David Stone Martin – the art of jazz made visible

Visualising jazz

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:

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This is alleged to be the first ever illustrated record coverAlexander Steinweiss, the originator of the illustrated record coverThe first LPThe LP logo
This is alleged to be the first ever illustrated record cover
This is alleged to be the first ever illustrated record cover
Alexander Steinweiss, the originator of the illustrated record cover
Alexander Steinweiss, the originator of the illustrated record cover
The first LP
The first LP
The LP logo
The LP logo

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.

Bobby Kennedy on Time magazine
Bobby Kennedy on Time magazine
The caption to this picture in the Abbott show reads: "Training to preserve life amidst a hail of death, U.S. Navy medical officers and corpsmen practice an "operation" in an underground operating room similar to the one on Guadalcanal. Everything is
The caption to this picture in the Abbott show reads: "Training to preserve life amidst a hail of death, U.S. Navy medical officers and corpsmen practice an "operation" in an underground operating room similar to the one on Guadalcanal. Everything is

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.

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The very first record cover DSM designed. For a 78rpm album of his friend Mary Lou Williams and her trio, 1944Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, 1952
The very first record cover DSM designed. For a 78rpm album of his friend Mary Lou Williams and her trio, 1944
The very first record cover DSM designed. For a 78rpm album of his friend Mary Lou Williams and her trio, 1944
Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, 1952
Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, 1952

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 covers

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Jazz at the Philharmonic, Volume 3Jazz at the Philharmonic, Volume 7Jazz at the Philharmonic, Volume 11
Jazz at the Philharmonic, Volume 3
Jazz at the Philharmonic, Volume 3
Jazz at the Philharmonic, Volume 7
Jazz at the Philharmonic, Volume 7
Jazz at the Philharmonic, Volume 11
Jazz at the Philharmonic, Volume 11

Billie Holiday

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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."

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Comments 12 comments

Adamgd 6 years ago

Very interesting and enjoyable hub, its hard to think of music without art associated with it.


loriamoore 6 years ago

I always enjoyed playing with vinyl album covers when I was little because there was so much personality in them.


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

Fascinating & educational Hub. Thank you. I did not know anything at all about David Stone Martin. Loved the Billie Holiday "All or nothing at all" cover. So evocative.

Great work here.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Thanks everyone for stopping by and commenting - I appreciate it very much.

Yes Ken, the "All or Nothing at All" cover is one of my favourites. He managed to capture so much of the character of Billie Holiday's music there.

Love and peace

Tony


myawn profile image

myawn 6 years ago from Florida

Love this hub very informative I love record album covers but didn't know the story behind them ."The All or Nothing at All" cover is great.Thanks!


Peter Kirstein 6 years ago

I, too, knew nothing of David Stone Martin and also love the Billie Holiday cover. The Jelly Roll illustrations are really cool too!

Interesting hub thanks Tony.


carolina muscle profile image

carolina muscle 6 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

I dig this post... it's a fun read, and makes me wanna swim around in my jazz collection!!


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

jazz, very nice Tony

Thanks, Maita


linda silljer 6 years ago

I have been researching David Stone Martin for some time now and was wondering if anyone knew about posters he designed. I have one called ''She Stoops To Conquer'' but have not been able to find any information on this musical advertising poster.If anyone can help it would be greatly appreciated. thank you, linda


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Linda - thank you so much for the comment. I'm afraid I don't have any info on that poster.

Love and peace

Tony


Mrs. C 5 years ago

When I was growing up in the 50's, DSM was a neighbor of ours who generously gave out huge portfolios of his lithographs for Christmas and holidays. I have so many, I couldn't fit them all on the walls and my house looks like a DSM museum! I've heard people say he was influenced by Shahn (who also lived in our small town), but Shahn's work is blocky and more angular, while Martin's work is much more fluid with more curves and finer lines. They are extremely different. In the 50's, after he'd given my parents the first portfolio of work, my mother had each one matted and framed and hung them all in the living room and entry. When DSM walked into our house and saw all of his work on the walls, he flushed and expressed both embarrassment and gratitude. At that point in his life, I guess, there had not yet been an exhibit of his work anywhere, and he saw himself as producing commercial art rather than the fine art it really is.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Mrs C - wow! You knew DSM and saw his work first-hand! That is just awesome. Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving this most intersting comment.

Love and peace

Tony

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