Ever wonder about the origins of that cup?

Where did it come from?

Jazz Charcoal Sketches
Gina Ekiss with Jazz Cup

It all started back in 1989 when the Sweetheart Cup Company held an internal contest to create a new stock image for their disposable goods. External agency submissions just weren't cutting it; they were too complicated for the printing process. Graphic designer Gina Ekiss, then a recent graduate of Missouri State University, was a member of Sweetheart's 32 person art department based in Springfield, Missouri. Little could she have predicted the monumental impact she would later have on the art world.

After drafting 3 or 4 different ideas, Ekiss' final version was ultimately accepted as the new face of the Sweetheart Cup Company. With a flick of the wrist and and a few charcoal strokes on vellum, she had created one of the most profoundly moving abstract pieces the world has ever seen. The design was based on an image Ekiss had created in college, then called Razzi. She changed the name to Jazz because it just sounded right to her (and indeed, it does somehow perfectly capture its essence). Teal and purple were digitally chosen because they were Ekiss' favorite colors (mine too!)

1992 Jazz Calendar

Production of the Jazz product line began in 1992, and Ekiss' work quickly found its way into a plethora of areas: hospitals, fast food restaurants, schools, homes, bowling alleys, and skate rinks all across the country adorned themselves with the bold new design. The world as a whole was suddenly more lively, an interjection of vivid colors mandating that even something as disposable as a paper cup, bowl, or plate could be a beautiful work of art. Astonishingly, though her artwork is one of the most recognizable images in recent history, Ekiss did not receive any sort of financial prize for winning the contest, nor did she even receive any royalties. Her work speaks for itself, however, as in 2002, the Sweetheart Cup Company acknowledged that it was their greatest success.

In 2004, the Sweetheart Cup Company was purchased by the Solo Cup Company.

Jazz products continue to be manufactured to this day, albeit in far fewer quantities. Slowly but surely, public instances of Jazz cups dwindled until they were a rare sight.

The Sphinx lost its nose trying to sniff out any culprits with a devious lack of respect for Jazz, and Venus de Milo lost her arms in attempt to reach out to the people of the world to bring Jazz back to the forefront of society.

Well, ok, maybe that isn't how it went down, but it sure feels like it.

Solo Jazz Cup

How is it relevant today?

Jazz Logo (White Background)

Today, the Jazz design remains a fondly remembered and well-regarded staple of nostalgia. Many have taken to reproducing the famous image in all sorts of cool and unexpected ways: shirts, tattoos, stickers, car decals, and illustrations alike have all featured Jazz. It's a recognizable symbol which brings us together and unites us all under the banner of good-natured fun. Just what is it about the image that resonates with so many?

As with all great works of art, there is beauty in limitation and scarcity. Were humans merely interested in the complete recreation of reality, we would only value the pragmatic. That isn't the case, however. We adore the abstract and imperfect. We still make 8-bit video games, we still collect vinyl records, and we still take black-and-white filtered photographs. There is beauty and art in all of these things, yet we have seemingly surpassed them from an objective, technical level. In the modern age, we are better able to reproduce and interact with art across all mediums, yet we still enjoy these glimpses into the past. Because the value of art is only what we see in it. A picture of a sailboat is objectively the finest recreation of a sailboat one can view without observing the real thing, but a paint-splatter portrait of a sailboat can deeply move us and connect with us in a way reality oddly enough can't.

That is why the Jazz symbol is so important, and why we must preserve it.

Jazz Pizzazz Resources

Resources

Wikipedia Logo

Wikipedia entry

Smithsonian Logo

Smithsonian Magazine

Springfield News-Leader Logo

Hometown article