SALT LAKE CITY — In his debut as a leader, a stone-faced John Coltrane posed for the cover of his “Coltrane” album, released by Prestige Records as catalogue 7105 in late 1957, with just his saxophone.
Released not too long after Coltrane was fired by legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis then retreated to Philadelphia to clean up his drug abuse, this Coltrane album would catapult his legendary career with his back against the wall.
Now, 62 years after Coltrane recorded his debut solo LP, the Utah Jazz have revisited this musical masterpiece in the Defensive Player of the Year campaign for Rudy Gobert.
Ahead of this year’s voting for the award, Gobert went full Coltrane-mode in the re-creation of “Coltrane/Prestige 7105” with “Gobert/Encore 2019.” The Jazz organization titled the album “Encore” to pay homage to Gobert’s home country and the fact that he is vying for his second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Encore means “again” in French, which also plays on a musical encore, and the Jazz wanted to play off the team name in some capacity by using an authentic jazz reference.
Each voting member of the media will receive the commemorative gold Gobert album, which highlights his achievements throughout the season. The record sleeve and insert were printed by California-based Dorado Music Packaging, and the record itself was produced by United Record Pressing in Nashville, but it doesn’t actually play music — it’s just for decoration.
Approximately 300 were pressed to send to voters before the process ends at 11:59 p.m. ET on Friday, April 12.
Unlike last season, the Jazz wanted to get started with the campaign before the All-Star break with research on legendary musicians and covers such as Davis, Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and many others. Ultimately, the debut Coltrane album was picked for several reasons.
“One, because if we’re going to replicate an album cover, we wanted something that didn’t look cheesy,” said Jazz art director Ben Barnes, who also designed all the team uniforms this season. “We didn’t want to put our player in any compromising position where he had to be looking like he’s playing an instrument.
“There’s a nice, intimidating stare that Coltrane has in this photo that I think fits Rudy’s demeanor. There’s a nice style to it,” he continued. “So, that’s really where we landed on this Coltrane cover and from there it was a matter of finding a photographer to match the style that we wanted because we knew this wasn’t our typical player photo shoot.”
Utah photographer Chad Kirkland came in to shoot Gobert on Feb. 25 at the Jazz’s practice facility in a room that was turned into a jazz lounge — equipped with a smoke machine and other things to set the mood.
Gobert quickly bought into the campaign with an hourlong shoot, even after a long day of practice. Then Barnes, senior designer Katie Bedigian and the in-house team went to work on the cover design once the shoot was complete.
“I think the hardest part was finding a big enough table for Rudy to put his arms on,” Barnes said. “He’s so big and then we had to track down a saxophone that kind of matched the style, too.”
“He’s not overexaggerating, finding a table big enough for his wingspan to create that pose was tricky,” added Derek Garduno, Utah’s vice president of communications.
Gobert’s jazz campaign includes a special track listing and other subtle references to try and sway voters. The process was lengthy with so much detail put into it, but the team relied on Executive Vice President Don Stirling for insight as an avid jazz fan, and he even ordered the rare physical copy from Japan.
What the team didn’t want was a cheesy awards campaign, like most teams, so they went all out with Coltrane as the inspiration. Gobert is averaging a career-high 15.7 points, 12.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game while leading the league in defensive win shares (5.5) and field goal percentage (67.0).
“It wasn’t cheap,” Garduno said of the campaign budget. “We didn’t spare any expense.
"We could’ve printed it locally probably cheaper, we could’ve just ordered some blank records and stuck them in there and had labels done here but going through an actual vinyl presser and an actual record sleeve manufacturer gave it the most authentic look.”