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The 100 Greatest Jazz Album Covers

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Posed with the question, “Who invented jazz album cover design?” Most people will instantly say, Blue Note Records, and Reid Miles in particular. But this would be a gross simplification as well as inaccurate.

What is true is that the record labels that were releasing jazz in the 1940s in 78 albums and then on 10” long playing records were at the forefront of LP design. This is for no other reason other than jazz was the hippest, coolest, and most progressive kind of music around attracting many young designers to the music, who in turn lent their undoubted talents to the genre.

When Norman Granz started his Jazz imprint at Mercury Records it was to David stone Martin that he turned for many of the designs that graced Clef, Norgran and later Verve’s records.

It was through Stone Martin’s working association with Asch Records that he met Granz, and they developed both a friendship and a close working relationship. When Granz gave him the job of looking after all the art needs of Clef Records in 1948.

Besides working freelance, Martin also found time to teach and when the sheer volume of his cover art alone is considered, his prodigious output is apparent. It has been estimated that there are around 400 Clef, Norgran and Verve albums bearing his signature. Some like the Charlie Parker series are instantly recognizable as Martin’s work, while some of his covers for Billie Holiday are less obviously his style. One cover that many would perhaps overlook as Martin’s work is Ella and Louis’s Porgy And Bess (1957).

Over at Blue Note it was another graphic designer, with a passion for jazz, who did many of the label’s early album designs, his name was Paul Bacon. When the label released it’s initial batch of LPs in the early 1950s they featured sleeves designed by a twenty-seven-year-old New Yorker, Bacon. An avid jazz fan, Bacon worked in a small local advertising agency and had got to know Lion through the Newark Hot Club. Bacon’s sleeves sometimes included one of Francis Wolff’s photographs of the artist; it helped them to stand out.
When the new twelve-inch format came along it was Reid Miles, a twenty-eight-year-old designer who had worked for Esquire magazine that came to prominence. His debut for Blue Note, as co-designer with John Hermansader, was a cover for a ten-inch album by the Hank Mobley Quartet in late 1955, but the first album to carry the sole name Reid K. Miles was far from modern – a Sidney Bechet release a few months later.

Perhaps most ironic of all, given that Blue Note album sleeves have become the benchmark against which all modern jazz covers – and those of just about any other album – are measured, Miles was not a jazz fan, but a classical-music lover. Yet perhaps it was his distance from the music that was also his strength, allowing him to approach the design unencumbered by all but the basic details – the album title, the feel of the music, and something about the session. And of course, he had Francis Wolff’s brilliant photographs.
Reid was also interested in photography and began taking his own shots when he didn’t have the right kind of image from Wolff, who was sometimes frustrated by the way Miles drastically cropped his photographs.

Miles wasn’t paid a lot, at around $50 per cover, and often designed several albums on a Saturday, when not at his full-time job. While he did almost every Blue Note cover for the next decade, when swamped with work farmed out jobs to friends, including a young Andy Warhol, then a struggling artist desperate for commissions. Warhol produced three Kenny Burrell album sleeves along with one for Johnny Griffin. In later years, Miles would design covers for Bob Dylan, Chicago, Neil Diamond, and Cheap Trick.

Yet it was also other labels like Prestige and Riverside who also produced some amazing covers, like Relaxin’ with The Miles Davis Quintet that was designed by Esmond Edmonds. Then there’s Don Martin’s amazing work on Miles Davis with Horns or Tom Hannan’s design on the Thelonious Monk and sonny Rollins LP.

Other companies, including Columbia, Capitol, RCA Victor, Atlantic, United Artists and some smaller independent labels all had some amazing designs that are all represented in the list that follows.

Into the modern era and the glory days may have passed bu there are still some classics as you will see from, our 100 Greatest Jazz album Covers. We’d love to hear from you, as to what are your most loved album covers within the jazz genre. We’ll produce an alternate ‘readers choice’ in the coming weeks.

And just for the record, these are not in any particular order, so the Wes Montgomery isn’t No.1 or No.100

Wes-Montgomery-Road-Song-504528

VERVE_LPCOVERS_0066 copy

Unity

Undercurrent

Tutu

TinaBrooksTrueBlue

Third_Stream_Music

The Clows

Sunday Village Vanguard

Somethin'_Else-jpg

Slim Gaillard

Sidewinder

Shelly-Manne234

s-django

Roy_and_Diz_-2

Romantic Warrior

rollins_custom-4c665327d1fc35b5a0d2d64845d55bd7f02c01fb-s6-c30

Relaxin

Porgy and Bess

pettifordBethlehem1003

outoftheblue

Oscar p[eterson Collates

Ornette

oliver-nelson

Movin' Wes

Moondog

Monk rollins

Miles_Davis_BLUE_HAZE

Meade lux lewis

louis-armstrong

Liquid love

Lionel hampton

lester_young_lester_young_trio

King Cole Trio

KennyBurrell_MidnightBlue

kenny_dorham-matador-lp

Kenny Burrell Warhol

John Coltrane - [1957] Blue Train_oo1

jh MI0002004231_b

jazz-messengers-bohemiavol2-cover

JATP

JATP 11

JATP 8

It's Time

Horns-CD

holida_bill_billiehol_133b

High Priestess

herbie-nichols-trio-lex-frontcover-1800

Herbie-Hancock-Head-Hunters

Hank Mobley_LP_BlueNote

S805161_04.tif

hampGetz

Glasper

Gil Melle

getzWestCoast

Getz Gilberto

George Lewis 2

Free Jazz

FreddieHubbard_HubTones

Fred Astaire

Fancy Dancer

Esquires jazz

EricDolphy_OutToLunch

Ella and louis

Ella and louis porgy

Elastic Rock

Duke ellington

dorham_kenn_trompetat_101b

DexterGordon_OurManInParis

DexterGordon_Go

Dave Brubeck

Count Basie at the piano

Cool Struttin

Congregation

Come Fly with me

Coltrane plays the blues

Chet Baker

Charlie Parker with strings

Charlie Parker Machito

Charlie Parker Bird

Cecil Taylor

cat1

CassandraWilson-Cvr-chris

Carla Bley

Brain Blade_Perceptual_Cem

Black-Fire

Bitches brew

Billie Holiday

Bechet

Be Bop

art_blakey_moanin

ArtTaylor_LP:BlueNote

Andrew Hill

A Jazz concert

53775121

4124 Donald Byrd A New Perspectivel 2NDSHOT_LJC

4106 Jackie McLean Let Freedom Ring 2NDSHOT_LJC

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1-count-basie

1 satchmo all stars

53 Comments

53 Comments

  1. Tim O'Donnell

    October 30, 2015 at 9:13 pm

    Love is this in book form ?

    • Ira Hantz

      October 31, 2015 at 2:42 am

      If you want to talk about great album cover photography, check out Pete Turner’s work on CTI in particular, like Jobim’s Wave, Tamba Four’s We And The Sea being two of my favorites.

      • Erland Eikestad

        September 12, 2017 at 7:06 pm

        Agreed! The “CTI”-Covers contains quite a number of Oustanding Colour-Photography! 😉

      • Recordmanmatt

        December 15, 2017 at 12:19 am

        I love many of CTI record’s covers.

    • Jerry

      January 10, 2017 at 11:24 am

      I’d definitely buy this in a book! But make it 12″ x 12″!

  2. Sam Asselstine

    October 30, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    Great pieces of art, both visually and listening-wise.

  3. Toad

    October 30, 2015 at 11:29 pm

    The Atomic Mr Basie, Duke Ellington’s A Drum Is A Woman, practically anything from the ECM label (don’t think I noticed any of theirs on the list)…I shouldn’t get started, we could all add dozens to this list. But it’s a fine list with a lot of good ones, and a lot of fun to look at.

  4. Steve Mars

    October 31, 2015 at 12:12 am

    A fabulous post, while typing this I looked down at my vinyl and see Bitches Brew poking out

  5. Bill Musselwhite

    October 31, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    Ella Fitzgerald, Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie! Should be on the list.

  6. josé luis mariño lópez

    November 1, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    I miss some of the great Weather Report covers

    • Thygesonius Monk

      September 27, 2016 at 1:34 am

      The one with the storm in the hat – Heavy Weather – comes to mind.

      • Scott

        November 3, 2017 at 4:33 pm

        Yeah man, the ‘Heavy Weather’ album cover should have been here.

  7. Tom

    November 3, 2015 at 1:01 am

    So many to choose from: How about: Enrico Rava “The Pilgrim and the Stars”, Wes Montgomery’s “Bumpin'” half of those glossy CTI gems, Miles’ “Sketches of Spain”, Basie’s “April in Paris” and on and on.

  8. keith brooks

    November 29, 2015 at 11:16 pm

    no mingus ah um ? ornette this is our music ? max roach we insist ! (!!!)

  9. Luis Vivanco Saavedra

    November 30, 2015 at 2:53 am

    I was a little sad that from my collection of hundreds of LPs (and a few 78s) only one cover was featured. But anyway, thanks for such a good information, and such wonderful and beautiful covers.

  10. Michael Burke

    December 2, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    A couple of Columbia albums I love are not here: Miles Davis, Someday My Prince Will Come, and Thelonious Monk album with large B/W profile of him with cigarette in his mouth. Also Jackie McLean, Destination Out. Overall though, a great list…

  11. Yoest

    July 10, 2016 at 8:57 am

    I could have done without Freddy Hubbards Liquid Sounds haha. That cover is ugly as hell.

  12. Maurizio Pozzilli

    July 10, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    Copertine fantastiche. Posseggo alcuni di questi LP. Desidero ascoltare anche gli altri.

  13. reggie

    July 10, 2016 at 11:00 pm

    Come on
    Where’ Undeground Monk
    Which may be the greatest of all

    • David Norum

      September 25, 2016 at 4:49 pm

      My thought exactly

  14. Thom Murphy

    July 12, 2016 at 8:17 pm

    You omitted “Sit on It” by Jimmy Smith?! Shame on you. Great story though.

  15. tkl

    September 25, 2016 at 6:09 pm

    Classy collection. A little heavy on the Blue-Note-Side, though. Personally, I’d have picked a few more Impulse!–covers, And definitely more of Jim Flora’s work for Columbia and RCA. You can’t help but think the recording sessions must have taken place in the land of Oz if you stumble upon one of his covers. (The Chagall-goes-William H. Johnson-goes-funny-pages-Satchmo-album up above is one of Flora’s.)

  16. Magical Twilight Orchestra

    September 26, 2016 at 3:21 am

    Great art is satisfied with the great sound.

  17. Muertelicious

    September 26, 2016 at 7:39 am

    There doesn’t seem to be any ECM covers here.

  18. copajohn

    September 26, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    Joe Farrell’s Canned Funk belongs on this list. Period.

  19. Kaila

    December 10, 2016 at 6:50 pm

    Does anybody know the artist of the checkered covers? It’s right below Kenny Burrell’s Midnight Blues cover

  20. Roberto

    December 11, 2016 at 6:18 pm

    Album covers that are visually appealing compels the music lover to take a listen, even without listening. At least in the old days it was like that. Now you can go online and sample just about any new release, before making a purchase. Check out the classic look of musical visionary Lili Anel’s album “I Can See Bliss From Here.” Timeless black and white image. Very cool!

  21. Frank felicetta

    January 11, 2017 at 10:51 pm

    I’m trying to find the artist who albums back cover is black and white and it shows a black man seated at a grand piano and another black man at the other end with his large horn sitting upwards on the piano does anyone know who the album is Frank

  22. randall grant

    January 20, 2017 at 8:04 pm

    Sonny Rollins’ cover for Way out West was a real omission in this selection….

  23. Timothy Flynn

    January 20, 2017 at 10:45 pm

    Yes a book at 12×12 would be fantastic I would buy it.

  24. Walter

    January 21, 2017 at 8:18 am

    Correct me if I overlooked something… Nice covers, I’ll admit, but not a single ECM jacket? Amazing…

  25. Walter

    January 21, 2017 at 8:22 am

    I tried to compliment your choices just now, and also point out the beauty of so many of the ECM covers, but I received a reply saying that I had already posted that same comment. So, I looked carefully at all the comments, but fail to see the posting of my previous comment. What’s up with that?

  26. Jean-françois T.

    January 21, 2017 at 9:18 am

    have you seen?
    #1 BLUE NOTE THE ALBUM ART COVER- 9780811800365
    #2 CALIFORNIA COOL -9780811802758

  27. Walter

    January 22, 2017 at 2:27 am

    Not a single ECM cover?

  28. Walt

    January 22, 2017 at 2:29 am

    Not one cover from the vaults of ECM. I guess they don’t play jazz there…

  29. Malcolm j Greaves (UK)

    February 20, 2017 at 3:22 am

    I have a love for very obscure West Coast labels, some look like the printer designed them, but, within this Kitch can be found, Herbie Nichols, Elmo Hope Dexter Gordon, Wynton Kelly etc etc.,Even very early sides by Wayne Shorter.and Ike Quebec.–Hard to find in England, but they are out there.–I guess a vinyl collection is never complete.

  30. geoffrey wheeler

    March 11, 2017 at 11:05 pm

    Lovely display of very creative covers! The “Anatomy of a Murder” artwork is on display in the Denver Art Museum. Several years ago, I bought a brand new album with pristine cover art!

  31. John Bennett

    June 1, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    Not one ECM cover?!

  32. Tom

    June 2, 2017 at 4:12 am

    How ’bout Bobby Watson,s “Post-Motown Bop”, Tony William’s “Angel Street” and Errol Garner’s “Concert by the Sea.”

  33. Enrique Blanquer

    June 4, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    No Pacific Jazz? No William Claxton? What a pitty.

  34. Ed Larkin

    June 11, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    Stan Getz – Focus
    Miles – Kind of Blue

    are miles ahead of most of this stuff.

  35. Ed Larkin

    June 11, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    Didn’t mean to sound carping – brings back lovely memories of the (to me) golden age of jazz. If you like the 4th cover shown (Bill Evans/Jim Hall Undercurrent) just wait till you hear the music!

  36. Malcolm J Greaves

    July 27, 2017 at 3:01 am

    In the UK there are four 12″x12″ full colour books on jazz album sleeve designs. Two concentrate on Blue Notes, one called “California Cool”, concentrating on the West Coast labels that flourished in the 50’s and early 60’s—Pacific Jazz, Contemporary,and lesser known labels and a fourth book called “East Coasting” which deals with Riverside, Prestige, Savoy, Verve etc.They cost £17 99p–you’ll have to convert that yourself– each in the UK and are published by Collins and Brown.

  37. Роберт Гумашян

    July 27, 2017 at 4:22 am

    Candid records MINGUS

  38. Kay Heymer

    July 27, 2017 at 8:43 am

    Nice list, but it almost completely leaves out European Jazz labels. It would be important to look at the work of ECM snd ACT, for instance.

  39. Steve Wheelock

    September 12, 2017 at 11:17 am

    Almost anything CTI.

  40. Dee Cee

    September 12, 2017 at 7:08 pm

    Considering the time period the artwork and offset preparation for print was done by some (a lot) of very talented people. The techniques used for the most basic designs required so much time consuming & “spot on” work. My personal favorite, not pictured was O. Peterson’s “Night Train” and the raw power of a locomotive.

  41. Ckb

    September 13, 2017 at 2:17 am

    No Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Collossus or Turrentine’s Sugar?

  42. Bert Hurst

    September 14, 2017 at 11:00 pm

    So happy you included several by my favorite jazz record cover artist, David Stone Martin.

  43. Recordmanmatt

    December 15, 2017 at 12:18 am

    I would add Soultrane by John Coltrane, A Love Supreme by John Coltrane, Ellington Uptown, & Ellington at Newport to the list.

  44. Jeffrey Hill

    January 21, 2018 at 6:14 pm

    How can you omit the many covers painted by Leo Meiersdorff?

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