The essence of cool: Blue Note Records turns 75

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jazz label, iconic design, blue note records, vintage graphic design, homage to Blue Note,

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jazz label, iconic design, blue note records, vintage graphic design, homage to Blue Note,

As a kid, I was mesmerized by the Blue Note album covers. There was something about them – at that time, still a bit out of my experience – but their coolness was magnetic.

This year, the jazz label records its 75th anniversary. Concerts throughout the year abound, and after listening to some of them, I had to go back and revisit those covers. Why were they so good? As I became a fan of jazz, and became more familiar with the music of Gordon, Monk and Coltrane among the label’s many artists, I began to connect the dots.

Blue Note album covers established a mood, a sound, and set a specific time and place in history – that mid-century modern vibe. But in many ways, they’re timeless.

Who created that “cool” brand?

Designer Reid Miles created over 500 covers from the mid 50s through the late 60s – the 5000 series from the early-to-mid 50s and 1500 series from the late 50s are my particular favorites. From the illustrative nature of the earlier, and the photographic leanings of the latter, they encapsulate a sound and create an atmosphere – late nights, dark clubs, smoke-filled air. Is there a better way to listen to jazz? Ah, the romance, the mystique of it.

5000 series covers

Created in the early-to-mid 1950s by various designers including John Hermansader, Paul Bacon, Jerome Kuhl and Reid Miles.

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1500 series covers

Created in the 1950s predominantly by Reid Miles.

jazz label, iconic design, blue note records, vintage graphic design, classic Blue Note covers

Miles used Francis Wolff’s striking photography, but generally had tight budgets. He pushed the limits by incorporating bold, original graphics, distinctive and experimental typography, and often, used monochromatic color to express moods.

The smoke-filled air is no longer, along with most of the clubs in NYC, but some late night sets and a few dark venues live on. Many new artists’ careers continue to be shaped by the label.

In homage

While I never had a chance to design for Blue Note, the two large covers above serve as my tribute to Miles’ iconic work for Blue Note’s 75th anniversary.

Enjoy NPR’s radio cast of the Blue Note 75th anniversary concert.

75th anniversary homage album cover designs © 2014 Janet Giampietro / Vintage album cover images and logo © Blue Note Records.

One Response to “The essence of cool: Blue Note Records turns 75”

  1. lg Says:

    These covers are amazingly beautiful and cool. I, too, was mesmerized by the covers and the liner notes — two things that CDs and/or streaming can never provide the listener.

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