Flat and sassy

Poster art from Switzerland celebrates jazz greats

Katrina Wilber

Now this is a symbiotic relationship.

Swiss graphic designer Niklaus Troxler combines a love of jazz music with a similar affection for visual art to create an array of posters that advertise performances by jazz musicians.

“Hot & Cool: The Jazz Posters of Niklaus Troxler” includes 25 of the artist’s posters.

Troxler isn’t just a pioneer in the art of posters. He was influential in bringing jazz musicians to his hometown of Willisau, Switzerland, a move that grew into a four-day, four-night, Woodstock-style music festival. He’s designed and created posters for Thelonius Monk, Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, the Sam Rivers Quartet and innumerable other musicians who performed at Willisau.

Some wonder if Troxler makes posters because the artists are performing or if he gets the musicians to play so he can make the posters.

One of the most striking posters is an unsophisticated profile silhouette of a saxophonist in the middle of a tune. “Third Kind of Blue” isn’t a sharp, precise design; it looks as if Troxler took a penny and scratched out the shape as one would a lottery ticket. The blue background, somewhere in between royal blue and dark blue, brings a cool, crisp feeling to the piece.

A poster for the 29th Street Saxophone Quartet is reminiscent of the “Schoolhouse Rock” movie covers, with dancing buildings and walking saxophones that spit neon-colored notes. Another consists of an enormous treble clef sign with zigzags of green, pink, yellow and white.

The exhibit is aptly titled. Troxler’s posters are as unique as the artists they publicize. Some posters are so bright they could blind a viewer who stood too close, while others use such cool colors that icicles could form.

The genre of jazz is a broad one. It covers the transition from the ragtime piano music of Jelly Roll Morton and the revolutionary saxophonist John Coltrane. There are Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Miles Davis.

With such a wide variety of styles as inspiration, the genre of jazz art must also be broad. Troxler deftly navigates the dizzying world of jazz with posters that run the gamut from pen-and-ink style with a sporadic splash of color to typographic ones that use letters to create forms. He’s extraordinarily fond of blues and greens, reds and yellows. His color palette might be smaller than other artists’, but it’s not how big your palette is; it’s how you use it.

The posters vary from pure and simple to downright extravagant. From a distance, one looks like a plain U.S. flag, but a closer look reveals that the 50 stars have been replaced by music notes.

The exhibit explores various techniques and color schemes, and it’s wonderful to know that relationships like this can be found outside the science lab.