Updated: Feb 4, 2020
How Reid Miles invented the Blue Note Brand
Cropped, Tinted, Bold. “You just look at it today and you know it’s a Blue Note Record. Graphically it permeates the entire culture , Don Was goes on to say, “the brand is as big a star as the artist.”
The brand being Reid Miles. The Chicago born graphic designer went to art school not for the art itself but for a girl he was dating. The girl didn’t last but the art did and Miles left for New York after finishing school. American painter, John Hermansader, gave him his first break, and he soon was working at Esquire magazine. In 1955 Blue Note started releasing 12” LPs and hired Miles to design the covers. And so a new era was born.
While not a Jazz fan himself, often giving away the records, his Bauhaus like design, Same-serif typography, and use of Francis Wolff’s photography would reshape the way people literally looked at jazz.
Designing over 500 albums, they looked the way Jazz sounded. “Miles made the cover sound like it knew what lay in store for the listener: abstract, design hinting at innovations, cool strides for cool notes, the symbolic implications of typefaces and tones,” wrote Felix Cromey in Blue Note:The Album Cover Art.
His design’s were so simple: basic duo tone color, photography emphasizing the instruments, creative type placement, divided sections, and motion. Yet we look at these covers and they invoke powerful emotions. They are engraved in our minds just as much as the artist and songs on the albums. Richard Cook in Blue Note The Biography says he, “made sure that his sleeves were as heavyweight as the music inside.”
Miles would eventually leave Blue Note in 1967 and in 1972 he would set up Reid Miles Inc., designing album covers for the likes of Liza Minnelli, Kenny Rogers, and the Jackson five. He would also win a Clio award in 1976. Miles died in 1993 of heart failure but His legacy lives on.