The color of jazz

On the recommendation of a customer, I checked this book out of the library this week. Did you know that Minneapolis’ largest branch library is right here on East Lake? And you can request any book in the Hennepin County Library‘s catalog and have it delivered to your neighborhood branch.

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If you have even a modest collection of jazz albums, you likely have one with a photograph by Pete Turner on the cover. Although he is best known to shutterbugs as one of the most important innovators of color photography, he is known to people like us as the artist who created the look and feel of Creed Taylor’s distinctive line of jazz productions for A&M Records and his own CTI Records in the 60s and early 70s.

This book, The Color of Jazz, covers his ubiquitous work for jazz producer Creed Taylor, which spans twenty-five years and includes many of the most popular jazz LPs that pass through our shop. When Turner approached Taylor about collaborating their photography and record production in 1958 the later was working for Impulse! Records, a new subsidiary of ABC-Paramont that was dedicated to contemporary jazz (an early and enduring Impulse! slogan was “the new thing in jazz”). Creed Taylor was responsible for bringing John Coltrane to the label in 1961, but did not produce the thirty-plus albums Trane recorded there. He was the producer for such favorites as Oliver Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth and Gil Evans’ Out of the Cool, albums which suggest the direction his work would press when he moved to Verve Records – Pete Turner photographed the cover of Nelson’s seminal album, and like-minded photographer Arnold Newman photographed the cover of Evans’ album.

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Taylor’s legacy is controversial to some jazz listeners because of the growing influence of pop, easy listening and even classical on his style of production – his work also introduced bossa nova to the United States and lent a sophistication to jazz previously overlooked by the middle-60s growing leisure class. His albums were packaged in deluxe gatefolds with glossy covers. Many did not list the tracks or performers on the back, but inside the fold, an unusual innovation. In addition to Verve’s explosively popular run of Brazilian albums by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Astrud Gilberto, Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd, Taylor produced records by Bill Evans, Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery. Pete Turner created the photographs for many of these records, including the cover of Stan Getz’s Focus, one of my favorite jazz LPs on the label. On that album the tenor improvises over dramatic and exciting orchestra arrangements by Eddie Sauter.

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01 i’m late i’m late (edit)

Selection from “I’m Late I’m Late” by Stan Getz and Eddie Sauter

It is the covers for A&M Records that contain Turner’s most memorable, evocative work. Taylor worked briefly for A&M before founding his own subsidiary there, CTI Records (Creed Taylor Industries) which eventually became an independent label with its own distribution. Wes Montgomery’s last three albums were recorded for A&M and produced by Taylor. Turner provided the cover photographs for this triptych of lush jazz/easy listening hybrids.

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a day in the life

“A Day in the Life” by Wes Montgomery (from 45 split into two parts, which is why it fades in and out in the middle)

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Pete Turner’s photographs for CTI are some of the most distinctive-looking jazz records of the 70s. Stop by the shop sometime and flip through our jazz section and you will find many of them (they were top-sellers in their time so they are often easy to find today). One page includes the covers for Gabor Szabo’s Rambler – one of our favorite CTI albums – and George Benson’s Body Talk. Another features an eye-cathing picture of ostriches against a sunset. Turner explains that he was on assignment for South African Airlines when he saw the giant birds, but to get the picture he wanted he had to enlist some help to herd them together. The picture provided the cover for Milt Jackson’s Sunflower.

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We’ll return this to the library soon so you can check it out. It’s an enjoyable read for jazz listners and photographers alike, filled with interesting stories about each. It will also probably get you going to your record shelf to pull out those beautiful, shiny gatefold albums.

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