Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Tribute to the Great Reid Miles

Reid Miles is one of my favorite designers of all time. His iconic work for the Blue Note record label remains in the lexicon of the finest work ever created. The (good in it's own right) Computer Arts magazine has a great article about Miles. For the entire article, go here. Here is an excerpt:

Reid Miles’s inventive use of type, moody photography and a minimalist colour palette helped Blue Note establish itself as the hippest of all jazz labels

Blue Note Recordings: the name still resonates today. Synonymous with artistic flair, the label is a fading memory of jazz’s ‘golden age’. Yet for all its musical importance, Blue Note was equally significant in terms of design. Under Reid Miles, the label’s sleeves formed a cornerstone of the graphic design canon.

Established in 1939 by Berlin-born Alfred Lion, Blue Note was an American label founded on love for an American art form. Intent on capturing the performances, Lion teamed up with Francis Wolff to realise his dream. Wolff was an accomplished photographer, whose moody renditions of jazz’s top cats adorned many early Blue Note sleeves. It wasn’t until the appointment of Chicago-born designer Reid Miles in 1956, however, that the label truly found its graphic voice.

Lion and Wolff refused to compromise creativity, allowing pioneers such as Thelonious Monk free reign to explore jazz’s cutting edge. It’s fitting that Miles’s first notable sleeve was a Thelonious Monk reissue (pictured above). Exploding onto the scene, his bold hyphenation of ‘Thelo-nious’ broke all the rules, treating the syllables as visual building blocks. Blue Note quickly became Miles’s playground; a space to challenge himself, artists and the audience.

Interestingly, Miles preferred classical music to jazz, trading in his Blue Note sample copies and not even listening to the music. Given this, it’s amazing that Miles’s designs were so ‘tight’. As Felix Cromey writes in Blue Note: The Album Cover Art: “Miles made the cover sound like it knew what lay in store for the listener: an abstract design hinting at innovations, cool strides for cool notes, the symbolic implications of typefaces and tones.”