JAZZ – Reid Miles – courtesy of Wayne Adams
Reid Miles and the work he’s done for Blue Note Records and (on another level) for the identity of jazz music is perhaps more than iconic, if there’s such a thing. The album covers that he’s crafted are considered by many to be works of art and have inspired many graphic designers and creatives alike.
Unfortunately, Reid is no longer with us and through my research I was directed, via Michael Cuscuna (Mosaic Records), to Wayne Adams who worked closely with Reid as his Photo Assistant. Thanks again to Wayne for his time and check the read below:
How did you meet Reid Miles?
In October 1977, I was called to work for Reid as a freelance Photographer’s Assistant. Interestingly, his photographic style was quite different at that time than when he was designing covers and occasionally taking the photographs for Blue Note Records. His photographic style when I went to work for him was most often compared to the art of Norman Rockwell.
As the story goes, he followed a girl, who as I remember he was engaged to, to Chouinard Institute of Art in Los Angeles. The relationship didn’t last. He left school early and headed for New York City.
What people, places, and things would he draw his inspiration from?
How long would it take him to design an album cover?
He would sometimes do two or three on a Saturday.
What were some of the tools of the trade that he used?
He would go into a graphics house/lab and play with type or graphic design – blowing them up or down, pushing them around until he was happy with the results.
The title was usually where he started and from that chose a font. Often the color was contained to just black and white and one color, because of costs of full color printing. Other times color was reserved for different volumes of a record – each one would have the same picture but would be highlighted by a different color.
The studio I worked in was his photography studio, not his art studio. His photo studio was 10,000 square feet, highlighted by a comfortable feeling – rich tones, antiques and leather couches. The shooting space was a large white cyclorama without a horizon line.
What were some of the other mediums that Reid enjoyed?
Obviously, he enjoyed making photographs for advertising and shooting television commercials. Of particular interest were images made from many photographs or parts of them. Back in the day before cut and paste were computer terms, we created a generous number of images using this method. This actually dates back to his work on the album covers for Blue Note and other labels to create his designs for them. He was happiest when he had his sleeves rolled up, pushing the pieces around to create a design.
Did you ever assist with developing any of the album covers? If so, which ones and what elements of them did you develop?
The only jazz albums I helped Reid with were the ones used for re-birth of Blue Note Records in 1985 for the Town Hall revival boxed set, using Mason jars with the artists’ names on them. I was there to help with the labels and photographing the covers.
He also photographed many other album covers outside the genre of jazz. For example, he did several of the Chicago covers, one for Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Liza Minnelli, a few for Cheap Trick and the list goes on.
Were the artists/musicians ever involved in the design process?
From the stories I heard, usually they would have some say about a photograph being used, most often a studio session photo supplied by Francis Wolff. Other than that, Reid would do his design and that was pretty much it.
What kind of responses did his initial album covers receive?
If you look back at the covers being done at the time, you could say that he pretty much changed how design for jazz, in particular, looked. His designs spoke the language of jazz. It was fresh and exciting. People started looking first at the covers and then wanted to know what the music inside was.
I wasn’t there, but from what I hear, for Alfred Lion and Francis Wolfe, it was their dream-come-true. And Reid was there along for the ride.
How did Reid take to the popularity his work was receiving. Did he even notice or care?
Of course, Reid loved the fact that he felt he had helped launch this great look. He always believed in his work and knew when it was exceptional…that when others took notice and agreed, it was thrilling.
What were some of his favorite album covers that he designed?
Joe Henderson “In ‘n Out”
Kenny Burrell “Midnight Blue”
Donald Byrd “A New Perspective”
Jackie McLean “Jackie’s Bag”
Freddie Hubbard “Hub-Tones”
Gil Melle “Patterns in Jazz”
Would Reid listen to the music of the artist/group whose album he was designing?
He may have listened to a smattering of it, but it wasn’t the important part of the design. He understood what the music was and to him what the artist chose to name the album became the important element behind the design.
Being that Miles was more a fan of classical music, did he ever design album covers for artists in that genre?
He only designed a couple of classical music covers that I remember of. One was for a Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
What was it about design that he seemed to enjoy most?
Design allowed him the freedom to express himself. He was very quick with design ideas, and was always at his best when given the latitude to do what he wanted, rather than have someone else dictate their design ideas for him to facilitate.
Can you talk at all about the relationship between Reid and Francis Wolff?
The story, I most often heard was that Francis was always complaining about Reid taking his photographs of the artists and cropping through their foreheads. It seemed to be a constant riff, but other than that, I think they got along famously. I never met Francis, but Reid was a lifelong friend of Alfred and his wife Ruth.
How big a fan of photography was Miles? What were some of the album covers that feature his photos?
Reid became a photographer when he realized that the majority of the ones he would have taken for his advertising clients, were ones that he was ending up designing and directing any way. Out of frustration, he picked up a camera. Reid started taking photographs for covers when none of Francis’ photos were right for them. His first ones were somewhat abstract – blurred motion (Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ “Like Someone In Love” or Donald Byrd’s “Freeform”) and double exposure (Lou Donaldson’s “Alligator Bogaloo”).
Was Alfred Lion ever involved with the design process?
Not that I am aware of. He just wanted something that was “modern” to illustrate what jazz was.
To him good design dictated the use of space. He loved working with anything that made a statement and those were some of the elements that helped define the Blue Note design. As I mentioned the dominant color was most often to help keep the printing costs down, though it worked in a completely positive way in helping to define the look.
Why do you think people (musicians and fans) were so drawn to his work?
It is a style and a statement that tends to express what jazz is all about. The designs are bold and so different from images being displayed on album covers of the era. They are works of art that can be hung on someone’s wall and are for that matter.
As Reid began to wind down his time at Blue Note what were some of the things that he was interested in getting more involve in?
He was still a graphic designer and advertising art director, but was beginning to move into photography. At first he was taking pictures that at the time were modern, unlike classical advertising photography. They were wide angle, sometimes using color filters or bright colors…not far from the ideas he used creating Blue Note covers. Later, as I said, he began telling stories in his “Rockwell-esque” style of photography.
Being that we’re in a digital age what’s been the response or interest in Reid Miles’ work to date?
I get a lot of requests to reproduce his images (digital makes it that much easier) for a whole myriad of products. Some requests to redo images for someone else’s CD cover (flattered, but not going to get permission).
At this time, there are currently no other events scheduled, but I’m always opened to possibilities.
Posted on November 3, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged blue note records, freddie hubbard, john coltrane, michael cuscuna, reid miles, the classics album cover art show, wayne adams. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.