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The Top 10 Jazz Album Covers of All Time

These classic discs look as good as they sound

Art Ensemble of Chicago
Nice Guys (ECM)

This cover design treatment is notable because of how much it goes against type, for both the label and the artists. In nearly every other Art Ensemble of Chicago album cover, the group is pictured in all its colorful finery—from the African tribal garb to the face paintings, even to the lab coat of Lester Bowie. Barbara Wojirsch elected to show the band in black-and-white in an everyday setting at an outdoor European café. Photographed by Isio Saba, the fiery jazz revolutionaries indeed seem like four “nice guys” enjoying some coffee between takes in the studio. We still can see the ECM design aesthetic in the layout and typography, but this is a decidedly more urban vision than the usual pastoral landscapes of so many of the label’s albums.  And yes, this is a special recording—Great Black Music indeed—featuring the innovative band in top form, heard with the sonic clarity typical of a Manfred Eicher production.

Listen to, buy or download Nice Guys on Amazon!

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If you wish to explore this subject further, there are several excellent books featuring jazz album covers as well as the artists and stories behind them, including:

Jazz Covers by Joquaim Paulo (Taschen)

Color of Jazz: The Album Covers of Photographer Pete Turner (Universe)

ECM: Sleeves of Desire: A Cover Story 

The Cover Art of Blue Note Records: The Collection by Graham Marsh & Glyn Callingham (Collins & Brown)

Coast to Coast Album Covers: Classic Record Art From New York to LA by Graham Marsh & Glyn Callingham (Collins & Brown)

1000 Record Covers by Michael Ochs (Taschen)

In the Groove: Vintage Record Graphics by Eric Kohler (Chronicle Books)

The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora by Irwin Chusid and Barbara Economon (Fantagraphics Books)

Originally Published