Steven Jurgensmeyer began his career as the Art Director at the trailblazing record label Rykodisc, working closely with Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart, Bob Mould, Robert Cray and Morphine, among others. He joined Rounder Records as Creative Director, working with musicians such as Alison Krauss, Robert Plant, Harry Connick Jr, and Madeleine Peyroux. He is now the principal in his own studio and has worked with Carly Simon, Dan Zanes, Richard Lewis, the legendary Jamaican label Studio One and, of course, Branford Marsalis. His work can be seen at www.stevenjurgensmeyer.com.
Marsalis Music: You were the Art Director for Branford’s two latest recording projects, Songs of Mirth and Melancholy and Four MFs Playin’ Tunes. Could you please explain your concept for each project?
Steven Jurgensmeyer: It was a great pleasure working directly with Branford on Songs of Mirth and Melancholy. He sent me a CD of the music and asked me to “design what I heard.” Upon hearing the music, two things struck me pretty immediately; one was the openness of the music, and the space “between” the notes. The second was the obvious familiarity and intimacy between Branford and Joey. So… you had two really contrasting ideas at play here, and I really wanted to create something beautiful, that would stand the test of time and sit comfortably amongst the classic album covers from Blue Note and Prestige. I knew a sense of scale was going to be a key to success; luckily, we were able to utilize this wonderful, towering wall in the Museum of Fine Arts’ new “Art of the Americas” wing. I loved the stone and the natural light; it really filled the “spacious” role, but also became another player in the composition. The “other thing” I needed to capture was the familiarity Branford and Joey share as musicians. They brought that naturally with their personalities and relationship. There was a lot of clowning around (as the outtakes attest!), but their body language in the final shot provided exactly what was needed. Photographer Stephen Sheffield caught that moment; I knew immediately that this shot was the cover. The typography is a nod to the simplicity and grace of that classic era of jazz sleeves and to the album’s title. This cover is my favorite piece in my career to date.
With Four MFs, we wanted to illustrate the importance of each band member and their musical personality and contributions in this particular quartet, as they had really jelled into a formidable unit. I knew I wanted “motion” to serve as the metaphor for the music and, in turn, highlight each musician in focus, while the others “played” around him or her. A friend recommended photographer Eric Ryan Anderson, who uses a lot of motion techniques; he was game and the shoot was on. As with any shoot, no matter how tightly scripted, you always have to improvise and we worked the quartet hard to get those shots! It was an incredibly difficult shoot; a lot of fun, to be sure, but a long day and hard work.
Marsalis Music: What was the biggest challenge during the Four MFs shoot?
SJ: The biggest challenge of theFour MFs shoot was keeping the guys moving and staying out of the subject’s way so that he remained the focus. It’s not easy to plan and direct spontaneity! Read more »