Miles Davis Honored with Forever Stamp

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The rumours from earlier this week that the United States Post Office is issuing a Miles Davis stamp based on the iconic trumpeting pose from the Jack Johnson LP cover have been confirmed today.  According to milesdavis.com, “the joint issuance of new Forever stamps honoring two of the world’s greatest musicians, Miles Davis and Edith Piaf…will be issued with the French postal service, La Poste, in June… Americans may know Edith Piaf best for her cheerful song “La Vie en Rose” (“Life In Pink”), about the experience of falling in love and seeing life through rose-colored glasses; the tune is still heard on the streets of Paris today…Art director Greg Breeding designed the stamps using a black-and-white photo of Davis from 1970 by David Gahr and an undated black-and-white photo of Piaf … The Miles Davis and Edith Piaf stamps are being issued as Forever stamps in self-adhesive sheets of 20 (10 of each design)… At the time of issuance, the Miles Davis and Edith Piaf stamps are being sold at a price of 45 cents each, or $9 per sheet… view the Miles Davis and Edith Piaf Forever stamps, as well as many of this year’s other stamps on Facebook at facebook.com/USPSStamps, through Twitter @USPSstamps or on the website Beyond the Perf at beyondtheperf.com/2012-preview. Beyond the Perf is the Postal Service’s online site for background on upcoming stamp subjects, first-day-of-issue events and other philatelic news.” 

As mentioned above, the stamp uses the cover photo of Miles’ 1971 fusion masterpiece Jack Johnson.  Listen below to the entire A-side of the LP. “Right Off” – featuring John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Billy Cobham, Sonny Sharrock, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette and others:

A few thoughts on Miles:

Davis was not the most virtuosic trumpeter – and he doesn’t even play horn on some of his mid-70s records, just droning organ – but his impact on trumpet-playing is as unescapable as his influence on improvisers of all instruments.  What’s more, no jazz-based player has shaped so much music outside of that field as Miles has.  Everyone from James Brown to Prince, The Grateful Dead to Radiohead, Jimi Hendrix to The Flaming Lips have applied Miles’ ideas in their music.  Likewise, that many of his fans aren’t particularly interested in jazz is testament to the transcending pull of his playing.  According to a popular cliché, back in the day people that didn’t have record collections per se were still likely to have one Miles Davis LP.  For some, it was make-out music.  Others painted to it.  Or cleaned the house. Or anything…
It was and remains music to remember what it means to be a living, breathing, playing, thinking, feeling, creative being…

It’s been said so many times before, but it bears repeating: Miles ability to play “negative space” is peerless.  Many jazzers played a crowded style, particularly in the ’50s as the hard bop movement he helped spearhead blossomed.  Their technique was dazzling, but in effect, obscured their ideas.  Miles was able to accent just the right notes, make the “wrong” notes seem right and – most importantly – cut everything else out.  If we all applied these concept to the “improvisation” of our daily lives – if we could focus on what was truly valuable and assess our situations to make every mishap become just what we needed – we would transform the world just like Miles transcended it. 

Last spring Life posted 13 previously unpublished photos of Davis in 1958, including the one shown to the right of Miles clownishly sticking his tongue out.  Miles is typically portrayed as a moody man – a dark artiste who’s favorite word was “motherfucker” – and photographs of him tend to play up this image.  But there was more to the person and artist than that caricature, as this photo wonderful shows.

Miles’ records aren’t merely important for documenting one of the foremost 20th century musicians, but also for representing philosophies of living well.  They remind us to be open to changes and possibilities, be creative, resist stagnation especially when it’s comfortable, recognize talent in others and help them grow, focus on what is (not your preconception of what should be), cut out what’s unnecessary, find your own voice, keep a beginner’s mind, and on and on…

…and they remind us that sometimes, doing something playful – like sticking out one’s tongue – is just what’s needed…

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