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.

If you know, how would you say Miles’ upbringing helped to influence his style and did he ever give a name to or label his design style?

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?

Saul Bass had an impact with his use of type and design.  William (Bill) Moore, one of his instructors at Chouinard, was also influential.

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.

When designing a cover, where would he start when coming up with a concept?  Font?

Color scheme?

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.

If you can, please describe how his studio looked.  What were some of the elements that stood out?

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.

What was the environment like when Blue Note really started to take off?

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?

No particular order, but here are some of them:

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 me, some of the themes that seem to be apparent in his work are his use of negative space, oversized imagery, and a dominant color overlay.  Why do you think that 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).

What’s next for the Reid Miles estate?  Any events, exhibitions, or projects fans can look forward to?

At this time, there are currently no other events scheduled, but I’m always opened to possibilities.

About gmoney77

My name is Gerald Watson and I do lifestyle marketing for various companies/agencies. The purpose of this blog is to highlight the people I work with, the work I do as well as the shit I see on the regular.

Posted on November 3, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Wayne Adams? Email me.

  2. Wayne email me at imatate@yahoo.com

  3. Dusty Dutcher

    I modeled for both Wayne and Reid for many many years. Both were wonderful to work with. Reid would get so excited when he saw something he liked. I have always admired the talent that was involved with the studio.
    Wayne I would love to reconnect
    email me at dustindutcher@msn.com

  4. jane richards

    Would it be possible for Trinity Star Arts Council of Fairfield, Texas to use/copy Reid Miles album cover designs of Kenny Dorham on publicity and a program for A Tribute to Kenny Dorham on April 20, 2012? No item will be sold with Mr. MIles design. The event is to be held in Fairfield, Texas ( Kenny’s Birthplace).

    Thanks,
    Janie Richards

  5. Reid Miles was an acquaintance in the late 1980’s as he was a fellow aficionado of antique, Classic and collector cars. We would run into each other on a regular basis at car shows around Southern California. Reid was easy to talk to and was quite a character at this. He owned two cars; a 1932 Lincoln 12 cylinder, long wheel base, dual side mounted sedan that could best be described as simply awesome. He was a member of the Classic Car Club and attended many events and functions. Reid had long hair and and considerable facial hair. He often went barefoot on the grass at the show fields. Secondly, he often drove a 1949 MG TC that he had fitted with a 95 hp Triumph TR2 engine. This was painted black with a British Flag over the top of the black finish. This car was pictured on one of his personal promotional brochures. I saw him once at a show at a winery near San Diego to which he said he drove the TC during the night all the way from San Francisco. It was quite a surprise to everyone when when he died as he seemed so robust.

  1. Pingback: News | Exhibition celebrating jazz album covers debuts Sunday at U St.’s Lounge of III | CapitalBop

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