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The Blue Note Design Innovation

For album lovers everywhere, the palette format that creates for distinctive cover art is one of the biggest draws to the vinyl album. And no matter what genre you choose, album art has become more than just an industry term, but a full-fledged medium. While software like Photoshop has enabled today's designer to produce vinyl album covers that defy convention, they owe a debt of gratitude to those that pioneered the form.

For jazz aficionados, the parade of distinctive Blue Note Records covers remain iconic not only in the musical world, but in pop culture as well. Perhaps the key element in creating the signature look that defines jazz vinyl art is the photographic style of Francis Wolff. Emigrating to the United States in 1939, Wolff quickly found his childhood friend Alfred Lion, one of the co-founders of the label. Also, Wolff was instrumental in keeping the unseasoned label's catalog in print during World War II.

In 1956, Blue Note uncovered the last piece of the design puzzle. The label appointed Reid Miles, an artist who was employed by Esquire Magazine, and the greatest line of jazz vinyl covers was born. The cover art produced by Miles, often featuring Wolff's photographs of musicians in the studio, proved to be as influential in the world of graphic design as the music would be in the world of jazz. Blue Note quickly became known for their remarkable jazz vinyl cover designs under the supervisory hand and watchful eye of Miles. Important factors such as tinted black-and-white photographs, the use of sans-serif typefaces and a careful restricting of the color palette - often black and white with a single color - and the regular use of solid rectangular bands of color or white, were directly inspired by the Bauhaus school of design. Some of Reid's best-known work includes Sonny Clark's "Cool Struttin," Art Blakey's "A Night in Tunisia," John Coltraine's "Blue Train," Kenny Dorham's "Trompeta Tocatta" and Herbie Hancock's "My Point of View."

Though Miles' work is closely associated with Blue Note, in his personal tastes, Miles was only a casual jazz fan. Blue Note gave him several copies of the many dozens of jazz vinyl albums he designed, but Miles gave most to friends and sold them to second-hand record shops. Further emblematic of the influence of the Blue Note design work, a few mid-1950s jazz vinyl covers feature drawings by an as-yet-known Andy Warhol.

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