Design Friday Part 2. Robert Flynn for Impulse.

Impulse was started by Creed Taylor in 1960 as a subsidiary label of ABC-Paramount. It was an edgy, experimental jazz label that became one of the most influential in jazz. The label was designed to be a distinctive musical entity as well as an individualistic visual experience. He had designer Fran Scott from ABC develop the label’s perfectly-conceived black, orange and white raiment, which Taylor adapted to the records albums spine – making them easily and significantly stand out in any record collection.

John Coltrane was the new label´s first major signing. He, and the other artists on Impulse, were given a great deal of artistic freedom. Coltrane recorded more than 20 albums for the label. During the course of his later years he was given carte blanche to record as often as he wished.

Designer Margo Guryan is responsible for the Impulse’s superb iconic logo. By inverting the lower-case sans-serif “i” and adding it after “Impulse” it creates an exclamation point at the of the name. In addition, Creed added a remarkably insightful tagline, “The New Wave of Jazz Is On Impulse!,” which served the various changing directions in jazz styles the label took throughout the sixties to an exceptional degree.

Impulse hired  cutting edge photographers to photograph the artists in full-color glory, with distinguishing head or full-body shots, that would bleed off the edges of the thick, glossy laminated gatefold sleeves. Everything about the emerging design style from Impulse said cutting edge, and special. This design direction was unprecedented in jazz at the time. Nearly all other jazz records of the period boasted single-sleeve cardboard covers with no photo bleeds. This is far more economical to produce, and kept production costs low. Creed Taylor correctly believed that shoppers who saw records on the shelf that looked important would think the music must be important too.

In 1960 Creed Taylor brought designer Robert Flynn from Viceroy, an advertising agency that designed many of the ABC/Paramount album covers, to Impulse.  Robert Flynn’s role was to provide the Impulse albums with their own distinctive look. Robert Flynn designed nearly all of Impulse’s covers from 1960 through 1969, staying on even after Creed Taylor’s 1961 departure from Impulse. Through Robert Flynn’s influence, Impulse like Blue Note developed a distinct look that set them apart from the competition and created a look that influenced album cover design for years to come.

Flynn’s style is simplicity itself. Never arty just great visual design. The designs are utilitarian and effective, and very indicative of the times in which they were produced. Each album Flynn designed properly promotes the artist and visually delivers on the artist’s message. Each design suggested the Impulse label without ever placing it first and foremost. The effect was subtle, and unique for the time,  “an Impulse album done John Coltrane.”

Robert Flynn’s flair for layout, typography and color always seemed to be motivated by the music and never seemed to lock Impulse into specific stylistic guidelines. When you look at the entire catalog Robert Flynn designed Impulse always retained its personality. Even when you compare the earlier albums designed with Helvetica, and dark smoke-filled images, to the psychedelic pop-art type and dreamy photos of the later records.

Flynn continued designing Impulse sleeves until about 1969, when Bob Thiele left the label to form Flying Dutchman. Impulse’s new management took the jazz label, into a whole new direction which conflicted with Robert Flynn’s design aesthetic. Flynn left Impulse and joined Bob Thiele at Flying Dutchman, providing not only a distinctive look for Thiele’s new label, but retaining enough of the design elements Flynn established at Impulse to ensure the connection to the music Thiele produced there. Robert Flynn’s departure rendered Impulse’s once iconic album design into something bland and completely generic.

Ironically after a little more than a year with Flying Dutchman, Robert Flynn seemed to disappear from the record industry and was hardly heard from again.

The Impulse Jazz Collection is available on CD and as downloadable MP3’s  courtesy of  distribution through Verve.