Columbia hired him in 1954 to lead the design department, building on the work of Alex Steinweiss who established the practice of custom cover art. Fujita was the first to commission painters, photographers and illustrators to create cover art for Columbia’s albums.
In the six years in this position – with a year-long break in 1957 – Fujita designed close to fifty album covers. The one for Dave Brubeck at Storyville: 1954 is one of his first, or maybe his first ever. As if he wanted to prove his inventiveness, Fuijta came up with a novel idea: a record sleeve dressed as a newspaper, designed to make waves. And indeed the press was hooked. In the issue from October, 30, 1954, The Billboard wrote:
An example of the increased attention given LP cover art is the newspaper approach taken by Columbia Records in its upcoming “Dave Brubeck at Storyville: 1954” set. Due out soon, the LP will be held in a jacket made up as the front page of “The Columbia Jazzette,” a sheet complete with weather report (“cool to sizzling”) and streamer story. News stories jump to the back cover, which also prints “interviews” with J.S. Bach and Jelly Roll Morton.
The cover design oozes with gimmicks, from a riff on the famous slogan of the New York Times (“all the jazz that’s fit to hear”) to a column with letters to the editor. The latter is concluded by a question from Mr. Brubeck himself:
Dear George: I think “The Columbia Jazzette” is a real crazy way to design album jackets and flyleaf notes. Who dreamed it up? — Dave Brubeck, Oakland, Calif.
Dear Dave: Our art director, Neil Fujita, had this flash of inspiration while relaxing after a hard day of bear-baiting and casing the March of Dimes collection box at the local movie house. I got back at him, though. He’s the one who had to piece my copy together, and I’m making him buy a new ribbon for my weary typewriter.
Fujita successfully imitated the North American newspaper typography of the time: sturdy Century Expanded for the body copy, with all-caps gothics for headlines. Franklin Gothic features in all three widths, including the Condensed and Extra Condensed. It’s supported by its siblings Alternate Gothic for the first article’s headline on the back and News Gothic for decks. The blackletter for the nameplate is Cloister Black (cf. Times Old English), set on a curve. The second line of the banner on the front exhibits some unfavorable loose letterspacing – but then again, such imperfections were common in actual newspapers as well, so this may be filed under “authentic” rather than “faulty”.
The six tracks on the album were recorded in concert at Boston’s Storyville in December 1953 and on March 30, 1954, as well as in Los Angeles, on July 22, 1954. Front photography by Seymour Mednick, liner notes by George Avakian.