I have always pitched-in whenever I could to copy-edited house advertisements, to suggest headlines, or to paraphrased sentences to fit a column. My employer's have understood that I could write and had the desire to write. The only thing stopping me was a lack of expertise in the subjects germane to the business—be it jazz music, hardware for doors or the social studies classroom. But I have, on occasion found topics I could address with authority. Below is one of a handful of published examples.


Published in JazzTimes magazine


California Cool, West Coast Jazz of the '50s & '60s
The Album Cover Art

Edited by Graham Marsh and Glyn Callingham (111 ppp., Chronicle Books San Francisco, GA. pb. #24.95)


This anthology of album cover art follows the format established by similar books devoted to the subject. Its 12 by 12 inch dimensions are true to the once ubiquitous LP record sleeve. Collectors will find it most practical to keep the volume with their records rather than on a shelf with other books.


There may be an argument for the superior sound of CD over vinyl, but in the area of packaging, there is no such challenge. No matter the printing techniques used, the relative smaller CD art is a measurable loss. CD covers are not "suitable for framing" and they are often encased in non-biodegradable plastic. Many of our cardboard galleries (housed in a milk crate) have already faded and returned to earth. Another reason to catalog the artwork within a book like California Cool.


The writing and book design are kept concise (Forewords by William Claxton and Leonard Feather), putting emphasis on the 200 plus full color reproductions of jazz album covers. It's a natural companion to to similar book Blue Note released last fall.


Graphic designers with an interest in packaging will want to see how their predecessors dealt with that static. 12-inch square. It is telling that many of the covers designers are "unknown" (at a guess they were printers or typesetters following the direction of graphic illiterates read: businessmen). Surprisingly, these anonymous designs often display taste where credited work sometimes fails to balance photography and typography.


Stand out covers include Chet Baker's Witch Doctor on the Contemporary label, featuring a moody look with a restrained use of color; Dexter Gordon's Hot and Cool (Dootone) with Dex blowing a cloud of smoke (and type floating freely; and a typically powerful William Claxton photo for the Red Mitchell/Harold Land Quintet Hear Ye! Hear Ye!  (Atlantic Records). The publishers could easily have chosen Hear Ye for the book jacket. The musicians are posed playing beneath an earthquake-ravaged building. Chunks of broken facade are suspended in the sky by thin rods of rebar. The image evokes California, abstract sculpture and jazz rhythm.


This collection certainly illustrates a broad range of design during these years. Some readers will look past the conventions of the day; and others will enjoy the nostalgia of them. Only in the '50 and '60s will you find: party-colored type, the exaggerated importance of Hi-Fi and stereo call outs, and the wanton use of the exclamation point. Post-modernists will appreciate covers based upon goofy concepts and locales. However, a few covers devoted to leggy and buxom ladies prove a lesson about using sex to sell records—graphically anyway—cheesecake has a short shelf-life.




This site was last updated 7/10/2019