Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Jazz Cover Art meets Film Noir

Charles Mingus in All Night Long

Significantly, the golden age of jazz in the 1940s and 1950s, overlaps the golden age of film noir, both known as (almost) pure American art forms. Though more than a simple synchronicity, they exchanged a lot during those productive years. In many film noirs, there was always a run-down bar in the big city, lost somewhere in the night, with a bunch of "troubled" jazz musicians hanging around after-hours. On the other hand, dozen of phenomenal film scores by giants like Duke Ellington and John Lewis was heard on the movies. But a neglected part of this troubled relationship is the influence of film noir and its black and white photography on jazz cover artworks. Here I present twelve samples of what I consider noirizing the jazz album covers. The titles under the covers come from film noirs.

Cry of the City

Where the Sidewalk Ends
Strangers in the Night
Blind Spot
They Live by Night
Out of the Fog
Dark Corner
Damned Don't Cry

Rage in Heaven
Good Die Young
Screaming Mimi


  1. Nice idea and selection. (And I am completely in sync with your use of Monk in SF as a regular lead shot.) I'll be posting maybe late today a tribute to Burt Goldblatt over at if you find his album covers of interest. Thanks for the memories!

  2. Really, I'm a big fan of the "film noir", and these beautiful covers you've listed, Ehsan, evoke some anger in me:

    Why had jazz not the same effect on the filmmakers as their pictures had on the artists (photographers & designers) of those covers?

    This is my eternal question: Why hadn't they employed more jazz musicians for their soundtracks, instead of pulling all strings (like violins) to avoid them?

  3. Addendum: Why can't we see Bird play some blues in the background when Miss Bacall is flirting with Bogey?

  4. Bruno, I think because Hollywood in classic era was a very closed circle, technically speaking.

    Cinema from the beginning had this tendency to look serious and artie, a prestigious entertainment. How can we expect they use the music of "junkies"?

    You see when Joseph Losey was in Hollywood he never made any film with jazz score, though he was a big fan. But look when he arrived to England stared a long collaboration with John Dankworth and other British cats.

    Another example, a towering figure in cinema and one of the most daring filmmakers of that period, Nick Ray, was a jazz DJ and was a huge fan of Ellington, but where is jazz in his films? Maybe they thought that jazz score will dominate the image, which is somehow right.

    In latter days, after collapsing studio system, hiring jazzmen was much cheaper than holding a big orchestra under studio's payroll, so cats like Shelly Manne and Benny Carter start to work in motion pictures.

    Bogart and Bette Davis were the only Hollywood people who appeared during the shooting of "Jammin' the Blues". God bless them!

    I'm en route now, we will discuss it more when I settle.