There’s a lot of seriousness in the art of jazz record covers. Some beautiful works, no doubt, but when weighed against rock or pop, I’d venture to say there aren’t as many humorous and funny album covers. That’s why, while leafing through a book collection of the best jazz record covers of the last 40 or so years, the one for Friedrich Gulda’s From Vienna With Jazz! (released in 1964) caught my eye. What a great cover! I love the frivolity and “hip cat cool jazz” 1960’s vibe it has.
The record was on the Columbia label, photo by Henry Parker. Parker was a prolific photographer for Columbia in the 1960’s, responsible for covers for Aretha Franklin, Barbara Streisand, Dave Brubeck, and a host of others. Perhaps his most well-known shot is for the cover Simon & Garfunkel’s first, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.
Not to examine it too closely, but it would appear that our saxophone playing friend is just strolling through the city park, picking up girls along the way. And they’re just blown away by the groovy sounds he’s makin’. There’s something geometrically arty about the positions of their bodies, too. The raised legs, the gaze skyward. Yeah, man, yeah. I can dig it.
From all signs, I thought this would be one of those easy listening albums. Maybe Gulda led a big band, with a heavy muzak-style string orchestra guesting on covers of current pop hits and Austrian folk songs. But no! Turns out Gulda was quite the rebel. He was a respected musician, too. Adept at classical as well as jazz, he started organizing rave parties in his late 60’s and was often referred to as the “terrorist pianist”. His unusual clothing choices resulted in one reviewer saying he looked like a “Serbian pimp.” The year before he died, he announced his own death in a press release for a concert so the show could serve as a resurrection party.
He always said he wished to die on the birthday of Mozart (his favorite composer) and, bizarrely, he did just that on January 27, 2000.
Watch his brilliant and at times lightning fast take on The Doors’ “Light My Fire”:
[Part 1] [Part 2]
I feel out of breath just watching it.