Though the future of physical music ownership remains blurry, there’s still something to be said for a perfectly fitting album cover. In fact, even in this profoundly digital age of consumption—I’ve only ever owned one physical record—, I’m still, more often than not, first drawn into a record based on what I see. And while there are many fine examples from recent history of an album’s artwork giving you a taste of what’s to come from a record, I contend that one man’s catalog still stands head and shoulders above the rest in this pursuit. I’m talking, of course, about Vince Guaraldi.
Although Guaraldi’s legacy is inextricably tied to the Peanuts series, his solo work is remarkably influential. An innovator in the Northern California jazz scene of the 60’s, Guaraldi crossed paths with all the greats of his time (and, interestingly enough, worked with Jerry Garcia). An anecdote from his biography Vince Guaraldi at the Piano relays a night in which Miles Davis, apparently a great admirer of Guaraldi’s, got sick of their chit-chat and said, “Hey, I didn't come here to talk to you, motherfucker; I came to hear you play. So go play”. And who could overlook the late pianist’s place in the American Christmas canon?
Yet all of this only tells part of the story. Alongside his form of most agreeable bossa standards comes a collection of outstanding album artwork, at once soothing and reassuring. Take, for example, the accompanying image to 1989’s Greatest Hits compilation. It’s a solo picture of the pianist, handle-bar mustache protruding, standing with his arms crossed in front of a backdrop of wood paneling and baby blue. Perfect! I’m feeling at ease already. Then comes his work with the Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete, from which we see Vince and Bola chilling out, a knowing glance that hey, we’re really onto something here gracing each of their faces.
The font seems to be, today, often-recreated, yet to no effect as great as here. It’s all so delightfully retro, knowingly cool, and, most importantly, without a pinch of self-seriousness. Other efforts, from 1964’s Jazz Impressions to The Latin Side of Vince Guaraldi, impart a similar whimsy. Long live Vince.