would be little delights, the type could be enclosed by a hand, or balanced around a cigarette. The layouts themselves took on a personality of their own.
When I look at Miles’s work I can actually hear the music. His designs hinted to you what the record would sound like.
You could always tell which records were soulful and deep or insane fun.
Interestingly, Miles was never really a fan of jazz music. Instead he worked off simple album descriptions from Albert Lion (co-founder of Blue Note). Which just goes to show, sometimes you can’t know everything. There are times you just trust what you know and dive right in.
Keep an eye out for more Throwback Thursday Design History in 2016!