Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Art of Bob Crozier

If one looks carefully at the iconic LP artworks of the ABC Paramount's 1950s jazz series (as well as some of its non-jazz releases from the same period) two names sharing the credits continue to appear on every single cover. These two, who have created some of the most sophisticated, handsomely designed jazz cover arts in history of this music, are Alan Fontaine and Bob Crozier.

Whereas Alan Fontaine was in charge of photographing the musicians for ABC Paramount, Bob Crozier was the graphic artist and responsible for the final product. Fontaine, who also worked for the Esquire and photographed many Hollywood stars (among them Myrna Loy and Joan Crawford), could deliver a straightforward work, capturing all musicians, regardless of their style, in the same kind of docile, smiling pose. He wasn't a William Claxton or a Herman Leonard but he was good enough and more importantly, his work was jazz the beginning of the design process and not the end.

However, what really transformed the ABC Paramount cover designs was the work of Bob Crozier whose innovative, fresh, and intelligent ways of combining graphic art with photography gave a very distinctive look to the label's releases between 1955 and 1957.

Crozier joined the label as graphic artist shortly after ABC Paramount started operating in New York City. The label was releasing a catalogue as diverse as pop to jazz and children music to WWII songs. And what really gave a unified look to these diverse musical genres was their design.

Among stylistic motives in Crozier's artworks are his unique handwritten typefaces, and also a bold use of vivid colors against a backdrop of bright or white surfaces. He was isolating (photographed) figure from the background and by adding abstract elements to the composition, his design was actually complementing the existing photograph.

But probably his most significant contribution to this field was bringing in elements of modern painting to jazz. For instance, almost five years before an Ornette Coleman LP cover used Jackson Pollock, Crozier "cited" the painter in his design for At the Modern Jazz Room by Don Elliott. He borrowed two of the iconic squares from Piet Mondrian to illustrate a Josh White recording.

In their understanding of the major art movements of the 20th century, Crozier's artworks reminded the buyer of the close association between jazz and other contemporary arts, and by doing so suggesting that jazz is an art form as precious as anything in Guggenheim or MoMA.

After Crozier's stint with the label, the combination of abstract painting and photography was abandoned in favor of less ambitious photograph-oriented covers. In 1961, the jazz branch of the label was rethought and reinvented under a new name, Impulse!. Though the new label was almost exclusively reliant on photographic material for its album covers, one could still trace the influences of Crozier on classic covers such as Out of the Cool (the label's fourth release).

Here is a gallery of some of the covers designed by Bob Crozier (and photographed by Alan Fontaine) for ABC Paramount.

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