The realization that I’ve been designing professionally for more than twenty years now has sunk in. Twenty years! That’s a nice, lengthy run, but in a lot of ways I’ve been a “designer” for twice that long. Children tend to gravitate toward visually appealing things, and I was no different. While many of us lose that awareness as we age, the ones that don’t take up drawing or music or dance – or graphic design. I think part of being an artist means always being receptive to new things. With that in mind, I thought I’d use this space to explore specific design-y objects that have captured my imagination, from childhood to today.
Our first Design Inspiration is something I’ve just recently taken a shine to: the early album covers of the Jazz label CTI. Jazz music has long served as a catalyst for innovative design, most spectacularly with the classic Blue Note LPs from the late ’50 and early ’60s. Unlike the freewheeling Blue Note covers, CTI’s look followed a rigid, Swiss-inspired format which nevertheless allowed for lots of variety. It was all part of the plan of visionary producer and label head Creed Taylor, according to Doug Payne’s CTI discography:
Creed Taylor left Verve Records in 1967 to accept a lucrative offer producing records for a new jazz division of Herb Alpert’s highly successful independent pop label, A&M Records. Taylor was guaranteed $1,000,000 over a five-year period by Alpert’s organization.
From the very beginning, CTI had a highly distinctive character. Sam Antupit’s much copied design was the height of elegant simplicity. Each cover named the artist and the album title on two lines in clean Helvetica typeface while Pete Turner’s evocative photography was framed by swaths of white (for jazz oriented releases), gray (for pop-oriented releases) or, in two cases (SP-3017 and SP-3018), silver. Taylor also scored hits right from the start, too, with significant commercial and artistic success for Wes Montgomery’s A Day In The Life and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Wave.
While the vibrant, cool, colorful designs of CTI worked great for the gatefold LP format, they also highlighted the individual styles of each musician while proving their durability when the albums eventually got reissued in compact disc and digital formats. CTI’s visual elegance also fit in well with the sophisticated feel of its parent label, A&M, although their ’60s-era “kitschy Mexican restaurant” aesthetic was a lot more playful (and perhaps worthy of another Scrubbles.net post, as well). The fact that the initial 1967-68 CTI releases matched so neatly must have been a fun thing for adventurous listeners of the day, although such a rigidly formatted design was bound to flame out pretty early. In 1969, CTI’s covers for Walter Wanderley, J & K, and Milton Nascimento tweaked the format to allow vertically oriented photos. Other variations would follow, although it wouldn’t be too long before Taylor broke free of A&M and relaunched CTI as an independent label. CTI’s indie LP cover designs continued throughout the ’70s in a funky, Playboy-esque vein, often using Pete Turner’s eye-popping photography.
From the gallery below, hopefully you can see what I dig about these designs – they manage to be evocative of the ’60 and, at the same time, timeless. I definitely see a CTI influence in Cafe Apres Midi, a Japanese series of Bossa Nova/Lounge CDs compiled by Toru Hashimoto in 2000-03.