Reid Miles’ work for Blue Note was not exclusive. Because of his good understanding with label owners Lion and Wolff, he was also allowed to do design jobs for other labels. Miles designed some great covers for Prestige Records, among which three with Andy Warhol.
In 1957 Miles gave Warhol the commission for the cover illustration of the album Trombone By Three, in the Prestige 16 RPM series. It is quite rare, because to play this jazz album by trombone stars Jay Jay Johnson, Kai Winding and Benny Green, you would need a record player supporting the 16 2/3 rpm speed format, half the speed of the normal 33 1/3 rpm records. The slower speed was rather used for spoken word LP’s than music, and didn’t really break through.
In the case of the Trombone By Three 16 RPM album, it’s a compilation of two Prestige LP’s issued a year earlier, in 1956, but now crammed on one single 12″ record: an album also called Trombone By Three , with cover art by cartoonist Don Martin (PRLP 7023) and Kay And Jay, Bennie Green With Strings (PRLP 7030).
Warhol’s choice of subject and style for the cover art is quite unique. During his research for the catalogue raisonné Andy Warhol, The Record Covers 1949-1987, Paul Maréchal noticed the similarity with an eight-century illustration from the Vespasian Psalter, depicting King David playing the harp, surrounded by musicians. Warhol clearly based his drawing on the horn players at the bottom of this drawing.
Warhol’s original drawing in black ink, which I am very lucky to have in my collection, has the mirrored image of the three musicians which was then later traced and blotted for the album cover. In faint pencil lines you can see different positions of the figures. Warhol was even thinking of making a percussionist of the musician at the bottom.
Even though Warhol’s output of drawings and illustrations was enormous, the style he used for the Trombone By Three album cover is out of the ordinary. I know of only one other drawing where he uses a similar type of figures and hairstyles, also for a scene with jazz musicians, but this time painted in flashy colors. If any one should know what this was used for, or know of other examples in this style, do send me a note!