Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Flora at the Commodore

Floraphile Cary Ginell dropped us a note:
Just ran across this image in the Library of Congress archives. It’s a shot taken by William Gottlieb of the Commodore Record Shop in New York in 1947. Check out the guy in the middle of the photo. He’s getting ready to purchase (or sell, if he's a counter clerk) the Kid Ory Columbia 78 album with Flora’s artwork.

BTW, the guy reaching up to pull something from the record stacks is Jack Crystal, Billy Crystal’s father. He ran the store for Milt Gabler, the owner.
Don Brockway adds:
The customer will never listen to it; he just likes the cover. Great shot. Makes me miss REAL record stores with REAL salespeople, who would never have said, "People who have bought Kid Ory have also purchased items by The Jonas Brothers."
UPDATE: A later (unpublished) photo taken at the Commodore shop that same day was subsequently discovered in the Gottlieb archives.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Robert Lowry @ 90

Robert Lowry (1919-1994) would turn 90 today. Don't expect a presidential proclamation in commemoration of this troubled man's legacy. However, we salute the Little Man Press writer/editor for changing the course of Flora's career, and probably for influencing his art. It all began one day in 1938 when the volatile literary turbine accosted Flora on the Art Academy of Cincinnati campus and demanded the undergrad illustrator serve as art director for his fledgling independent press publication.

"I was intrigued by his verve and the wild look in his eyes," recalled Flora in a 1987 autobiographical essay. "Lowry at the time was only seventeen or eighteen but he had been a child prodigy and was enormously talented. We found an immediate rapport, and I slipped into the harness and became co-founder of the Little Man Press."

GUP: Three Adventures, written by Robert Lowry, cover by Flora, 1942

"Lowry had no money and I had only a string of zeros," Flora explained, "so we decided to sell subscriptions to our nonexistent magazine. We tackled and browbeat everyone we knew on the campus of the University of Cincinnati. It was backbreaking work but we eventually squeezed $300 out of our subscribers and bought a press."

Subscription form, 1939 (collection of Ginnie Hofmann)

"We reasoned that the average little man during the depression might not be able to afford a big expensive magazine, so we published each article or story as a separate booklet and supplied a box so that our little man could assemble his own magazine. The box idea was a brainstorm about two centuries ahead of its time and was soon abandoned in order to avoid bankruptcy."

Box cover, Little Man Press editions, 1939 (collection of Ginnie Hofmann)

"We had only enough type to set two pages at a time. It was thus necessary to learn to calculate space very accurately. We were forced to set and print the first and last pages of our booklets, then break up the type and set the second and the next to last page and so on, until we met in the middle. If we undercalculated I made an illustration to fill the blank space. We didn't dare overcalculate and never did."

Two-page spread, Murderpie, 1939

"Bob was full of juice, a constant eruption, like a volcano," Flora told Lowry biographer Billie Jeyes. "He was constantly testing me, always pushing me to the limits. One day I was at the art academy, and Bob came to see me because he wanted me to do something. I was very busy at the time, and he kept pushing. So I hit him, in the chest. From then on we were on an even keel."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

radio: the better ticket to reach customers

Detail, Columbia Broadcasting System trade brochure, 1943 or '44

Saturday, March 21, 2009

now you see it ...

There are presently twenty different page headers at JimFlora.com. Each time you visit the site or refresh the page, the image changes. Because they rotate at random, some images will recur multiple times before you see them all. It's a Zen exercise. Mixes well with rum.

There's also nine footers at the bottom of the homepage.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Tortoise and the Pissed-Off Hare

Not the artist's title, but a descriptive one nevertheless:

Detail from The Fabulous Firework Family (1955) first draft, a hand-drawn image from the Kerlan Collection, University of Minnesota. Oddly, these two critters had nothing to do with the story, and do not figure in the published edition. (Rumor has it they were dropped from the FFF project after a pay dispute.) They appear to be wearing costumes fashioned from tablecloth scraps.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Happy Birthday, Harry!

Born this day in 1916. In 1939 the trumpeter, already a top-tier bandleader, hired a smooth, upcoming but relatively unknown vocalist from New Jersey, but failed to convince the kid to change his name to "Frankie Satin." Within a year, James and singer had parted ways, the latter to join Tommy Dorsey's orchestra. Within a few years, both James and the kid crooner were on their respective ways to becoming music legends.

Columbia Records ad (detail) from Look magazine, 1943.

Friday, March 13, 2009

It lives, it walks, it seeks revenge!

Rasputin-strength, dismembered and trepanated zombie. Spot illo (woodcut, one of many), Murderpie, Little Man Press, 1939. Publication written by Robert Lowry. Whereabouts of original woodcuts unknown.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bix @ 106

Leon Bix Beiderbecke was born today in 1903. Beiderbecke, a cornetist (caricatured above left by Flora in 1947) and pianist, was a stylistic catalyst in the formative years of jazz. Bix and trumpeter Louis Armstrong were the two most pivotal horn players of the 1920s, though their approaches differed markedly. Beiderbecke has been described as the first real modernist in jazz, though that doesn't explain his enduring appeal. (Each year when the calendar flips to February 10, WKCR radio in New York devotes a full day to his complete recordings.) Beiderbecke's historic magnitude prevails despite the fact that the "young man with a horn" drank himself to death at age 28, and his entire recording career spanned just six and a half prolific years. Music consumed Bix, while Bix consumed bathtub gin. As author Richard Hadlock wrote, Bix "was both an artist and a speakeasy entertainer, both a middle-class mama's boy and a nomadic bum, both a star performer and a jobless horn player."

What was in Bix's brew? Trumpeter Randy Sandke explains: "With the advent of prohibition in January 1920, the simple act of taking a drink containing alcohol became a criminal offense. Bootleg liquor became a witch's brew that could contain poisonous ingredients. A sample sold in the streets of Harlem was taken to a lab and analyzed. It was found to contain wood alcohol, benzene, kerosene, pyridine, camphor, nicotine, benzol, formaldehyde, iodine, sulphuric acid, soap, and glycerin. People who consumed this hazardous concoction often experienced dizziness, blackouts, hair loss, fluctuations in weight, advanced aging, partial blindness and paralysis. It is known that Bix exhibited most if not all of these symptoms." Despite these alcoholic maladies, Bix's complexion was reportedly less scarlet than Flora's portrait.

"Tram" was C-melody saxophonist Frank Trumbauer, with whom Bix made some of his most monumental recordings. A 4-cd box set with the same title as the Flora 78 album above contains all of their essential recordings. Bix was a legendary artist who often recorded with lesser talents and behind dreary vocalists, and the apparent filler on this collection simply reflects Beiderbecke's varied gigs. However, when teamed with high-caliber players like Trumbauer, multi-instrumentalist Adrian Rollini, guitarist Eddie Lang, and violinist Joe Venuti, Beiderbecke's stature is magnified, his reputation self-evident. Seek out his extended solo on "I'm Coming Virginia" by the 1927 Trumbauer Orchestra. It's scary beautiful.

Gary Giddins said: "Beiderbecke's originality made him one of the first white jazz musicians to be admired by black performers. Louis Armstrong recognized in him a kindred spirit, and Rex Stewart exactly reproduced some of his solos on recordings. Beiderbecke's influence on such white players as Red Nichols and Bunny Berigan was decisive. Although he was largely unknown to the general public at the time of his death, he acquired an almost legendary aura among jazz musicians and enthusiasts."

Bix was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa. Flora also grew up in the midwest (Bellefontaine, Ohio), and caught the jazz bug as a youth. "We had dancebands that came through all the time and they were mostly like Red Nichols and Bix Beiderbecke," Flora told interviewer Angelynn Grant in 1990. "Beiderbecke recorded less than 100 miles away from Bellefontaine, in Indiana. His label, Gennett Records, was in Hammond, Indiana, which was about 75-80 miles from Bellefontaine. So that was the tradition there."

Monday, March 9, 2009

food chain 1

Detail, Grandpa's Ghost Stories (Atheneum Books, 1978). Yes, this little mise en scène is from a lighthearted book for young readers. Fun for the whole family! Bone apetit!

Friday, March 6, 2009

March Morning

Woodcut print accompanying Robert Lowry's short story, "March Morning," page 36, Hutton Street (Little Man Press, 1940). This 7-1/2" x 5" chapbook contains 18 meticulous woodengravings by Flora. Whereabouts of the original blocks is (ahem!) unknown.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

White Block Quadrupeds

Our latest Jim Flora fine art print is White Block Quadrupeds (an informal name for the above untitled work). WBQ is an uncirculated, early 1940s Flora painting which depicts an inscrutable panorama of disconnected facial features, headless quadrupeds, and a fanged horse. The original was painted in tempera on a thick rectangular block of wood the artist had first swathed in a coat of white. The stylized figures echo motifs found in the artist's work from 1942 to 1944, after he was hired by the Columbia Records art department.

Only 25 prints were produced for this edition. The image area is the exact size of the original work. Size, price, and print specs are posted at JimFlora.com.

Here's an undated pencil sketch of the work:

Monday, March 2, 2009

Happy Fingers

Spot illustration by Flora
Columbia Records Coda booklet, June 1943

Production still (actor Tommy Rettig)
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
the only non-animated motion picture
based on characters created by Dr. Seuss
(who was born on this day in 1905)