Book Review: Jazz West Coast: Artwork of Pacific Jazz Records

Covers the Pacific

Published in 1992 to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Pacific Jazz. This was the label (plus Lester Koenig's Contemporary Records) that established the West Coast Sound around the world. The book is full of LP covers using the photography of Bill Claxton; he designed about half the covers, too. There are 182 Pacific Jazz covers and 43 from other jazz labels that used Claxton's photos.

During the early fifties the covers mostly used black and white photos of the musicians as was the style for jazz labels like Blue Note, Riverside and Prestige. As Pacific became more successful during the fifties the covers became full color and possibly more adventurous: pages fifty and fifty-one shows nine covers using abstract paintings; pages sixty-six and seven has eleven that feature typography rather than a large musicians photo.

Though the book's contents now have a delightful period flavor (and I had many of these LPs) I don't think the covers overall were particularly well designed. The easy option was mostly taken by using a Claxton photo or graphic and just putting some type with the title and artist on top. None of these designs had the graphic punch of Blue Note's distinctive style or the brilliant drawings of David Stone Martin that brightened up labels run by Norman Grantz. Even Koenig's Contemporary Records had better designs by Robert Guidi and his Tri-Arts studio. Still, for me, the book has a nice nostalgic feel.

Apart from the covers there is a twenty-six page portfolio of Claxton photos (printed in gravure, so they have really solid blacks) four pages just showing the backs of Pacific covers (and these look really dreadful and unimaginative) and nicely a spread with a numerical listing of all the Pacific releases. Another book of West Coast covers is California Cool, the same large size with a selection of covers from various jazz labels. Incidentally, as the book was published in Japan (it's in English and Japanese) I see that prices vary a lot, I think it's worth searching the net for the best price.

Jazz West Coast: Artwork of Pacific Jazz Records (English and Japanese Edition) is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP | CN)

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The other book of West Coast Jazz covers.

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Covers using abstract art.

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A spread from the twenty-fives featuring Claxton's jazz photos.

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Bill Claxton's photo work for other jazz labels. Forty-three shown in the book.

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Some enterprising label should really re-issue the five LPs in this wonderful series.

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