Wednesday, October 15, 2008

David Stone Martin: For the Record

Look around the internet for David Stone Martin images and you'll find no shortage of his album cover art. Especially among jazz enthusiasts, DSM (along with Jim Flora and a few others) defined the look of jazz with his signature 'nervous' line style and modernistic sense of graphic design.

In an article in American Artist magazine from 1960, Robert Jones, art director of RCA Victor Records writes, "A consistently exciting and esthetically rewarding marriage between American art and industry flourishes in the phonograph record business. This country has been the leader in making an artistic success as well as a potent selling tool of what originated as a mere protective package for recordings."

Ten years earlier in another AA article, this one focusing specifically on David Stone Martin, author Henry C. Pitz points out, "[Martin's] designs for record album covers have probably received more publicity than any other phase of his work."

In fact by the time of that 1950 article, DSM had, according to Pitz, already produced "over a hundred brilliant designs for Mercury, Disc and Dial record albums." (From my research on the net, it appears that DSM went on to create approximately 400 album covers!)

In 1951, Pitz again praised David Stone Martin's album cover artworks, writing, "One of Martin's many entries [in that year's Art Director's Exhibition] has received a medal award. It is his album cover design for 'Women Blues' in the series of Disc records. It is typical of the many album designs he has done during the past decade and reminds us of the debt the field owes him for repeatedly demonstrating how much can be accomplished by two or three beautifully integrated line plates.

In spite of Martin's obvious importance as an iconic creator of jazz album cover artwork, detailed information about this aspect of his career is almost nonexistent. Several websites make passing reference his long relationship with record producer Norman Granz, but I was unable to find any recounting of how they met or what lead to Granz commissioning album artwork from DSM, apart from a mention that the two men were long-time friends.

What has survived is the artwork which, over time, has become highly collectable, greatly admired, and often imitated.

Despite the obvious success of DSM's album cover work, the artist felt that some of his best efforts had gone into his story illustrations. Tomorrow, we take a closer look at that aspect of his career.

* Many thanks to the Fox Music Company for generously providing all of today's scans. You'll find many more in their David Stone Martin Flickr set.


  1. I really miss seeing new good illustration published regularly
    as it used to be. DSM had a style that was fun to look at, that
    communicated what it was supposed to in an exciting way.
    I was able to buy the Belafonte album some years ago it
    has a cover I like a lot. I went to the Flickr set you have linked & saw
    many I hadn't seen.

  2. That's a situation we all lament, harald... part of the mission of this blog is to (hopefully) inspire art directors who visit to consider the potential of reviving those times and the visual cornucopia that the public enjoyed, thanks to the abundance of illustration that was laid in front of them every day.

    Do a Google image search and you'll find many more sites containing all sorts of DSM album covers... they are VERY well represented on the 'net!