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music, technology & life in pasadena, california

The Color Of Jazz

There’s a scene in Almost Famous in which the young hero stumbles upon his teenage sister’s record collection. It’s the 1960s and as he flips through the 12-inch square jackets, the now-iconic albums of that era flash before his eyes. There’s poignancy in his yearning to be older, a part of the generation that introduced the world to rock and roll, and the record covers are viewed and handled with a hushed reverence.

I’ve written before about what we’ve gained as music has moved into the digital realm, and also about what we’ve lost. One of the things we’ve lost is a greater connection to the artist and his complete vision, a connection facilitated in great part by the now-lost record jacket.

In 1970, Creed Taylor formed CTI Records, an independent jazz label that grew out of his work at A&M Records. Together with a roster of incredible jazz musicians he forged a new acceptance of jazz among both musicians and the general public. The attraction was visual as well, for Taylor understood that there had to be a way to make his product stand out alongside all the others in the record bin. That difference was photographer Pete Turner.

Pete Turner is responsible for more recognizable and iconic images than any other photographer working in the music business. Armed with only an album title, Turner would search his files or create anew a bold and striking image that would forever bond the music with his photo in our minds. The full-bleed 12-inch image (or larger, often wrapping around to the back cover as well) made for a stunning package, with Turner’s trademark vibrant saturated color screaming out at you.

Pete Turner: The Color of Jazz is a beautiful collection of the work he did for CTI, Impulse and Verve; almost all of this work was commissioned by Creed Taylor. The book, presented in the 12-inch square format of the originals, is printed beautifully. Each jacket is accompanied by a short description or anecdote about the making of the photograph. It was a real treat and jog to my memory to see all these wonderful photos again. As I turned each page, the sound of the music from each album came back to me as alive as the first day I heard it.

That’s a great testament to the power of imagery and its link to music in the hands of a master like Pete Turner.

April 20, 2008 | Link to this entry

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Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

You can email me here.

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