Gallery: A visual history of Impulse! Records in 30 classic sleeves

Gallery: A visual history of Impulse! Records in 30 classic sleeves

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Born fifty-five years ago, Impulse! Records changed the face of jazz music for ever.

And when it came to the design of their record sleeves it was the faces behind the music that were given centre stage too. Started by Creed Taylor in 1960 as a subsidiary of ABC-Paramount, Impulse! Records defined jazz in the ’60s more than any other label, releasing some of the most respected jazz records of all time. With their first major signing John Coltrane at the vanguard, Impulse! grew quickly into one a powerhouse imprint at the fore-front of the push towards the avant-garde, with the Coltranes (John & Alice), Pharoah Sanders, Charles Mingus and Archie Shepp leading the way. And like the heavyweights behind the music, Impulse! championed a design aesthetic that was equally uncompromising.

However, as far as celebrated album sleeve design from the jazz world goes, people often don’t look much further than Reid Miles and the instantly recognisable typographical modernism of his most iconic Blue Note covers. Developing by its side with a focus instead on photography, the clean, bold colours used on Impulse! have become equally iconic, the orange and black back cover indent and spine synonymous with quality and collectibility (Judging from our interview last week, even Benji B is sold: “I do like that when I look at my record collection all the Impulse! spines look the same.”)

Complete with deluxe gatefold covers and high quality mastering from seismic engineer Rudy Van Gelder, Impulse! record sleeves exude the power of the music and the charisma of their artists, profiled in over-sized portraits by some of the best photographers of the era. Working with designs Robert Flynn and Fran Attaway, Taylor championed the use of striking colour combinations and cutting edge photography, employing Peter Turner, Roy DeCarava, Charles Stewart, Arnold Newman among others to capture the essence of the music in the expressions of its creators. It’s hard to imagine A Love Supreme (itself a break from the bright colours and the only Impulse! release to trade the orange spine for black and white) without immediately recalling the furrowed, monochrome profile of Coltrane on the sleeve.

Having established Impulse! as a musical and visual force, Taylor was subsequently replaced by Bob Thiele, the producer behind most of the label’s 300 odd releases. With so many milestone recordings to take in, we’ve chosen thirty classic sleeves from the Impulse! catalogue to begin to tell the story of the label during its most prominent years, from Kai Winding & J.J. Johnson’s Impulse A-01 through to Archie Shepp’s funk manifesto Attica Blues in 1972, and from straight up portraiture to psychedelic expression.

As part of this we’ve collected tracks from all 30 records in a playlist which you can listen to here or individually as you scroll.


johnsonImpulse

J. J. Johnson & Kai Winding
The Great J.J. & Kai
(1960)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert Flynn
Photo: Arnold Newman


evansCool

Gil Evans
Out Of The Cool
(1961)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert Flynn
Photo: Arnold Newman


nelsonBluesAbstract2

Oliver Nelson
The Blues and the Abstract Truth (New cover)
(1961)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert Flynn
Photo: Charles Stewart


coltraneAfrica

John Coltrane
Africa / Brass
(1961)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert Flynn
Photo: Ted Russell


roachPercussion

Max Roach
Percussion Bitter Sweet
(1961)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert Flynn
Photo: Bob Gomel


carterFurther

Benny Carter
Further Definitions
(1961)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert Flynn
Photo: Pete Turner


manneImpulse

Shelly Manne
2 3 4
(1962)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert Flynn
Photo: Bob Gomel


haynesAfternoon

Roy Haynes
Out of the Afternoon
(1962)

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Design: Robert Flynn
Photo: Burt Goldblatt


coltraneEllington

Duke Ellington and John Coltrane
Duke Ellington and John Coltrane
(1963)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert Flynn
Photo: Bob Ghiraldini


mingusBlackSaint

Charles Mingus
The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
(1963)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert Flynn
Photo: Bob Ghiraldini


coltraneHartman

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman
John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman
(1963)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert Flynn
Photo: Joe Alper


coltraneBirdland

John Coltrane
Coltrane live at Birdland
(1963)

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Design: Robert Flynn
Photo: Joe Alper


mingusImpulse54

Charles Mingus
Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus
(1963)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert Flynn
Photo: Joe Alper


hamiltonTwoWorlds

Chico Hamilton
Man From Two Worlds
(1963)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert Flynn
Photo: Charles Stewart


coltraneCrescent

John Coltrane
Crescent
(1964)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert Flynn
Photo: Charles Stewart


coltraneLoveSupreme

John Coltrane
A Love Supreme
(1965)

Listen / Buy

Design: George Gray
Photo: Bob Thiele


jonesDearJohn

Elvin Jones
Dear John C.
(1965)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert Flynn
Photo: Charles Stewart


coltraneAscension

John Coltrane
Ascension
(1966)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert Flynn
Photo: Charles Stewart


hamiltonDealer

Chico Hamilton
The Dealer
(1967)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert Flynn
Photo: Charles Shabacon


sandersTauhid

Pharoah Sanders
Tauhid
(1967)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert Flynn
Photo: Charles Stewart


sheppJuJu

Archie Shepp
The Magic of Ju-Ju
(1967)

Listen / Buy

Painting: Alan Winston
Photo: William A. Levy


aylerVillage

Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler in Greenwich Village
(1967)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert and Barbara Flynn
Photo: Charles Stewart


jonesHeavySounds

Elvin Jones & Richard Davis
Heavy Sounds
(1968)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert and Barbara Flynn
Photo: Charles Stewart


scottImpulse

Tom Scott
The Honeysuckle Breeze
(1968)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert and Barbara Flynn
Photo: Irv Glaser


aylerLoveCry

Albert Ayler
Love Cry
(1968)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert and Barbara Flynn
Photo: Charles Stewart


sheppWayAhead

Archie Shepp
The Way Ahead
(1968)

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Design: Robert and Barbara Flynn


aylerImpulse

Albert Ayler
New Grass
(1968)

Listen / Buy

Design: Byron Goto / Henry Epstein
Photo: Elliot Landy


sandersKarma

Pharoah Sanders
Karma
(1969)

Listen / Buy

Design: Robert and Barbara Flynn
Photo: Charles Stewart


aylerHealing

Albert Ayler
Music is the Healing Force of the Universe
(1969)

Listen / Buy

Design: George Whiteman
Photo: Charles Stewart


sheppAttica

Archie Shepp
Attica Blues
(1972)

Listen / Buy

Design: Clyde Gilliam
Photo: Charles Stewart


Both Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and Archie Shepp’s Attica Blues feature in our eclectic selection of jazz records for people who don’t like jazz, which you can read here.