One thing about Miles Davis: he rarely just “mailed it in.”
So there’s a certain irony to the announcement that the U.S. Postal Service will issue a Miles Davis stamp this June.
Oh sure, there were some nights, shortly before his physical breakdown in the mid-70s, when he did appear to be simply going through the motions. (I know; I was there for a couple of them.) But by and large, the massively influential trumpeter had a well-earned reputation for treating each performance as a welcoming slate for new invention. It’s the main reason that listeners clamor for each newly discovered set of live recordings – such as the past year’s collection of bootlegs from Europe, the music still vital 45 years after its creation.
So no, “Miles” and “mailing it in” don’t really go together. On the other hand, it is a “forever stamp” – the designation for a stamp that retains a value equal to the ever spiraling cost of First-Class mail – and if there’s one adjective you can safely apply to Davis’s music and legacy, “forever” would seem to fit.
The stamp bears one of the many iconic photos made of Davis during his brilliantly episodic career. This one, by the late David Gahr, graced the cover of the album Tribute To Jack Johnson, after which it became the go-to image depicting Davis in between his suit-and-skinny-tie look of the 50s and 60s and the tripped-out hipster in Day-Glo clothes and bug-eyed shades of the 70s.
The USPS will issue the Davis stamp in tandem with a stamp honoring Edith Piaf, the French vocalist who emblematizes the classic chanteuse. Both stamps will be issued in partnership with La Poste, the national postal service of France, where Davis had an especially large and loyal following (and where he recorded two of his most memorable albums – the in-concert In Anitbes and the soundtrack to the film noir known in English as Elevator To The Gallows).
Last spring, the USPS issued a jazz “forever stamp”, that used a stylized illustration of a generic combo (no longer available). In 1994, they offered a set of 10 stamps depicting jazz musicians including Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, Thelonious Monk, emblazoned with the price of a first-class letter at that time – 32 cents.
Davis died in September 1991, so there’s something else ironic, but entirely fitting, about this honor: it arrives with all the timely expedience we’ve come to expect from the US Mail.