[Dixielandjazz] A Giant of Album Cover Design Passes

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Thu Sep 7 07:25:26 PDT 2006

Remember when Album Covers were great art? This man was one of the great
artists of Jazz Album Covers. He was very visible in the jazz nightclubs of
New York City in the 1950s, and was often seen photographing the clubs and
the musicians for background material. I suspect his covers numbered in the
thousands, before the business changed in the mid 1960s.

Steve Barbone

Burt Goldblatt, 82, Album Cover Designer, Dies

NY TIMES - By STEVEN HELLER - September 7, 2006

Burt Goldblatt, a prolific designer of moody jazz LP album covers for
artists like Herbie Mann, Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae and Charles Mingus,
died on Aug. 30 in Boston. He was 82.

The cause was congestive heart failure, said his wife, Katherine Holzman

In the early 1950¹s, after the introduction of the LP, the most progressive
American cover designs were created for jazz albums, and Mr. Goldblatt was
among the pioneers in establishing the cool-jazz style. It encompassed
black-and-white portraits and studio photographs, inspired by film noir, as
well as gritty street scenes, often abstractly overlaid with flat colors,
evoking a sense of urban night life. Expressionistic line drawings of
performers in action were also in vogue.

One of Mr. Goldblatt¹s earliest covers, from 1950, was a bootleg album by
Holiday for the Jolly Roger label. Like his contemporaries Bob Jones, Reid
Miles and David Stone Martin, he alternated between using photography and
drawings, always focusing on emblematic details of the trade. A series of
distinctive covers shows close-ups of musicians blowing their instruments.
He also mastered a wide range of methods, including collage, montage and
even X-rays.

Mr. Goldblatt¹s early covers strove for visual simplicity. He eliminated
long lists of song titles, one of the medium¹s more obtrusive conventions.
When he failed to get the desired result from a photograph, he made drawings
of musicians using a scruffy serpentine line style, which was shared by
other record cover illustrators at the time.

While variations in weight from thick to thin marked the drawings as
distinctively his, ³it is his original use of unusual perspectives that
distinguishes Mr. Goldblatt¹s line drawings from others of the same period,²
said Angelynn Grant, a design historian who specializes in record albums.

Burt Goldblatt was born in 1924 in Dorchester, Mass. He served in the Army
in the Pacific during World War II, then studied at the Massachusetts
College of Art. After graduation he worked in a printing plant, where he
learned the craft, from stripping negatives to plate-making. He taught
himself photography.

After freelancing as a commercial artist in Boston, he moved to New York.
>From 1953 to 1955 he worked for CBS Television, designing promotions and
credit crawls for Red Skelton, Edward R. Murrow and Jack Benny as well as
for the hit shows ³Rawhide² and ³Bachelor Father.² He also began
specializing in album-cover design and created about 200 covers in 1955

Although he worked for Decca and Atlantic, Mr. Goldblatt designed most
prodigiously for small labels, including Savoy, Jolly Roger and Bethlehem.
He became known for abstracted caricatures and distorted portraits, but his
photographic cover designs for Bethlehem helped define the genre by
combining evocative photos with restrained yet lyrical typography.

Mr. Goldblatt was a denizen of recording studios and nightclubs, where he
shot untold numbers of images, some of which he later used for cover

³He was accepted by the musicians and, in fact, was friends with many,² Ms.
Grant said. The pianist Bud Powell named a tune for Mr. Goldblatt, and Chris
Connor scatted lyrics in his honor.

Mr. Goldblatt continued designing covers, including some for gospel and pop
albums, into the 1960¹s, when changes in style brought about by rock ¹n¹
roll ended that part of his career. He moved on to become a co-author of 17
books, as diverse as ³Mobs and the Mafia,² ³Starring Fred Astaire² and
³Baseball¹s Best.² He also compiled books of his jazz photography.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his daughters Heather Blake of
Pennsylvania and Leslie DeNunzio of New York City; two grandsons; and his
sisters, Selma Cohen of Florida and Barbara Trieber of Boston. 

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