Giants of Jazz
Designer: Carrie Hamilton, Kismet Design
Publisher: The New Press
Typefaces: Corvinus, Univers Condensed
Imagery: Robert Galster, with enhancement by designer
Genre: Music/Jazz and author's loyal fan base
I’m a big jazz fan, so when I first saw these designs I was really drawn to them. I love the illustrations, flat color and typography on these. Plus Carrie got them to print two versions of the cover. WOW. It’s great to get some insight into Carrie’s process. Thanks Carrie.
First published in 1957, Giants of Jazz is a collection of intimate profiles of thirteen jazz luminaries written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Studs Terkel from first-hand interviews. It also bears the distinction of having been Terkel’s first book. Its genre is listed as “Music/Jazz,” but clearly a significant portion of the audience for Giants of Jazz is the author’s loyal fan base. A straight-talking and passionate interviewer, Mr. Terkel’s oral histories of ordinary American life have made him a beloved and iconic figure.
Colin Robinson, then the publisher and editor-in-chief at The New Press showed a copy of the 1957 edition to me and art director Gary Tooth of Empire Design Studio. It was fabulous. Each interview featured a brush and ink illustration of the subject by Robert Galster. The title type was set in a super-sharp, high-contrast font designed by Imre Reiner in 1934 called Corvinus. The author photo was a portrait of a then-35 year-old Studs as I’d never seen him: a jazz aficionado, decked out in patent-leather hair and
a bow tie.
These elements seemed to speak directly to the time and place of the book. They also reflected a passion for the subject that resides within the author’s narrative, and an affection with which Studs is widely regarded. We all agreed that both conceptually and aesthetically, there was no need to look elsewhere. To ad icing to the cake, Colin allowed us to take advantage of our abundance of available art by agreeing to the design of two different versions of the jacket, to be printed simultaneously.
I chose four portraits from the interior of the book, those of Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong for the covers and Bessie Smith and Bix Beiderbecke for the spines, and took their loose, airy quality a step further by painting in areas of tone in brush and ink on mylar on top of each illustration, and then scanning and colorizing them.
This cut of Corvinus had never been digitized, though there are some derivative fonts out there (Ann Pomoroy’s Corvinus Skyline and Tobias Frere-Jones’ Niagara, to name two). In retrospect, either of those would have done nicely, but my enthusiasm for the project got the better of me. In what will definitely be my first and last foray into the realm of font creation, I digitized my own version of Corvinus in Fontographer for use here, based on a printed version of the complete alphabet I found in Dover’s Classic Typefaces and How to Use Them.
I would like to say that the process that went into creating these covers was a long and arduous one, but it was one of the smoothest collaborations I’ve ever had the pleasure to be a part of. I’ve found that sometimes the best ideas are those that come together fastest.
3.17.09 // Ian Shimkoviak said:it's nice to see something so authentically infused with a particular style that was so prevalent in the 50s.
The front cover, back cover, color palette, typeface and treatment all come together so perfectly to reel you in to the series.
I also appreciate the fact that something like this went smoothly and rather quick. It's really wonderful when a designer has an idea, a goal in mind—and just goes for it. Things just come together when you focus on the vision you have.
3.19.09 // Nate Salciccioli said:I agree. These are really tactile and beautiful. If you're a jazz fan, I can't imagine passing these up.