The Jazz Idiom, pt. 2: David Stone Martin

James P. Johnson by David Stone Martin I’VE BEEN on a lala.com jam-session bender for the last month, knowing that the service would cease to exist on Monday. (It did. I’m blue.) The plan: Listen to a wide range of artists, genres and songs that I might not normally have a chance to explore in their entirety, and see whom I might stumble upon serendipitously.  Consequently, I’ve made several purchses on iTunes, which would make Apple’s bottom-line happy, since they are the entity who snapped up lala. This is just a roundabout way to talk about the all the roots music I’d been listening to, string bands,   New Orleans R&B, stride piano and then rounding it out with bebop and other assorted catch up.

In so doing, I’ve been sinking into all the lush virtual jacket art. These gorgeous album covers that were sort of murals reflecting the music. Blue Note designs, Chuck Stewart photographs, West Coast Cool shots by Claxton — yes, yes all have their place. But there wasn’t anyone like artist David Stone Martin.

What would jazz — the jazz motif — be without him?

I could still kick myself, more than a decade later, for not buying a set of David Stone Martin jazz prints I saw in London at a record store in Piccadilly Circus.  Martin’s work was an intrinsic part of the experience of listening to jazz for me. Our house was full of jazz LPs and many of them, when not graced by odd, middle-of-the narrative photographs (women in negligees in improbable locales) or incongruous set-ups (West Coast jazz musicians in cowboy duds playing on the “wild west theme”) there were the beautifully, fluid, almost impressionistic work of   David Stone Martin.

My favorite pieces of Martin’s work often graced producer Norman Granz’s projects – Jazz at the Philharmonic and the like. They were often denoted by Martin’s imprimatur, the trumpet player.

Among my favorites:

And of course this one: this one always made me blue:

Just how he was able to convey all that was wrapped up in Holiday’s voice with a telephone receiver, coat on the bed a bottle on the floor? And as a child, I would have no idea it would take me decades to understand just how truly devastating an image this is.

I’ve never been able to find those prints or even something close to them when I returned stateside, but there is a beautiful gallery of Martin’s work here.  Martin, who died in 1992, made jazz visible;  his illustrations convey a singular, unforgettable internal music of their own.

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