The Arena Stage in Washington DC has been producing beautifully illustrated posters for years. Art director Nicky Lindeman called to see if I’d design a poster to be part of their 2014-5 season, for “Five Guys Named Moe.” a musical revue of Louis Jordan songs written by the great actor Clarke Peters (The Wire and Treme.) Anyone who has listened to Louis Jordan records knows that his music is filled with a lot of energy and humor, and chickens. I tried to bring some of those qualities to this design.
These pieces from the Harlem Renaissance served as inspiration for the style of the poster, Winold Reiss, left, Miguel Covarrubias, right.
I also brought a little Juan Gris to this one.
Rough thumbnail sketches, the story begins when five guys named Moe pop out of a radio to give advice about life, drinking and big-legged women.
One of my favorite projects of the year was this illustration for a CD issue of music from the movies of Grace Kelly for Milan Records in France. This is about the sixth or seventh cover I’ve done for them and they always seem to call for subjects that I’m already interested in.
For this one Milan sent me a list of pictures that would be included in the collection and I decided to put Grace in the apartment from “Rear Window” with added elements from the other movies on the list. That’s a framed photo of Tex Ritter who sings the theme song from “High Noon” on the desk with a clock, Bing Crosby’s hat and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet from “High Society” are on the chair, the Cote’ D’ Azur poster and the cat drawing are from “To Catch a Thief.” That’s Alec Guiness as Prince Albert from “The Swan,” and the scissors and phone are from “Dial M for Murder.” The lucky guy in the wheelchair is L.B. Jefferies and Lisa Carol Fremont is about to play some records for him. Grace is wearing a dress by Edith Head and that’s a Hermes Kelly bag on the desk, but you all already knew that.
The biggest challenge for me on this one was to make a good likeness of Grace Kelly in a style that fit the period and also worked for a contemporary audience.
Illustrator outline, those rectangles are placed texture files made from scans of air-brushed ink on paper.
Milan always does a nice job with the design of the booklet and disc, and they always send me a box of CDs. A great client.
My favorite new client, Milan Music in Paris, is re-issuing a lot of great American music and film soundtracks.They recently called for a couple of CD covers. The first is for a collection of songs composed by Harold Arlen, who wrote the music for “The Wizard of Oz” plus a lot of songs that have become standards of the American Songbook. Arlen had a long career writing for Broadway shows and Hollywood movies. I imagined him at work in a “David Hockney meets Mister Magoo” version of his Beverly Hills home.
The second cover is for a collection of hits by Eddie Cochran, the sharp-dressing rockabilly star whose career was cut short in a car accident when he was 21. Eddie made a lot of records from 1957-1960, and is probably best known for “Somethin’ Else” and “Summertime Blues.”
Here’s the second in the series of CD covers I’m doing for the wonderful French record label, Editions Milan Music. The entire brief I received from them was two words, “Fats Domino.”
There’s probably no other living artist that’s more associated with New Orleans than Fats. He rarely leaves town, and he even turned down an invitation to the White House because he didn’t want to travel; he says he can’t find the food he likes anywhere except the Crescent City. I had the idea to make Fats bigger than life and sitting on the rooftops of the town he loves. One building is also an upright piano and the Dew Drop Café is his stool.
There’s a little bit of Magoo and UPA in this one
Here’s a piece for the Playboy Jazz Festival Program to accompany an article by Don Heckman about the state of big bands in America today. Some think of big bands as dinosaurs but if you do some digging you can find a pretty vital scene in almost every major city.
This piece certainly shows the influence of Jim Flora and the great Cliff Roberts. I’ve been doing illustrations for the annual festival for about twenty-five years now, but still no invitation to the mansion.
Got a call (well, e-mail) from Milan records in France asking if I’d be interested in doing some jazz record covers.
My answer was yes, and the first one is for the great Nina Simone. Here’s the liner notes:
(Nina pour « la gamine » en espagnol. Simone en hommage à
Signoret.) La trajectoire de Nina Simone (née Eunice Kathleen Waymon) est
unique. Elle porte une vision artistique et politique, une musique qui
transcende les genres musicaux et les préjugés. « Je veux secouer les gens en profondeur, délibérément. Quand ils sortent de mon concert, je veux qu’ils soient en pièces. » C’est dans cet état que l’on
se retrouvera en écoutant les titres de ce collector : en pièces, mais
aussi réjouis et libérés.
La couverture originale de cet album a été réalisée par l’un des plus
grands illustrateurs américains actuels : Paul Rogers. Passionné de
musique et de jazz, il a travaillé en particulier pour Wynton Marsalis
et Bob Dylan.
The art director Franck Laurent, wanted a bluesy drawing of Nina at the piano, I kept thinking of this book cover by one of my all-time favorites, Miguel Covarrubias. The blue color was my idea.
It doesn’t happen every day that you meet one of your heroes. When that meeting turns into a friendship and then a collaboration, you know you’ve been blessed.
Wynton and I met almost twenty years ago, for a poster project that we both signed. Since then I designed a poster for The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival that depicted him in his Crescent City hometown, we’ve worked together on two books, and I spent a week out on the road with him and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra making sketchbook drawings.
Wynton has won a Pulitzer, nine Grammys and numerous other citations and honors, he has been an inspiration to many, many musicians and people who are making their way in the world as artists. Whenever we meet, he always acknowledges the accomplishment of survival with the words “So, we’re still out here.”
I’ve admired so much about him, the way he leads fifteen of the greatest jazz musicians of any era in the JALC Orchestra, the way he sits with young musicians who bring their instruments to a concert hoping for advice from the maestro, and his thoughtful writing and lectures on the important place that jazz music holds in our history and culture. I’ve seen him working on a symphony in a hotel room with no piano, and I’ve seen him stay late after a gig talking to fans until it’s just him and the guy locking the place up.
Tuesday is Wynton’s 50th birthday. There has been a week-long series of concerts at JALC’s Rose Theater featuring special guests and some serious swing. I wish I was there acknowledging the accomplishment.
Sketches for New Orleans Jazz & Hertiage Festival, 2002
Colored-pencil sketch for poster
Seventeen color silk-screen poster
Wynton at soundcheck in Atlanta
Here's a preview of our second book for Candlewick Press, our first book, Jazz ABZ is still in print, (turns out kids love books with Coleman Hawkins in them.) The new book is a picture book for young readers about sounds titled Squeak, Rumble, Whomp Whomp Whomp! We're trying to get it finished while we're still on this earth. It's scheduled for Fall 2012.
Here’s a recent drawing I did for Omega Lifestyles Magazine of the bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding. She’s nominated for a Grammy in the Best New Artist category, she’ll have to beat out a girl named Justin Beiber.
Cathy Gilmore-Barnes at The New York Times called for a portrait of Stephen Sondheim to accompany a review of Sondheim’s new book of annotated lyrics. The review was written by another great songwriter, Paul Simon. My job was to not screw it up.
I sent three sketches, a Times Square background, a backstage background, and the ol' 'letters in the head' trick.
The book was a project I started without a publisher. I had the idea for an abecedary of jazz musicians, made a list of one for each letter of the alphabet, and started working on the images in-between my other assignments. Because there was no deadline, and there was the strong possibility that these would never see the light of day, I decided to do whatever I wanted with them, and to borrow (you're right . . . steal) from the artists I admired from each era that the jazz musician is associated with. The list of artists includes Stuart Davis, Paul Rand, Miquel Covarrubias, the forgotten French designer Pierre Merlin, Al Hirshfeld, Juan Gris, David Stone Martin, and Alex Steinweiss.
When Jazz ABZ was published I sent a copy of the book to Mr. Steinweiss, with a note telling him he was a big inspiration on the project, and I hoped he‘d like the book. Steinweiss was the first artist to design graphics for album covers in 1940 for Columbia Records, he’s 92 and living in Sarasota, FL. About a week later I received a note back saying very nice things about the book and inviting me to visit him if I was ever in Florida, so after the opening, Jill and I are driving down to spend a few hours with the master. If you haven't seen the new Taschen book on Steinweiss career, here's a link.
This month marks the centennial of the saxophonist Lester Young. His music is filled with the vitality and sadness of life; he influenced countless musicians, was Billie Holiday’s favorite musician and contributed as much to the spirit of American life as any artist you can think of.
Nicknamed “Prez,” Young was a gentle and soulful man who had a way of expressing himself through words that was as creative and influential as his music. He called his friends “ladies,” coined the term “cool,” and once, after seeing a fellow patron at a bar fall off a stool asked the bartender for “whatever he was having.” Prez left a jazz club one night after being spotted sitting in back listening to the music because he didn’t “dig being dug while I’m digging.”
WKCR is celebrating by playing a lot of Lester Young all this month. My friend, Phil Schaap is devoting his Monday and Saturday shows to Prez and on his birthday, August 27th, there will be 24 hours of Lester Young. Actually, it will be a three-day festival combined with Charlie Parker’s birthday on August 29th
Here's the portrait of Prez from the book I did with Wynton Marsalis Jazz ABZ. Young played with The Count Basie Band in Kansas City in the early days. I read that the Reno Club was so small the bass player stood outside in the alley and leaned in a window to play. John Hammond heard the band on a tiny short-wave radio station and drove all night from Chicago to sign Basie to a recording contract.
The Ahmanson Theatre in downtown LA is staging a revival of the Fats Waller musical revue ‘Ain’t Misbehavin.’ Theater posters can be a nightmare because there are so many cooks in the kitchen, everyone involved in the production gets to voice an opinion, Also, there are many different formats that the art has to be used in and sometimes the poster gets compromised and doesn’t really work well in any of the applications.
This one went very smoothly thanks to Center Theatre Group’s gracious art director Charity Capili. I let her know that I’d be happy to design separate pieces to fit the important applications, and we worked together on light pole banners, program covers and a large 19-foot banner for the Music Center plaza. She does owe me a drink at the bar.
light pole banners
Background art for misc usages
Of course, Fats Waller was a legendary songwriter, stride piano player and character of the Harlem Renaissance. I borrowed heavily from another cat who spent a lot of his time in Harlem, the great Miguel Covarrubias.
An old friend from Art Center, Douglas May, called for a portrait of the beautiful Dionne Warwick to benefit Dallas Summer Musicals, a organization that brings Broadway shows to Dallas and provides children’s education and outreach programs. He had the idea to do bring an Erte-inspired art deco vibe to the piece. I put on “Dionne At Her Very Best” and laid this portrait on him.
Saturday January 10th is the 88th anniversary of the drummer Max Roach’ s birth. WKCR 89.9 in New York City will be marking the occasion, as they always do, by playing his music for 24 hours beginning at midnight. If you like jazz music, or think you might like to learn more about it, there’s no better place than WKCR, also found online. There’s also no better person to learn from than my friend, Phil Schaap, who runs the jazz programming at the station. Phil’s knowledge of jazz music is as deep and as rich as it gets, and his love for the musicians who play it is infectious. We lost Max Roach last year, so this year will be the first birthday broadcast that Max won’t be at home listening in.
Then, beginning the next day, WKCR will be airing the Roy Haynes Festival, 301 continuous hours of his music. Sunday January 11th through Friday January 23rd. Haynes is now 83 and his drumming has helped propel groups led by the greatest names in jazz including Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonius Monk. Haynes will be joining Phil on air to tell some tall tales. Check it out.
The Studio Museum in Harlem called the other day. They carry the book Jazz ABZ in their bookstore and wanted to do a feature in their quarterly magazine. There's an artist interview in each issue and it includes a coloring page for kids. I sent them this line drawing of Duke Ellington and a few cats from his band that made Harlem their home. I have this directory of musicians from 1955 that lists everyone’s home address and I included them in the drawing. The whole thing is a shameless imitation of the great David Stone Martin, and I’m sure the image will be improved by kids with crayons.
This June is the 30th anniversary Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl. Every year they produce a nice program that's full of illustrations; there are portraits of each performer and a few feature articles. This year Fred Fehlau, the AD for the program asked me to do a piece to accompany an article about the history of the festival. So I filled the stage with a group of musicians who've played there. From left to right there's Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Wynton Marsalis, Stan Getz, Benny Goodman, Ron Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, BB King, Art Blakey and Miles Davis. Fred asked me to include Hefner, festival MC Bill Cosby, and producer George Wein in the crowd.
Fred also asked me to do a portrait of the trumpet player Roy Hargrove. While looking around online for photos I came across this wonderful picture of Roy taken by Eddy Westveer, a jazz photographer who lives and works in the Netherlands. I e-mailed him to get permission to use the photo as reference for my drawing and offered him a fee. The photo supplied such a nice vibe, the drawing was finished easily and very quickly.
I've done the cover for the program three times. Fred asks for comp ideas, and that really means do a finish and if Hefner likes it, it gets used. Hefner has picked mine three times, yet still no invitation to the mansion.
Las year I did this drawing of composer and trumpter Terence Blanchard. Terence is from New Orleans and has written film scores for a lot of Spike Lee's films. I was listening to his score for Lee's documentary "When The Levees Broke" while I worked on this drawing
I've done portraits of musicians every year since 1986. Here's Cosby, Tony Bennett, Joshua Redman, Elvin Jones, Ray Charles, and Miles Davis.
Here's a sample of some of the fantastic work by a few of the illustrators that I admire from past years. Mel Torme by Robert Risko, Hefner by Al Hirschfeld, Wynton Marsalis by Jeffrey Decoster, Kenny Garret by Calef Brown, Cassandra Wilson by Ann Field, Buddy Guy by the legendary Jeff Smith, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland & Brian Blade by Chris Pyle, Dr, John by Brad Weinman, and Femi Anikulapo-Kuti by Jason Holley.