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Columbia

       Old Columbia label

Columbia Records

The pioneers
of record album cover design

COLUMBIA pioneered in many fields of the recording business. Also in the field of album cover design. In 1939 the company employed Alex Steinweiss as art director. He becomes the man who invented the album cover.

Columbia is the oldest surviving trademark in the record business, dating back to 1880s. The label's first jazz recording were made by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1917.

Columbia was an American company until mid 1920s, when it was purchased by its own former subsidiary in England, the English Columbia. Later, in the 1930s, the English Columbia formed EMI and was forced to sell its American operations back to the US. In the late 1930s the American Columbia Records was sold to CBS, Columbia Broadcasting System.

It is the albums from the American Columbia that are displayed on this page. Albums from Columbia in England, and other countries, will be find on the pages for European labels.

During the 1950s, Columbia´s US recordings were distributed in Europe on the Philips label. From the early 1960s the US Columbia albums were labelled as CBS recordings when sold in Europe.

ALEX STEINWEISS created the first illustrated cover for an album of 78 rpm records. Before that, the albums were sold in plain brown sleeves, with a cardboard outer jacket and just the name of the artist stamped on the front. They looked like tombstones, Alex Steinweiss said. Below his very first cover, a Rodgers & Hart collection from 1939.

   First Steinweiss cover

The practice of illustrated albums was soon adapted by the other big American labels. Steinweiss continued to work for Columbia during the 1940s and created many covers for 78 rpm albums.

In 1948 Steinweiss also developed the packaging for the new 33 r.p.m. records that Columbia was developing. His design of thin cardboard, covered with printed paper, soon become the industry standard.

Columbia's first LP in 1948 was "The Voice of Frank Sinatra" which had the catalog number CL 6001. It seems to be the first pop/jazz LP ever (picture below).


   First LP ever


Surprisingly this first LP does not have a pictorial cover, in spite of the fact that such a cover already exists. The LP was a reissue of a 78 album from 1946, which had a nice color cover (see large picture to the right).

Alex Steinweiss left Columbia in the early 1950s. But he continued to be much in demand as an album cover designer, especially for classic music. He worked during the 1950s for labels such as Decca, London and Everest. Later he concentrated on graphics for posters, magazine covers and packaging design.

Steinweiss was from beginning inspired by the European poster artists, such as Cassandre, Jean Carlu and Paul Colin. His stylized images, with playful typography and eye-catching illustrations, have all the qualities of the great posters from the 1930s. Later he was attracted by the work of abstract artists such as Klee, Kandinsky and Mondrian.

         Columbia label 1940s

JIM FLORA was recruited by Alex Steinweiss to Columbia in 1942 to handle the label's jazz covers. Unlike Steinweiss, a classical-music buff, Jim Flora was a great jazz fan.

All through the 1940s he devised brightly-coloured covers with caricatural and even naive graphics. His illustrations were influenced by the European modern painters as well as pre-Colombian art, given it a comic book twist.

He left the label in 1950. In 1954 he was hired by Bob Jones who was a former colleague from Columbia, now art director at RCA Victor. Flora came to produce some of his most oustanding works during the two years he was working for RCA Victor.

   Alex Steinweiss
   Alex Steinweiss at Columbia in 1939

   Jim Flora
   Jim Flora early 1940s



         Columbia Six Eye label



NEIL FUJITA became one of the post-Steinweiss designers at Columbia who developed the company´s album look. He was recruited by Rudolph de Harek, who was Columbia´s art director in the beginning of 1950s.

Both de Harek and Fujita preferred a style which featured photography before illustrations. From mid 1950s Fujita was the art director. He was inspired of labels like Blue Note and Prestige and added a new, more hard-edged, attitude to Columbia.

He created many covers by himself, but also employed freelance designers and photographer such as Burt Goldblatt, William Claxton, Richard Avedon and Ben Shahn.


         Columbia 2 Eye label


New ideas at Columbia in the 1960s

BOB CATO took over from Neil Fujita in 1960 as art director at Columbia. He was a ground-breaking designer who helped turn the album cover into an important form of contemporary art in the 1960s.

He was born in 1923. In the 1940s he first studied under the Bahaus designer Lazlo Moholu-Nagy and then with the designer Alexey Brodovitch, who was the art director of Harper's Bazaar. Cato then became his assistant at the magazine.

He stayed at Columbia from 1960 to 1970. His paintings, collages and photos illustrated a variety of musical styles, from Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis to Leonard Bernstein, and he created or superwised some of the most memorable rock music covers of the decade.

In addition to his own creatings Bob Cato also employed some of the era's most influential painters, designers and photographers, including Andy Warhol, Robert Rauchenberg, Robert Crumb and Mati Klarwein.

JOHN BERG was appointed as Bob Cato's assistent at Columbia in 1961. He took over as art director in 1965 when Cato was promoted to vice president of the creative department. John Berg's career at Columbia ran on until 1985.

Together with Bob Cato he changed the scene for the art of album covers. He created numerous of famous rock and jazz album covers for artists such as Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Bruce Springsten, Santana, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk.

MATI KLARWEIN is connected with some of the most iconic Columbia album images of the 1960s and 1970s. His paintings on the covers for Miles Davis and Santana visualised theirs new mind-expanding music, and probably the covers today are even more recognizable than the music itself.

Otherwise Klarweins name and work remains unknown to many. But he was a prolific artist, painting many portraits and a wide variety of landscapes, as well as surreal and visionary art.

He was born in pre-war Germany and escaped with his Jewish parents to Palestine (Israel). In the 1950s he moved to Paris and has then been living, working and travelling around the world.



RESOURCES
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Manek Daver: Jazz Album Covers. The Rare and the Beautiful (Tokyo 1994)

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Klaus-Gotthard Fischer: Jazzin´ The Black Forest. The complete guide to Saba/MPS (Berlin, Crippled 1999)

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Steinar Kristiansen, Bjørn Stendahl, Per Husby: Jazz in Norway (Norskt Jazz Arkiv / Norwegian Jazz Base

Graham Marsh, Glyn Callingham and Felix Cromey: The Cover Art of Blue Note (London, Collins & Brown 1991)

Graham Marsh and Glyn Callingham: California Cool (London, Collins & Brown 1992)

Graham Marsh and Glyn Callingham: East Coasting (London, Collins & Brown 1993)

Naoki Mukoda: Jazzical Moods. Artwork of Excellent Jazz Labels (Tokyo, Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha 1993)

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Uwe Weiler: The Debut Label (Norderstedt, Germany 1994)

John Kirby, 78 rpm album Columbia  

 

John Kirby and his Orchestra   Label: Columbia   78 rpm album early 1940s
 Design: Alex Steinweiss

 Columbia  Records

Teddy Wilson - Billie Holiday, 78 rpm album Columbia  Teddy Wilson - Billie Holiday   Label: Columbia   78 rpm album early 1940s
 Design: Alex Steinweiss
 
 

Louis Armstrong - Earl Hines, 78 rpm album Columbia  Louis and Earl   Label: Columbia   78 rpm album early 1940s
 Design: Alex Steinweiss
 
 

Boogie Woogie, 78 rpm album Columbia  Various Artists: Boogie Woogie   Label: Columbia   78 rpm album 1940s 
Design: Alex Steinweiss
 
 

Louis Armstrong, 78 rpm album Columbia  Louis Armstrong´s Hot Five   Label: Columbia   78 rpm album 1940s
 Design: Jim Flora
 
 

Bix and Tram, 78 rpm album Columbia  Bix Beiderbecke: Bix and Tram   Label: Columbia   78 rpm album 1940s
 Design: Jim Flora
 
 

Kid Ory, 78 rpm album Columbia  Kid Ory: New Orleans Jazz   Label: Columbia   78 rpm album 1940s
 Design: Jim Flora
 
 

Gene Krupa. 78 rpm album Columbia  Gene Krupa and his Orchestra   Label: Columbia   78 rpm album 1940s
 Design: Jim Flora
 
 

Frank Sinatra, Columbia 78 rpm album  The Voice of Frank Sinatra   Label: Columbia   78 rpm album 1946
 
 

Benny Goodman, Columbia SL 160  Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert   Label: Columbia SL 160   12" LP box 1950
 
 

Lee Wiley, Columbia 6169  Lee Wiley: Night in Manhattan   Label: Columbia SL 6169   10" LP 1951
 
 

Louis Armstrong, Columbia 4384  The Louis Armstrong Story, vol. 2   Label: Columbia ML 4384   12" LP 1951
 Design: Jim Amos
 
 

Mildred Bailey. Columbia 2553  Mildred Bailey   Label: Columbia CL 2553   10" LP c.1951
 
 

Benny Goodman Combos, Columbia 500  Benny Goodman Combos   Label: Columbia GL 500   12" LP 1951
 Design: Rudolph de Harek
 
 

Bessie Smith Story, Columbia 503  The Bessie Smith Story, vol. 1   Label: Columbia GL 503   12" LP 1951
 Design: Stanley / Monogram
 
 

Bunk Johnson, Columbia 520  Bunk Johnson: The Last Testament   Label: Columbia GL 520   12" LP 1952
 Photo: Bud Weil
 
 

Rosemary Clooney, Columbia 6297  Rosemary Clooney: While we´re Young   Label: Columbia 6297   10" LP 1954
 
 

Chet Baker, Columbia 549  Chet Baker & Strings   Label: Columbia CL 549   12" LP 1954
 Photo: William Claxton
 
 

Dave Brubeck, Columbia 622  Dave Brubeck, Brubeck Time, Columbia 622   Label: Columbia 622   12" LP 1955
 
 

Chicago Style Jazz, Columbia 632  Chicago Style Jazz   Label: Columbia CL 632 / Philips 7061 (Europe)   12" LP 1955
 Illustration: Ben Shahn   Design: Neil Fujita
 
 

Sarah Vaughan, Columbia 660  After Hours with Sarah Vaughan   Label: Columbia 660   12" LP 1955
 Design: Neil Fujita   Photo: Hugh Bell
 
 

Dave Brubeck, Columbia 699  Dave Brubeck: Red Hot and Cool   Label: Columbia 699   12" LP 1955
 Photo: Richard Avedon
 
 

Buck Clayton, Columbia 701  Buck Clayton: Jumpin´ at the Woodside   Label: Columbia 701   12" LP 1955
 Photo: Bill Hughes
 
 

Eddie Condon, Columbia 719  Eddie Condon: Bixieland   Label: Columbia 719   12" LP 1955   Photo: Hugh Bell
 
 

J.J. Johnson - Kai Winding, Columbia 742  J.J. Johnson - K. Winding: Trombone for Two   Label: Columbia 742   12" LP 1956
 
 

Frank Sinatra, Columbia 743  Frank Sinatra: The Voice   Label: Columbia 743   12" LP 1956
 
 

Teddy Wilson, Columbia 748  Teddy Wilson: Mr. Wilson   Label: Columbia 748   12" LP 1956   Photo: Bob Adelman
 
 

Count Basie Classics, Columbia 754  Count Basie Classics   Label: Columbia 754   12" LP 1951   Photo: Bernard Cole
 
 

The Vintage Benny Goodman, Columbia 821  Benny Goodman: The Vintage Goodman   Label: Columbia 821   12" LP 1956
 Photo: Glenna Hopewell
 
 

Eddie Condon, Columbia 881  Eddie Condon´s Treasury of Jazz   Label: Columbia 881   12" LP 1956
 Photo: Ralph A. Brooks
 
 

J.J. Johnson - Kai Winding, Columbia 892  Johnson, J.J. - Winding, Kai: Jay & Kai + 6   Label: Columbia 892   12" LP 1956
 Illustration: Arnold Roth
 
 

Art Blakey, Columbia 897  The Jazz Messengers   Label: Columbia 897   12" LP 1956
 Design: Neil Fujita   Photo: Don Hunstein
 
 

Duke Ellington at Newport, Columbia 934  Duke Ellington at Newport   Label: Columbia 934   12" LP 1956   Foto: Arnold Newman
 
 

Miles Davis, Columbia 949  Miles Davis: Round About Midnight   Label: Columbia 949   12" LP 1956
 Foto: Marvin Koner
 
 

Duke Ellington, Columbia 951  Duke Ellington: A Drum Is A Woman   Label: Columbia 951   12" LP 1956
 
 

Jimmy Rushing Esq., Columbia 963  The Jazz Odyssey of James Rushing Esq.   Label: Columbia 963   12" LP 1956
 Illustration: Tom Allen   Design: Neil Fujita
 
 

Donald Byrd - Gigi Gryce, Columbia 998  Donald Byrd - Gigi Gryce: Jazz Lab   Label: Columbia 998   12" LP 1957
 
 

Art Blakey Drum Suite, Columbia 1002  Art Blakey: Drum Suite   Label: Columbia 1002   12" LP 1957
 
 

Art Blakey, Columbia 1040  Art Blakey: Hadbop   Label: Columbia 1040   12" LP 1957
 
 

Miles Davis, Columbia 1041  Miles Davis: Miles Ahead   Label: Columbia 1041   12" LP 1957
 
 

Jimmy Rushing, Columbia 1152  Little Jimmy Rushing and the Big Brass   Label: Columbia 1152   12" LP 1958
 Illustration: Tom Allen   Design: Neil Fujita
 
 

J.J. Johnson, Columbia 1161  J.J. Johnson: J.J. In Person   Label: Columbia 1161   10" LP 1958
 
 

Miles Davis, Columbia 1193  Miles Davis: Milestones   Label: Columbia 1193   12" LP 1958   Photo: Dennis Stock
 
 

Michel Legrand Jazz, Columbia 1250  Michel Legrand: Legrand Jazz   Label: Columbia 1250   12" LP 1958
 
 

Gerry Mulligan, Columbia 1307  Gerry Mulligan: What Is There To Say?   Label: Columbia 1307   12" LP 1959
 Photo: Burt Goldblatt
 
 

Miles Davis, Columbia 1355  Miles Davis: Kind of Blue   Label: Columbia 1355   12" LP 1959   Photo: Jay Maisel
 
 

Duke Ellington, Anatomy of a Murder, Columbia 1360  Duke Ellington: Anatomy of a Murder   Label: Columbia 1360   12" LP 1959
 Design: Saul Bass
 
 

Charles Mingus, Columbia 1370  Charles Mingus: Ah Um   Label: Columbia 1370   12" LP 1959
 Design and painting: Neil Fujita
 
 

Joe Wilder, Columbia 1372  Joe Wilder: The Pretty Sound   Label: Columbia 1372   12" LP 1959
 
 

Dave Brubeck, Columbia 1397  Dave Brubeck: Time Out   Label: Columbia 1397   12" LP 1959
 Design and illustration: Neil Fujita
 
 

Charles Mingus, Columbia 1440  Charles Mingus: Mingus Dynasty   Label: Columbia 1440   12" LP 1959
 
 



Miles Davis, Columbia 1669  Miles Davis at the Blackhawk, vol. 1   Label: Columbia CL 1669   12" LP 1961
 
 

Jimmy Giuffre, Columbia 1964  Jimmy Giuffre: Free Fall   Label: Columbia CL 1964   12" LP 1963
 Photo: Henry Parker   Painting: Juanita Giuffre
 
 

Thelonious Monk, Columbia 9091  Thelonious Monk: Monk   Label: Columbia CS 9091   12" LP 1964
 Design: Bob Cato   Photo: W. Eugene Smith
 
 

Thelonious Monk, Columbia 9632  Thelonious Monk: Underground   Label: Columbia CS 9632   12" LP 1968
 Design: John Berg   Photo: Steve Horn / Norman Griner
 
 

Thelonious Monk, Columbia 9806  Thelonious Monk: Monk´s Blues   Label: Columbia 9806   12" LP 1969
 Painting: Paul Davis
 
 

Miles Davis, Columbia GP26  Miles Davis: Bitches Brew   Label: Columbia GP26   12" LP 1970
 Painting: Mati Klarwein :  Design: John Berg
 
 

Santana, Columbia 30130  Santana: Abraxas   Label: Columbia 30130   12" LP 1970   Painting: Mati Klarwein
 
 

Miles Davis, Columbia 30954  Miles Davis: Live-Evil   Label: Columbia 30954   12" LP 1971
 Painting: Mati Klarwein   Design: John Berg
 
 

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