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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 but 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.

So, in no particular order, what are the Greatest 100 jazz album covers?

Road SongWes Montgomery

Wes Montgomery Road Song cover

 

Bird and Diz – Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie

Bird and Diz - Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie

 

Unity – Larry Young

Unity - Larry Young cover

 

Undercurrent – Bill Evans and Jim Hall

Undercurrent - Bill Evans and Jim Hall

 

Tutu – Miles Davis

Tutu - Miles Davis

 

True Blue – Tina Brooks

Tina Brooks True Blue

 

Third Stream Music – The Modern Jazz Quartet

Third Stream Music The Modern Jazz Quartet and Guests cover

 

The Clown – Charles Mingus

The Clown Charles Mingus

 

Sunday At The Village Vanguard – Bill Evans Trio

Sunday At The Village Vanguard Bill Evans Trio cover

 

Somethin’ Else – Cannonball Adderley

Somethin' Else Cannonball Adderley cover

 

Laughing In Rhythm – Slim Galliard

Laughing In Rhythm Slim Galliard cover

 

The Sidewinder – Lee Morgan

The Sidewinder Lee Morgan cover

 

2-3-4 – Shelly Manne

2-3-4 Shelly Manne cover

 

Django – Modern Jazz Quartet

Django Modern Jazz Quartet cover

 

Roy and Diz – Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie

Roy and Diz Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie cover

 

Romantic Warrior – Return to Forever

Romantic Warrior Return to Forever cover

 

Freedom Suite – Sonny Rollins

Freedom Suite Sonny Rollins cover

 

Relaxin’ With The Miles David Quintet – The Miles Davis Quintet

Relaxin' With The Miles David Quintet The Miles Davis Quintet cover

 

Oscar Peterson Plays Porgy & Bess – Oscar Peterson

Oscar Peterson Plays Porgy & Bess Oscar Peterson cover

 

Oscar Pettiford – Oscar Pettiford

Oscar Pettiford self titled album cover

 

Out of the Blue – Sonny Red

Out of the Blue Sonny Red cover

 

Oscar Peterson Collates – Oscar Peterson

Oscar Peterson Collates - Oscar Peterson cover

 

Ornette! – Ornette Coleman

Ornette! - Ornette Coleman cover

 

The Blues And The Abstract Truth – Oliver Nelson

The Blues And The Abstract Truth - Oliver Nelson cover

 

Movin’ Wes – Wes Montgomery

Movin' Wes - Wes Montgomery cover

 

Moondog – Moondog

Moondog self titled album cover

 

Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins – Thelonious Monk/Sonny Rollins

Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins self titled album cover

 

Blue Haze – Miles Davis

Blue Haze - Miles Davis album cover

 

Boogie Woogie At The Philharmonic – Meade Lux Lewis

Boogie Woogie At The Philharmonic - Meade Lux Lewis cover

 

Hot Five – Louis Armstrong

Hot Five - Louis Armstrong cover

 

Liquid Love – Freddie Hubbard

Liquid Love - Freddie Hubbard cover

 

Lionel Hampton Quintet – Lionel Hampton

Lionel Hampton Quintet - Lionel Hampton cover

 

Lester Young Trio – Lester Young

Lester Young Trio - Lester Young cover

The King Cole Trio – King Cole Trio
The King Cole Trio - King Cole Trio cover

 

Midnight Blue – Kenny Burrell

Midnight Blue - Kenny Burrell cover

 

Matador – Kenny Dorham

Matador - Kenny Dorham cover

 

Kenny Burrell – Kenny Burrell

Kenny Burrell self titled album cover

 

Blue Train – John Coltrane

Blue Train - John Coltrane cover

 

In ‘n Out – Joe Henderson

In 'n Out - Joe Henderson cover

 

The Jazz Messengers At The Cafe Bohemia Volume 1 – The Jazz Messengers

The Jazz Messengers At The Cafe Bohemia Volume 1 - The Jazz Messengers cover

 

Jazz At The Philharmonic – Norman Granz

Jazz At The Philharmonic - Norman Granz cover

 

Jazz At The Philharmonic Volume 2 – Norman Granz

 Jazz At The Philharmonic Volume 2 - Norman Granz cover

 

Jazz At The Philharmonic Volume 8 – Norman Granz

Jazz At The Philharmonic Volume 8 - Norman Granz cover

 

It’s Time! – Jackie McLean

It's Time! - Jackie McLean cover

 

Miles Davis and Horns – Miles Davis

Miles Davis and Horns - Miles Davis cover

 

The Complete Commodore Recordings – Billy Holiday

The Complete Commodore Recordings - Billy Holiday cover

 

High Priestess of Soul – Nina Simone

High Priestess of Soul - Nina Simone cover

 

Herbie Nichols Trio – Herbie Nichols

Herbie Nichols Trio - Herbie Nichols cover

 

Head Hunters – Herbie Hancock

Head Hunters - Herbie Hancock

 

No Room For Squares – Hank Mobley

No Room For Squares - Hank Mobley cover

 

Inventions & Dimensions – Herbie Hancock

Inventions & Dimensions - Herbie Hancock cover

 

Hamp and Getz – Lionel Hampton and Stan Getz

Hamp and Getz - Lionel Hampton and Stan Getz cover

 

Black Radio – Robert Glasper

Black Radio - Robert Glasper cover

 

Patterns in Jazz – Gil Melle

Patterns in Jazz - Gil Melle cover

 

West Coast Jazz – Stan Getz

West Coast Jazz - Stan Getz cover

 

Getz/Gilberto – Stan Gets, Joao Gilberto

Getz/Gilberto - Stan Gets, Joao Gilberto cover

 

Echoes of New Orleans – Goerge Lewis and His New Orleans Stompers

Echoes of New Orleans - Goerge Lewis and His New Orleans Stompers cover

 

Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation – Ornette Coleman Double Quartet

Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation - Ornette Coleman Double Quartet cover

 

Hub-Tones – Freddie Hubbard

Hub-Tones - Freddie Hubbard cover

 

The Astaire Story – Fred Astaire

The Astaire Story - Fred Astaire cover

 

Fancy Dancer – Bobby Humphrey

Fancy Dancer - Bobby Humphrey cover

 

Esquire’s 1946 Award Winners Hot Jazz – Various Artists

Esquire's 1946 Award Winners Hot Jazz - Various Artists cover

 

Out To Lunch! – Eric Dolphy

Out To Lunch! - Eric Dolphy cover

 

Ella and Louis – Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

Ella and Louis - Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong cover

 

Porgy and Bess – Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

Porgy and Bess - Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong cover

 

Elastic Rock – Nucleus

Elastic Rock - Nucleus cover

 

Anatomy of a Murder – Duke Ellington

Anatomy of a Murder - Duke Ellington cover

 

Trompeta Toccata – Kenny Dorham

Trompeta Toccata - Kenny Dorham cover

 

Our Man In Paris – Dexter Gordon

Our Man In Paris - Dexter Gordon

 

Go – Dexter Gordon

Go - Dexter Gordon cover

 

Time Out – The Dave Brubeck Quartet

Time Out - The Dave Brubeck Quartet cover

 

At The Piano – Count Basie

At The Piano - Count Basie cover

 

Cool Struttin’ – Sonny Clark

Cool Struttin' - Sonny Clark cover

 

The Congregation – Johnny Griffin

The Congregation - Johnny Griffin cover

 

Come Fly With Me – Frank Sinatra

Come Fly With Me - Frank Sinatra cover

 

Coltrane Plays The Blues – John Coltrane

Coltrane Plays The Blues - John Coltrane cover

 

Chet Baker In Milan – Chet Baker

Chet Baker In Milan - Chet Baker cover

 

Charlie Parker With Strings – Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker With Strings - Charlie Parker cover

 

The Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite – Chico O’Farrill/Machito

The Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite - Chiko O'Farrill

 

Jazz At The Philharmonic 1949 – Charlie Parker

Jazz At The Philharmonic 1949 - Charlie Parker

 

Unit Structures – Cecil Taylor

Unit Structures - Cecil Taylor

 

The Cat – Jimmy Smith

The Cat - Jimmy Smith cover

Blue Light ‘Til Dawn – Cassandra Wilson
Blue Light 'Til Dawn - Cassandra Wilson cover

 

Big Band Theory – Carla Bley

Big Band Theory - Carla Bley cover

 

Perceptual – Brian Blade Fellowship

Perceptual - Brian Blade Fellowship cover

 

Black Fire – Andrew Hill

Black Fire - Andrew Hill cover

 

Bitches Brew – Miles Davis

Bitches Brew - Miles Davis cover

 

Billie Holiday Sings – Billy Holiday

Billie Holiday Sings - Billy Holiday cover

 

Jazz Classics Volume 1 – Sidney Bechet

Jazz Classics Volume 1 - Sidney Bechet cover

 

New Movements In Be-Bop – Lionel Hampton

New Movements In Be-Bop - Lionel Hampton cover

 

Moanin’ – Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers 

Moanin' - Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers  cover

 

A.T.’s Delight – Art Taylor

A.T.'s Delight - Art Taylor cover

Point of Departure – Andrew Hill
Point of Departure - Andrew Hill cover

 

Gerry Mulligan Presets A Concert In Jazz – Gerry Mulligan

Gerry Mulligan Presets A Concert In Jazz - Gerry Mulligan cover

 

The Dissection and Reconstruction of Music From The Past As Performed By The Inmates of Lalo Schifrin’s Demented Ensemble As A Tribute T oThe Memory of Maquis de Sade – Lalo Schifrin

The Dissection and Reconstruction of Music From The Past As Performed By The Inmates of Lalo Schifrin's Demented Ensemble As A Tribute T oThe Memory of Maquis de Sade - Lalo Schifrin cover

 

A New Perspective – Donald Byrd

A New Perspective - Donald Byrd cover

 

Let Freedom Ring – Jackie McLean

Let Freedom Ring - Jackie McLean cover

 

Monk’s Music – Thelonious Monk

Monk's Music - Thelonious Monk cover

 

Count Basie – Count Basie

Count Basie - Count Basie cover

 

Jazz Concert Volume 2 – Louis Armstrong and the All Stars

Jazz Concert Volume 2 - Louis Armstrong and the All Stars cover

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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