John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” is considered a masterpiece of modern jazz. His wide open bluesy and chromatic blowing on this one-off Blue Note session lay the foundation for his future modal excursions heard on “Impressions” and “A Love Supreme.”
No less significant than Coltrane’s playing is how we view the artist, courtesy of the album art.
Coltrane was a searcher – always thinking. Photographer Francis Wolff and cover designer Reid Miles give us a glimpse into the artist’s process by capturing him up close and very personal, swathed in blue light, giving a double meaning to the album’s title. Was the album actually “Blue Train,” with tracks like “Locomotion” – or was it actually “Blue ‘Trane,” literally and figuratively playing off Coltrane’s nickname and pensive, thoughtful mood?
Francis Wolff was co-founder of Blue Note Records and occasional photographer. He shot over 30,000 photographs of some of the most significant jazz recording sessions of the 1950’s. He died in 1971.
Reid Miles created many of the nearly 500 Blue Note Record sleeves during a period of 15 years starting in the late 1950s. Jazz set the standard for sleeve design during this period and Reid Miles was at the forefront. Shortly thereafter he landed a design job with Esquire magazine, provided they allow him to continue creating album art for Blue Note. He continued working in his Hollywood studio until his death in 1993.
Dale Cruse is a website designer and musician. His weblog, BIG BOTTOM, tracks news about bass players at 24 stgeorge. His column appears here every Monday.