Music and art often go hand-in-hand, but rarely fit together as well as on acclaimed young jazz trumpet player Mark Rapp’s debut album from last year, Token Tales.

The CD cover featured a color photo of Rapp with horn on a gray background showing a surreal drawing of the musician mirroring the pose. The artist, Ray Masters, expanded on the drawing with a full color painting, Trumpetman, boldly rendering Rapp as half man, half trumpet, with subtle background washes suggesting the city of New York.

The Trumpetman painting, which was actually inspired by the music of Token Tales, was then emblazoned on the physical compact disc itself.

“How many debut records have original artwork created for and inspired by the record?” queries Rapp. “Especially by an artist who commands tens of thousands of dollars for his work? Wild!”
Wilder still is that the much-exhibited Masters credits his love for fine art to his purchase of Dave Brubeck’s 1961 album Time Further Out– Miró Reflections.

“I was about 11 years-old and the cover art and inspiration for the music was courtesy of Joan Miró,,” recalls Masters, an exponent of the surrealist automatism favored by Miró, and a music fanatic who played in a garage band in his youth. “I’m not sure if I’d seen a Miró prior to that cover but I do know that it made one of the greatest impacts in my life. Not only was the music contained in those grooves the most exciting and expressive music I had ever heard, but the cover art introduced me to the man that would influence my creative side more than any other human being.”

When Rapp and Token Tales’ Grammy-winning producer Jason Olaine discussed cover art, Rapp liked the idea of a commissioned artwork, citing other jazz artists who have used paintings as album covers including Wynton Marsalis, who used a Henri Matisse painting for the cover of The Majesty Of The Blues.

“Ray’s work has been seen all over world, from large corporations to private homes and museums,” notes Rapp, who also plays the Australian didgeridoo . “Jason was a friend of his, and after we approached him he locked himself away for a couple weeks and played the album over and over and painted from inspiration from the CD itself.”

Masters was instructed to paint a portrait of Rapp, rather than a generic or representational painting.

“But this portrait needed to express a feeling, extend a welcome and elicit a reaction and desire to buy,” says Masters. “I also needed it to be me. My work. My art–all the while never even coming close to eclipsing or one-upping the main event, Mark Rapp and his music. Trumpetman is that work and I am pleased that it has fulfilled all the criteria that both Mark and I set out for it. Trumpetman put an exclamation point or at least a capitalization on his work. It somehow extended the thought or presented it through a different lens.”

The Trumpetman figure, Masters artfully adds, “is both man and instrument. It blends flesh with brass. Muscle with machine. I created the work on rough finished wood to convey the image of an old wall. Texture over time. Look deep inside and the image suggests a street corner or back alley. New York maybe. Or London. It feels like jazz. The trumpet man is posed in that typical Miles Davis bent stance. Crouching tiger, hidden dragon. Bowing to his own instrument. Loving it while domineering it. Controlled caressing. Speaking through it and to it. The heart-shaped lips. Loving but firm. The head a reflection of the mouth of the instrument and burnished through time and tune. The body a tangle of tubes and valves. And the eyes, both trumpet and man, intent and focused. Locked in music and joy. Faint red objects coming from the mouth of the trumpet coalesce into the shape of a whale–or the moan and sonorous wail of the didgeridoo. Shapes suggest and encourage feelings. See what you will. Feel what you will. Hear what you will.”
Rapp appreciated the introspective nature of Trumpetman.

“His head is angled down and looking at the instrument and working on his craft, and yet at the end of the horn an eyeball is sticking out and looking up,” says Rapp. “So Trumpetman is looking in, but producing outward and giving–and that’s spot-on for what I do and all great jazz musicians do: hold themselves up and practice all day, and it’s very solitary but they push themselves out there at the gig and give to the audience. And the colors are very vibrant and alive, and I definitely have those types of moments in my performances: colors and sparks of inspiration shoot out of the horn.”

But being a debut album, label and management understandably demanded some kind of real image of Rapp on the cover–not the surreal Trumpetman delivered by Rapp.

“They wanted my face front and center, and Ray’s artwork was an interpretation that didn’t look anything like me, thank goodness, or I’d be one weird-looking dude!” continues Rapp. “But the art director made everyone happy by taking Ray’s concept and using the outline of Trumpetman as my subdued gray shadow against the wall, then when you open the package, it’s ablaze with the color of the original artwork on the CD: Since the piece is inspired by the music, it made perfect sense to have the artwork physically attached to the disc itself–art and music as one entity.”

Rapp’s next release, The Song Project: Art Of The Song, Volume 1, pairs him with guitarist Derek Lee Bronston and comes out Sept. 20. It follows his collaboration last year with saxophonist Don Braden in The Strayhorn Project, and features cover art from renowned designer/photo-illustrator Sean Mosher-Smith.

“Like Ray, Sean listened to rough mixes, got a feel for the sound and vibe, and went out and shot a series of landscapes that he felt would complement the music,” says Rapp.

July 23rd, 2010 1:16 pm ET
By Jim Bessman, Manhattan Local Music Examiner