Designer Desire: Alex Steinweiss

Mosaic of Alex Steinweiss LP cover art | H is for Home

New Yorker, Alex Steinweiss (1917-2011) is considered the father of LP artwork. Prior to the 1930s, the vast majority of records were sold in plain sleeves or record shop advertising ‘bags’. As the first art director at Colombia Records, he recalled what record covers used to be like:

The covers were brown, tan or green paper. They were not attractive, and lacked sales appeal.

They were so drab, so unattractive, I convinced the executives to let me design a few.

He went on to design album artwork for other record companies such as Decca, London, Remington and Everest.

Examples of his work can be found in Jazz Covers, a book we’ve reviewed in the past. There are two books dedicated to his huge back catalogue; For the Record: The Life and Work of Alex Steinweiss and Alex Steinweiss. The Inventor of the Modern Album Cover. There are three editions of the latter available costing from £15 to £1,000.

Portrait of Alex Steinweisscredit

Bookmarks: Jazz Covers

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"Jazz Covers" book surrounded by vintage jazz LPs

Today’s bookmarks post features Jazz Covers by Joaquim Paulo & Julius Wiedemann (Ed.) – and published by Taschen.

Chick Corea LP cover

Justin’s a big jazz fan and has an ever-expanding record collection – particularly 50s & 60s vinyl.

Chico Hamilton Quintet LP cover

This book review’s been a real treat for him.

Dizzy Gillespie LP covers

We’ve been thinking for some time that we need to do a blog post featuring some of the fantastic album covers from this era…

"Blue Train" John Coltrane LP cover

…then lo & behold this wonderful book appeared!

Sauter Finegan "Inside Sauter Finegan" and "The Sons of Sauter Finegan" LP covers

It’s certainly a great looking package. There’s a striking outer box sleeve and the book spines contained within resemble LPs stacked on a shelf. It’s a lovely little touch – typical of Taschen”s quality and attention to detail.

"Jazz Covers" volumes out of their sleeve

Jazz Covers is divided into two volumes – first artists A-K and then L-Z.

"Olé" John Coltrane LP cover

Great names such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlie Mingus and Thelonious Monk (perhaps we shouldn’t start listing names because there’s always one more that has to be mentioned).

detail from Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie "Diz Bird" LP cover

Each volume starts with interviews from legendary jazz figures – Bob Ciano (former art director at CTI), Fred Cohen (owner of the Jazz Record Centre in New York), Michael Cuscuna (producer at Blue Note Records), Rudy Van Gelder (sound engineer), Ashley Kahn (author & jazz critic) and Creed Taylor (founder of Impulse! Records).

Duke Ellington LP cover

They truly are legends within the industry and their thoughts are both fascinating & insightful – shedding light on the design process and the music itself.

Dick Katz "Kool for Katz" LP cover

Following these short interviews are page after page of the most wonderful album covers.

"Jazz Gunn" Shelly Manne and his Men LP cover

We took photographs of some of our favourites, but the quality’s so amazing that if we’d returned the next day we’d probably have chosen a completely different selection!

Jimmy Smith "Home Cookin'" LP cover

Accompanying the photographs are superb side notes – there are details about each record – artist, date, label etc.  Also additional information about the musicians who played on them, producers, design influences, record industry snippets and wider social history.

"Connection" jazz LP cover

We really like the use of these extensive side notes which breaks information up into manageable, reader friendly chunks – absolutely perfect for a big ‘coffee table’ book.

Don Randi Trio "Where do we go From Here?" LP cover

Volume II ends with ‘top ten lists’ where some of the worlds most influential DJs and biggest collectors spill the beans on the albums that they just couldn’t live without.

Miles Davis "Sorcerer" and "We Want Miles" LP covers

Having read their lists, there are serious concerns for our bank balance!

Sarah Vaughan "The Explosive Side of Sarah Vaughan" LP cover

As you might have guessed, we couldn’t recommend this book highly enough – it’s fabulous!

"Focus" jazz LP cover

Jazz enthusiasts will obviously get the most from it, but it will also appeal to lovers of design, art, typography & photography in general. Get it on your pressie list!!

Modern Jazz Quartet "The Sheriff" LP cover

As well as the Taschen website, this book is also available on Amazon.

[Many thanks to Taschen for this review copy]