Andy Warhol Creates Album Covers for Jazz Legends Thelonious Monk, Count Basie & Kenny Burrell


Fla­vor­wire titles their post on album cov­ers designed by artist Andy Warhol—auteur of that spe­cial brand of late-mid­cen­tu­ry, impas­sive yet rock­ing-and-rolling, New York-root­ed Amer­i­can cool—“Beyond the Banana.” They refer, of course, to the fruit embla­zoned upon The Vel­vet Under­ground & Nico, the 1967 debut album from the avant-rock band formed right there in Warhol’s own “Fac­to­ry.” It would, of course, insult your cul­tur­al aware­ness to post an image of that par­tic­u­lar cov­er and ask if you knew Andy Warhol designed it. But how about that of Count Basie’s self-titled 1955 album above? Warhol, not a fig­ure most of us asso­ciate imme­di­ate­ly with jazz and its tra­di­tions, designed it, too.


He also did one for 1954’s MONK: Thelo­nious Monk with Son­ny Rollins and Frank Fos­ter, and, in 1958, for gui­tarist Ken­ny Bur­rel­l’s Blue Note dou­ble-disc Blue Lights.


We now regard Blue Note high­ly for its taste in not only the aes­thet­ics of the music itself but also the pack­ag­ing that sur­rounds it, and thus we might assume the label had a nat­ur­al incli­na­tion to work with a vision­ary like Warhol. But in the late fifties, Blue Lights stretched Blue Note’s graph­i­cal sen­si­bil­i­ties as well as Warhol’s own; with it, he “final­ly broke away from sim­ply draw­ing close-ups of musi­cians and their instru­ments and deliv­ered a piece of art as evoca­tive as the music inside,” writes the San Fran­cis­co Chron­i­cle’s Aidin Vaziri.

Giv­en Warhol’s inter­est in the Unit­ed States and its icons, it stands to rea­son that he would take on design jobs for Basie, Monk, and Bur­rell just as read­i­ly as he would for the Vel­vet Under­ground, or for those Eng­lish­men who could out-Amer­i­can the Amer­i­cans, the Rolling Stones. He even did an album cov­er for a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a whole oth­er slice of Amer­i­can cul­ture: play­wright Ten­nesee Williams, author of plays like The Glass MenagerieA Street­car Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

In 1952, Caed­mon put out a record called Ten­nessee Williams Read­ing from The Glass Menagerie, The Yel­low Bird and Five Poems, and its 1960 print­ing bears the Warhol art­work you see just above. Warhol in all these shows an impres­sive will­ing­ness to adapt to the per­sona of the musi­cian and the feel of their music; a casu­al Warhol enthu­si­ast may own one of these albums for years with­out ever real­iz­ing who did the cov­er art. He did­n’t even cleave exclu­sive­ly toward Amer­i­can forms, or to styles that main­stream Amer­i­ca might once have con­sid­ered artis­ti­cal­ly edgy. You could hard­ly get fur­ther from the posi­tion of the Vel­vet Under­ground than easy-lis­ten­ing vocals, let alone the easy-lis­ten­ing vocals of the Cana­di­an-born Paul Anka, but when the singer’s 1976 The Painter need­ed a cov­er, Warhol deliv­ered — and with a rec­og­niz­ably Warho­lian look, no less.

Warhol’s album cov­ers, from 1949 to 1987, have been col­lect­ed in the book, Andy Warhol: The Com­plete Com­mis­sioned Record Cov­ers.


See more Warhol album cov­ers at NME, SFGate, and Fla­vor­wire.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bob Egan, Detec­tive Extra­or­di­naire, Finds the Real Loca­tions of Icon­ic Album Cov­ers

Clas­sic Jazz Album Cov­ers Ani­mat­ed, or the Re-Birth of Cool

Record Cov­er Art by Under­ground Car­toon­ist Robert Crumb

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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