Skip to Main Content

Book Arts: Jazz

Subject-specific lists of book arts materials available in Special Collections at the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library

Bookworks inspired by jazz

Improvisation is the word that first comes to mind for many when they think of jazz.  Imagine musicians playing together, being inspired by each other’s performance, and collaborating to make something new.  Many visual artists take a similar approach, especially those working in the highly collaborative field of the book arts. 



Ed Colker. Open the Gates. Millwood, NY: Haybarn Press, 2006.

Arts Library Special Collections call number Folio Z232.H29 Z9 C65 2006 (LC)


Colker’s fine press book is in portfolio format interleaving six of his color lithographs with letterpress printed text from “The Gates of Justice” cantata composed by Dave Brubeck.  Colker also includes a reproduction of the handwritten score by Brubeck.  Colker conceived the edition to honor Brubeck’s 85th birthday in 2005; both Colker and Brubeck signed the colophon.



Vance Gerry.  Jazz Instruments: A Weather Bird Press Picture Portfolio. Pasadena, CA: Weather Bird Press, 2003. Arts Library Special Collections call number Z232 W357 Z9 G37 2003 (LC)


In this fine press portfolio of prints, Gerry honors the most common jazz instruments.  His brief introduction traces the early days of jazz as popular music in the 1920s to today, where it is considered more of an art and not intended for a popular audience.  Accompanying each fictional musician playing the featured instrument is a block of text that highlights some of the real musicians associated with the piano, trumpet, drums, guitar, saxophone, trombone, bass, vibraphone, clarinet, and violin.



David B Johnson. In Walked Bud by Thelonious Monk and Jon Hendricks. Muncie, IN: Amelia Press, [2010?] Arts Library Special Collections call number NJ18.J6143 T45 2010 (LC)


David Johnson printed the lyrics of one song “In Walked Bud” interspersed with etchings of musicians playing.  Johnson used the technique of chine collé (printing on a thin sheet of paper that adheres to the main substrate during the printing process) to create colorful backgrounds that punctuate the long accordion fold format.



Caren Heft (artist/publisher)/Alan B. Govenar (author). The Blues and Jives of Dr. Hepcat. Racine, WI: Arcadian Press, 1993. Arts Library Special Collections call number Z232 A74 Z9 G68 1993 (LC)+


This work discusses the career of Lavada Durst, the first African-American disc jockey in Texas.  His radio persona, Dr. Hepcat, played big band and rhythm and blues music while talking “jive” to his listeners.  He started on the radio in 1948 and in 1953 published a small pamphlet translating several example jive conversations and giving a glossary of common terms. According to Govenar’s essay, “jive talk” was popularized by musicians in the 1920s and became the common language for musician, dancers, and fans of swing music. The 1953 pamphlet is reproduced for Heft’s work, which also includes a handmade paper, letterpress printed essay by Govenar and a cassette of Dr. Hepcat’s “piano blues.” 



Mark McMurray.  The History of Bop. Montclair, NJ & Canton, NY: Caliban Press, 1993. Arts Library Special Collections call number Z232 C16 Z9 K47 1993 (LC)


Jack Kerouac was strongly influenced by jazz in his writing.  In fact, he produced several spoken word albums with Verve Records; “History of Bop” was included on the album Readings by Jack Kerouac on the Beat Generation (1960). It was also published in Escapade magazine in April 1959 as “The Beginning of Bop.”  Kerouac called this method of writing “spontaneous prose” and used it “to adapt the highly vocal, rhythmically complex idiom of bebop into narrative form.”* In this pamphlet, printer Mark McMurray puts into print Kerouac’s spoken word essay imagining the origins of the form of jazz known as Bebop or Bop.  McMurray includes an introductory essay and images of jazz musicians playing.  The first page of the essay is reproduced at right; above the pamphlet is open to show one of the illustrations and the handmade paper cover that wraps the printed text.


* James T. Fisher. "Kerouac, Jack";; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. Access Date: January 27, 2014.



Richard Minsky. [Musical theory]. [New York: R. Minsky, 1971]. Arts Library Special Collections call number Miniature NJ18.M668 A12 2000 (LC)


Gerald Jackson. Adventures in Ku-ta-ba Wa-do.  [New York: R. Minsky, 1973]. Arts Library Special Collections call number NJ18.M668 A12 1973 (LC) Oversize


Richard Minsky is best known for his pioneering work in the book arts and as the founder of The Center for Book Arts in New York City.  However, he was also involved with music in the 1970s and 1980s when living in New York.  Minsky regularly created hand-bound small-scale journals for himself so that he would always have good quality paper with him when he wanted to capture an idea. In this particular one, in use in 1971, Minsky primarily kept ideas about music, especially rhythm riffs.  In 1973, he published a limited edition book with prints reproducing drawings Jackson as well as his poetry. The book was accompanied by a recording of improvisational music composed by Minsky. The musical score, which corresponds to the colors of the prints and uses the poems as a libretto, was used by the chamber orchestra during the recording. The musicians also had the color prints on their music stands, as the score called on them to interpret the colors with their instruments. The recording was made at New York’s Mercury Studios in 1972.



Lisa Rappoport. Lush Life. Oakland, CA: Littoral Press, 2010. Arts Library Special Collections call number Pamfile M1366.S9136 L87 2010 (LC)


Lisa Rappoport, the artist behind Littoral Press, published this as the first in a series of songbooks, this one featuring the lyrics of “Lust Life” by Billy Strayhorn.   Strayhorn is perhaps better known for another song he penned “Take the A Train” and for his frequent collaboration with jazz great Duke Ellington. Rappoport used a format that allows the book to be printed on one flat sheet, then cut down the center and folded to become a booklet.  She has set the colophon, a descriptive text at the end of a bookwork that describes the making of the work, in the shape of a saxophone.  She printed appropriated illustrations that evoke the time period when the song was written (1930s). 



John Risseeuw. TM. Tempe, AZ: Cabbagehead Press, 1999. Arts Library Special Collections call number Pamfile N7433.4.R596 T62 1999 (LC)


Risseeuw created a typographically innovative setting of Thelonious Monk’s first name that visually reminds us of the bebop music for which he was known.  Hidden inside the book (printed from one sheet of paper in the same manner as Lush Life in the case to the left) is a list of his songs. 



Percy Seitlin.  Come Home to Jazz. New York: The Composing Room, 1960. Arts Library Special Collections call number Z250 S33 1960 1 (LC)


The Composing Room was a typesetting firm in New York City, founded in 1927.  It was considered one of the best in the country and sometimes produced promotional items like this that showcased the innovative work of graphic designers.  The pamphlet on display, “Come Home to Jazz,” is part of a series called About U.S.: Experimental Typography by American Designers and is a reprint of a series in a German graphic arts magazine, Der Druckspiegel.  The Composing Room is perhaps best known for its production of PM Magazine, an industry standard for the graphic arts for many years, with Seitlin as the editor.



Don Skiles (author) and Claribel Cone (artist). Musicos. Mill Valley, CA: Conehenge Studios & Viking Dog Press, 2010. Arts Library Special Collections call number Pamfile PS3569.K45 M87 2010


Each pamphlet in this small edition of 12 carries a unique painting by Cone on the cover (shown).  Reproduced in this case are images of the pages inside, with etchings by Cone and poems by Skiles.  The book is printed and published by Mike Heffner of Viking Dog Press.



Lynn Sures and Rick Potts. Variations on the Dialectic Between Mingus and Pithecanthropus Erectus. [Wheaton, MD: Lynn Sures, 2005]. Arts Library Special Collections call number NJ18.Su7365 A12 2005 (LC)


Lynn Sures is a book artist who specializes in using handmade paper.  In this bookwork, with text by Rick Potts, Sures created paper with pulp painting (colored fiber embedded into the sheet) that underscores and emphasizes her woodblock prints.  Some of the imagery is created through watermarks, an image that is embedded in a sheet of paper by creating an area that is more transparent (with fewer fibers); watermarks are often not apparent until the paper is lit from behind. 


This work was inspired by a 1956 jazz album, titled Pithecanthropus Erectus , composed by Charles Mingus.  The imagery evokes both the playing of the music, including a portrait of Mr. Mingus in watermark, and the theme of the album with images of apes, bones, and other references to our early ancestors alongside musicians with their instruments.  The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings (London, 2008) calls the album “one of the truly great modern jazz albums” and states that the “all-in ensemble work…was absolutely critical to the development of free collective improvisation in the following decade.”