If you collect vinyl records and have spent more than a few hours wading through stacks of Mitch Miller, Ferrante & Teicher, Mantovani, Pete Fountain, Vaughn Meader’s The First Family, Herb Alpert, Mario Lanza, John Denver, Ray Conniff, Bert Kaempfert, Boots Randolph, Perry Como, Dan Fogelberg, Tennessee Ernie Ford, James Taylor, Chicago, Switched On Bach, Lawrence Welk, Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, Chipmunk Punk as well as numerous very odd gospel albums looking for rarities, there’s a good chance you have also come across the graphic design of Jim Flora.
“In the 1940s and ’50s, James (Jim) Flora designed dozens of diabolic cover illustrations, many for Columbia and RCA Victor jazz artists. His world pulsed with angular hepcats bearing funnel-tapered noses and shark-fin chins, who fingered cockeyed pianos and honked lollipop-hued horns. In the background, geometric doo-dads floated willy-nilly like a kindergarten toy room gone anti-gravitational. Jim Flora wreaked havoc with the laws of physics, conjuring up flying musicians, levitating instruments, and wobbly dimensional perspectives. As he reflected in a 1998 interview, ‘I got away with murder, didn’t I?'” This is from Flora authority, Irwin Chusid, author of The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora.
His eccentric idiosyncratic style was used for every category of music from the acclaimed Bix Beiderbecke/ Frankie “Tram” Trumbauer recordings, to hepcat Pete Jolly, the eccentric Lord Buckley, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Richard Strauss, Kid Ory’s New Orleans Dixieland, and even folksinger Jimmie Driftwood.
In an interview with Steve Heller of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, Irwin Chusid describes Flora, “He once said that all he wanted to do was ‘create a little piece of excitement.’ He overshot his goal with many of these works. He exemplifies the commercial artist who didn’t have to compromise. When you hired Flora, you got Flora, and you hired Flora because you wanted Flora. He wasn’t versatile. He wasn’t a chameleon. His work looks like what Flora did best: be himself, as an artist…His approach to music themes was to create what Mutts cartoonist Patrick McDonnell termed ‘bebop for the eyes.’ Gary Baseman calls it ‘visual jazz.’ Flora said he ‘hated a static space;’ every square inch of his canvas is filled with activity. Bebop was many things, but it was never ‘static.’ The man knew his muse.”
You may have some of his illustrated children’s books stuck away. Flora did these later in his life. They aren’t quite so edgy, but they are lots of fun.
This is the best site for exploring Jim Flora’s life and work. You can even buy some of his designs as prints, wallpaper, notecards and books. Another site, this one maintained by his family, even offers some of his artwork for sale.
Your mid-century modern home isn’t complete without a stack of Jim Flora LPs tossed casually on your Noguchi coffee table. But why stop there. Settle in, relax and explore some of the music that went inside those covers.