David Stone Martin – the art of jazz made visible
When I think about jazz, I often see it as something that looks a lot like one of the drawings of David Stone Martin.
When my brother Chris was at the College of Music in Cape Town during the middle years of the 1950s he would often come home on vacation with a new album or two. Quite often, especially those of Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic series, they would have artwork on the covers by DSM, as we used to call him.
Before the advent of the LP in 1948 records were distributed in plain paper covers, or , if they were part of a set, in a box or an album rather like a photo album. So how did LP cover art come about? A brief look at the history of the LP and its cover follows:
A (very) brief history of the LP and cover art
The LP was introduced to the world at a press conference hosted by CBS at the Waldorf-Astoria on 21 June 1948. The LP came in two formats – the 10 inch and the 12 inch. It was the result of research done by a team headed by Peter Goldmark, who was head research scientist for CBS Laboratories.
The first 10 inch LP, with catalogue number CL6001, was The Voice of Frank Sinatra and the first 12 inch LP was the Nathan Milstein recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor with Bruno Walter conducting the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of New York, catalogue number ML4001.
The idea of album art was first proposed by the then 23-year-old Brooklyn-born artist Alexander Steinweiss, who was appointed the first art director of the then newly-formed Columbia Records. He saw a commercial opportunity in the then generic covers which featured just the record company logo, or sometimes the title of the record.
His idea transformed record covers and at the same time boosted sales. The first album with cover art was a set of 78 rpm records called Rogers and Hart Smash Hits and the new cover boosted sales of the album considerably.
When the LP came the cover had to be sturdier to protect the relatively more fragile grooves, and once again Alexander Steinweiss was up to the challenge and saw the potential of using the cardboard cover to display art and designs that would somehow give potential buyers an idea of what the LP was all about. So the cover started to reflect something of the character of the music on the LP. And artists started to take advantage of the new “canvass” made available to them.
David Stone Martin background
DSM was born in 1913 and after high school attended the Art Institute of Chicago. He was much influenced by the work of Lithuanian-born social realist artist Ben Shahn.
While at the Art Institute DSM met impresario and producer Norman Granz, for whom he was very soon designing record covers. DSM designed more than 400 covers in his long career, for a number of different labels.
DSM participated in a 1943 show organised by Abbott Laboratories which highlighted the work of the US Navy Medical Corps. He had worked during the 1930s and 1940s for various government agencies, including the Tennessee Valley Authority, and as Art Director for the Office of War Information. It was here that he worked with and befriended Ben Shahn.
There are works by DSM in many galleries, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian.
DSM was a close friend of Mary Lou Williams, the pianist and composer.
In addition to record covers DSM did covers for Time magazine, including Bobby Kennedy, Mao Zedong and Eugene McCarthy, among others.
Some of his best line drawings, at which he excelled, were done for Alan Lomax's 1950 biography of Jelly Roll Morton, Mr Jelly Roll (Cassell).
DSM died in March 1992.
The record covers
Considering his huge output in this regard it is a very difficult task to pick out representative covers. Some of his greatest, in my view, were those he did for various Billie Holiday albums. He managed to capture in the covers her strength and vulnerability, the triumph and pathos of her music. He never patronised her by making her covers “pretty” but always showed a gritty, powerful image, just like her music.
The first cover he designed was for a 78 rpm album of the Mary Lou Williams trio recordings in 1944. During the 1940s he also made covers for, among others, Meade Lux Lewis, Ernestine Washington, Coleman Hawkins and Muggsy Spanier.
In the early 1950s he began a long series of covers for Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) albums, which were among the first I saw in those far-off days. So his covers showed the birth of the bebop era and all its stars – there are Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell and the rest.
Some JATP coversClick thumbnail to view full-size
Billie HolidayClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Mr Jelly Roll illustrations
"The quiet of chamber-music auditorium in the Library of Congress and the busts of the great composers sight5less in their niches disturbed Jelloy Roll not at all. He felt at home with great men and with history."
So wrote Alan Lomax in the "prelude" to his biography of Mr Jelly Roll Ferdinand Morton, musician extraodinaire from that fabled birthplace of jazz, New Orleans.
DSM produced wonderful illustrations to go with the text of Lomax's book, which capture the rhythm and life of Morton's amazing story. These are just some of those great drawings.
My first instrument
"My first instrument was made up of two chair rounds and a tin pan. This combination sounded like a symphony to me, because in those days all I heard was classical selections."
A musical household
"We always had some kind of musical instruments in the house, including guitar, drums, piano, trombone, and so forth and so on. We had lots of them and everbody always played for their pleasure - whatever ones desired to play. We always had ample time that was given us in periods to rehearse our lessons, anyone that was desirous of accepting lessons."
The novelty side of jazz
"Mutes came in with King Oliver, who first just stuck bottles into his trumpet so he could play softer, but then began to use all sorts of mutes to give his instrument a different flavor. And I, myself, by accident, discovered the swats on drums. Out in Los Angeles I had a drummer that hit his snares so loud that one night I gave him a couple of fly swatters for a gag. The drummer fell in with the joke and used them, but they worked so smooth he kept right on using them. So we have "the swats" today - a nice soft way to keep your rhythm going."
More by this Author
Jazz was born out of the pain of slavery and the clash between the cultures of West Africa and the Protestant ethos of the Southern states of the United States. This is a first article in a series looking at the history...
According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (Revised Edition 2006) jazz is "a type of music of Black American origin characterised by improvisation, syncopation, and a regular rhythm, and typically played on...
Empathy is an attitude and more than that, it is a skill that can be used to deepen all kinds of relationships - at work and at home.