Reid Miles Typography Comes To Life In Music Video

From dance punk straight to classic jazz may seem a stretch in musical terms, but the unifying factor often is great design and typography. A tweet by the great Jon Tan – designer, web typographer, founding member of Analog, and co-founder of FontDeck – led me to The Jazzy Blue Notes of Reid Miles, an excellent examination on Retinart of the seminal work of Reid Miles. While I merely touched upon his album covers for Blue Note Records in my Almost Blue post, Alexander Ross Charchar delves a little deeper.

The two videos I showed at the bottom of my year-old post tried to recreate classic Reid Miles covers or conjure up their atmosphere, but were marred by unfortunate typographic choices. However this new article on Retinart links to a far better motion adaptation which I really regret not having found when I wrote my post. Hi-Fi is a promotional music video for last year’s concert season at the Bellavista Social Pub, one of the best bars in Siena, Tuscany, according to Where’s Cool. In honour of Blue Note’s 70th anniversary the video recreates a number of iconic album covers as tableaux vivants. The video was directed by Bante (real name Stefano Tinti), and stars Moussa Kaba and the Fox Terrier Ultimo.

Hi-Fi from bante on Vimeo.

The recreated covers are stunningly similar to the originals. The motion typography is quite nicer than in Helicopter Girl’s Angel City music video, and perfectly complements the images. Added wear provides the finishing touch. Although there are a number of mismatches, this time the typography looks very convincing. Lovely work.

This is a first. I never show any of my work for the simple reason I consider myself a rather average graphic designer. Yet this time I would like to make an exception. Years ago I designed calling cards for a professional trumpet player, for both professional and personal use. In my search for inspiration I asked for photographs of him playing his instrument. As those pictures were not very good – amateur snapshots at best – I decided to turn them into spoof Blue Note Records covers. To try to capture the essence of those covers without making identical copies I deliberately avoided looking at any reference material. Thanks to my passion for typography I knew Reid Miles’ typographic palette by heart. I know I have repeatedly been bitching and moaning about designers not using the correct typefaces when referencing/recreating those iconic album covers, and now I’ve decided to put my money where my mouth is. What follows is a selection of digitised faces based on those used by Reid Miles.

Sans Serif Faces

For display, Reid Miles seemed to favour compact, often very bold sans serifs, as they provided rhythm to the design and allowed him to incorporate photographs into the letters. At the other end of the spectrum he turned to generous extended grotesques. For text the usual suspects like Futura and Trade/News Gothic performed their inconspicuous duties.

Serif Faces

In the early years serif faces were mostly used for additional text matter on the album cover front and body text on the back. Sturdy text ionics and century-type faces with their long serifs and characteristic italics performed very well alongside those big sans serifs. For display clarendons and didones were used in moderate sizes, and various display serif faces in large sizes.

Scripts and Display Faces

Real display faces seldom appeared in album cover designs by Reid Miles. He also rarely used scripts, and when he did they often were hand lettered. Nowadays OpenType technology can reliably emulate the spontaneity and randomness of hand calligraphy with digital fonts.

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  1. It appears the link for City (Square Slabserif 711) is going to Cooper Black.
    Great post. Very thorough, and a quite beautifully executed video.

    Posted by James Edmondson on Jun. 10, 2010
  2. I’m not going to lie, seeing Retinart mentioned here, on one of my favorite blogs, has made me as giddy as a child!
    Thanks for the mention! But even more than that, thank you for listing similar/digital versions of the fonts Miles used. As I was writing the article I actually kept thinking about the ScreenFonts series from here and wishing I had the same knowledge to, so effortlessly, list what faces he was using.
    So things sort of came full circle for me. Thank you again for the mention Yves, it really made my day!

    Posted by Alexander Charchar on Jun. 10, 2010
  3. Yves, a good idea this post.
    Reid Miles is among the best. He is so good adding texts just on the right position on any images.

    Posted by Jean F Porchez on Jun. 10, 2010
  4. Thanks for the heads up, James. I corrected the link.
    And you’re very welcome, Alexander. I really enjoyed reading your post.

    Reid Miles is among the best. He is so good adding texts just on the right position on any images.

    Indeed – knowing what typefaces he used is only half the work. I hope this list is of interest to someone. The other half of the work – integrating text and image to create a memorable album cover – takes a lot of talent.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jun. 10, 2010
  5. Thanks for the super-kind words, Yves! Here’s a photo of Reid Miles for those interested. In Japan, Vintage Vanguard has a huge collection of Blue Note sleeves to browse. I’m not sure if it’s complete, but massive, nevertheless. Enjoy!

    Posted by Jon Tan on Jun. 11, 2010
  6. In Japan, Vintage Vanguard has a huge collection of Blue Note sleeves to browse.

    As it turns out, that’s the gallery I use for reference whenever I need Reid Miles stuff. :) Unfortunately the other one I linked to in my Almost Blue post seems to have disappeared.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jun. 11, 2010
  7. The city name is Siena, just one N.

    Posted by Marta on Jun. 15, 2010
  8. Please, someone knows what song is playing in the film, and who is the performer?

    Posted by luis carlos on Jun. 22, 2010
  9. Luis, the song is ‘So Tired’ from the album ‘A Night in Tunisia’ by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers.

    Great post, Yves. Love this stuff. Thanks.

    Posted by Stephen Lording on Jul. 3, 2010
  10. Hi! I can’t find info about the font that Reid Miles used in Art Blakey & the jazz messengers a night in tunisia cover design. Can you help me? Thanks. N.

    Posted by namea on Sep. 29, 2014
  11. When you look closely you can see that the contours of the letters are wobbly, and repeating characters are not identical. This tells us the letters on that album sleeve were cut out by hand. We have a Fontlist with similar typefaces (Swiss 924, Helvetica Compressed, Hadrian Bold, FF Kipp,…) but unfortunately you won’t find an exact match.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Sep. 30, 2014

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