1980 Jazz Fest Poster Process

by Phillip Collier

July 15, 2020

2020 marks not only the first year with no Jazz Fest in its fifty-year history but also the passing of forty years since I was approached by Buddy Brimberg to do the 1980 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival poster. Buddy had conceived the numbered, limited-edition silkscreen posters for the Fest while in an entrepreneurship class at Tulane University in 1975. The Jazz Fest liked the concept and the venture had expanded to artist-signed posters, and in years since has become the most collected print series in the world.

I started showing Buddy my ideas as ink sketches and marker drawings on tissue paper. After showing him many directions, we decided to go with a gold-toothed New Orleans second line grand marshal as a subject. I then added a rainbow coming down from a musical note filled sky, wrapping around the hat to make a hatband, then continuing on to make the sash across his chest. We were both happy with the direction, and I proceeded to do my final drawings to use for cutting the masks for the silk screen printing process. 

Then I had second thoughts. I thought the poster could be better. I knew whatever I proposed as an alternative would have to have some of the same elements as the approved design. I did an initial thumbnail for myself, changing the grand marshal into a saxophone player, then a cut paper with white pencil layout adding palm trees and a large crescent moon, keeping the music note sky. I was much happier with this direction, but knew I had to do a more finished layout to sell changing the original design.

I did a tight comp using cut paper to simulate silk screen printing, and added two more sax players, along with making the musical notes appear to be raining down from a night sky. Against all odds, and not thinking I could change the design at such a late date, I approached Buddy with my new concept. He bought it!

Printed version of 1980 Jazz Fest poster.

Later in 1980, this poster was the first poster, of any kind, to be featured on the cover of the Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress.
The cover story, titled Posters-A Collectible Art Form, coincided with the Library’s exhibit in 1982, in Washington, DC, featuring a selection from their collection of over seventy-thousand posters.