This week's featured album art is Coleman Hawkins' The Hawk Flies High (1957). The carefully composed image was the product of the dynamic Pauls, as in Paul Bacon (designer) and Paul Weller (photographer).
Paul Bacon was encouraged and trained as an artist from a young age, as evidenced by his choice of high school, aptly called Arts High School (Newark, New Jersey). And he also fell in love with jazz at a young age, joining the "hot group" in his town during the 1930s. This group of teenage boys would get together and throw listening parties, the same way we do with Baltimore Kissa Society listening parties today. Bacon's devotion to the genre was life-long; even after he retired from designing he continued playing jazz himself and even recorded a few albums. And did you know the comb can be a jazz instrument? Well, Paul Bacon was said to have played it pretty well.
Following service in WWII, Bacon found himself working in the design field, his favorite assignments being for Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff at Blue Note Records. Milt Jackson's Wizard of the Vibes (1952) is a good example of Bacon's style at the time.
When he subsequently began designing album covers for Riverside Records in the 1950s, he found himself acting less in the role of illustrator and more in the role of designer and art director. It was here that he began hiring Paul Weller to create the visuals that he would place into his final album cover designs. The Hawk Flies High is a beautiful example of their collaboration, with striking visuals and highly-considered lower-case type. Both imagery and text are given equal footing here, especially with the only context being a large field of monochrome color.
When we look at another album featuring Coleman Hawkins from the same year–Monk's Music by Thelonious Monk–we get a better sense of the style that Bacon would ultimately be known for. Weller once again takes an amazing photograph, though it was not the one the two Pauls had originally intended to take (you can read the full story of the cover's genesis in a great blog entry posted on The Jazz World's site). And once again, the overall image and type is surrounded by a largely monochrome field. But this time Bacon opts for a purposefully hand-drawn type and this approach echoes some of his best success in creating book cover designs.
Bacon's love may have been jazz, but in an effort to make a living he offered his design skills to clients across a broad spectrum of the arts. One particular industry that helped further his career was the world of book publishing. As we saw in his album design, the penchant to combine hand written type with bold visuals and fields of color produced striking effects, and after trying his hand at a friend's book design project, Bacon finally landed steady design work with Simon and Schuster.
Created one year before his designs for The Hawk Flies High and Monk's Music, Bacon hit a home-run with publishers when Meyer Levin's Compulsion hit bookshelves. His career is celebrated as much for the books as is the records, but it probably reasons to stand that if you did have to pit the two against each other, Bacon might be better known for his most iconic book design, Catch-22 (1961). You can read an in-depth review of Paul Bacon's book design work at Print Mag.
Paul Bacon died on June 8, 2015 and is widely remembered for his style, now known as the "Big Book Look."