Reid Miles / Blue Note Records

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Like many visually-minded jazz enthusiasts, I’d always admired many album covers from the era of bebop and hard bop. Those on the Blue Note label are especially well-known, but it was only recently that I discovered that nearly all of these famous record sleeves had been designed by one man: Reid Miles. Born in Chicago in 1927, by the early fifties Miles was working as a graphic designer in New York, where one of his early employers was Esquire magazine. In 1955 he was hired by Francis Wolff of Blue Note Records to design record covers. The label had only recently begun releasing recordings on 12″ LPs; up to that point album artwork had been of little importance, and had not yet been fully exploited as a means of conveying the music contained within and thus attracting the potential listener. Without predecessors Miles was given free reign to develop what was essentially a brand new platform for graphic design. His playful juxtaposition of photography, text and empty space was a perfect visual interpretation of the music. It helped define both a genre and an era, creating a look and style that is much imitated today. Ironically, by all accounts Miles wasn’t particularly interested in jazz, relying on producer Alfred Lion’s descriptions of the sessions for inspiration. While original Blue Note LPs are not easy to come by (and usually don’t come cheap), as something of a jazz collector I’ve managed to procure a handful featuring Miles’ designs:

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For a more comprehensive collection of Reid Miles’ work for Blue Note, as well as other great jazz sleeves for Columbia, Atlantic, Prestige and more, check out this incredible site: Birka Jazz.

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