Whilst it’s undoubtedly the music that brought the greatest musicians to prominence, jazz album covers have played an important role in catching the eye and developing a memorable style for both the musicians and the record labels involved.

We thought it would be a fun exercise to highlight some of the more striking ones, with a run down of some of the best…!

Famous Record Label Album Covers

Certain record labels in the history of jazz have placed a big focus on developing not just a consistent sound and style, but also a visual image.

Blue Note Records Album Covers

The most iconic label of the 1960s hard bop era, Blue Note album covers were a partnership between the iconic photography of label co-founder Francis Wolff and the distinctive design work and bold typography of Reid Miles.

Under the artistic direction of this team, the cover art of the era succeeded in not just catching the eye visually, but also promoting the bandleader themselves.

Out To Lunch by Eric Dolphy

Go by Dexter Gordan

Moanin’ by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers

ECM Records Album Covers

At the other end of the jazz spectrum, both musically and aesthetically, Germany’s ECM Records has built up an equally distinctive visual style.

Their impressive output of European-influenced music is matched with moody, abstract photos which lean, in the words of label founder Manfred Eicher, towards “silence, poses, thoughtfulness, contemplativeness…The cover is a metaphoric translation”

Budapest Concert by Keith Jarrett

Remember Me, My Dear by Jan Garbarek & The Hilliard Ensemble

Jazz Album Covers by David Stone Martin

Born in 1913, David Stone Martin‘s work may have transcended one specific jazz record label, but with more than 400 jazz album covers on his CV, his unique style deserves a closer look.

Studying at the Art Institute of Chicago and favouring a crow quill pen for his work, he is responsible for album covers on labels including Verve, Clef, Norgran, Mercury, RCA and Smithsonian Folkways for artists including Oscar Peterson, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parter and Lester Young.

Whilst these three are responsible for many iconic albums, we wanted to pick out some other individual offers which also take a deserved place not just in famous jazz album lists, but in terms of brilliant visuals…

Bird & Diz by Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie

Lester Young with The Oscar Peterson Trio

These Are The Blues by Ella Fitzgerald

More Famous Jazz Album Covers

Bitches Brew by Miles Davis

Not just one of the greatest jazz albums of all time, this early jazz fusion offering’s striking design also makes it a prized part of any vinyl collection…

At Carnegie Hall, Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane

Head Hunters by Herbie Hancock

While the sound of this album is breathtaking, the album cover itself is something to behold! All the members of the band sit behind Hancock in faded blue tones with their instruments.

This striking visual, along with the remarkable sound of the album, brought Jazz-Funk to the mainstream and this became Hancock’s most influential and sought after album.

Saxophone Colossus by Sonny Rollins

Louis and The Good Book by Louis Armstrong

Time Out by The Dave Brubeck Quartet

Mingus Ah Um by Charles Mingus

Final Thoughts

As every fan knows, jazz is much more than just a series of notes; the style much more than a way of playing them. 

So whilst putting on your favourite record can be done at the click of a button these days, taking the time to appreciate the artwork can be an important part of the puzzle when it comes to getting a sense of the people and the personalities involved in making them.

And, on top of that, they’re great fun to look at and collect! 

Hopefully this brief round up has given you some insight into the topic and opened the door for some further listening!

Looking for more classic jazz?

Check out our round up articles including 50 of the most famous albums of all time and our pick of the most important live jazz albums in history

Matt Fripp
Matt Fripp

International jazz booking agent, manager and host of Jazzfuel.
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