Miles Davis: Feeling the Pulse

When his fingers were pressing the valves of his trumpet, they might as well have been on America’s pulse. At every curve in the culture, Davis was there.

This folio features biographies of Miles Davis and Edith Piaf, as well as a sheet of 20 stamps and two First Day of Issue cards (click image for more information).

Throughout his career, Davis set the trends. He wasn’t yet 20 years old when he made his first recordings in the 1940s, including “Now’s the Time” and other early bebop tunes. Then, in 1949, he made recordings with a nine-piece band that, after their initial release, were reissued under the title Birth of the Cool. While bebop is characterized by fast tempos and virtuosic improvisation, “cool” jazz is quieter, more melodic, and gave more emphasis to arranged ensembles as frames for improvised solos. With his understated, lyrical playing and charismatic personal style, Davis became known as the embodiment of the “cool” aesthetic.

Davis remained in the forefront of jazz musicians in subsequent decades, with notable forays into jazz-rock fusion and funk. His restless musical exploration sometimes confounded critics and fans, while making him a hero to others. Kind of Blue, the best-selling jazz album of all time, was recorded in 1959. Notwithstanding its listener-friendly playing, the album represented a formal breakthrough in jazz composing. All of the songs were modal compositions, with each musician improvising around a scale instead of harmonies or chord progressions, resulting in simpler, “thinner” sound than was typical of other jazz styles such as bebop.

Little more than a decade later, Davis made another bold, experimental move by fusing jazz and rock on masterpieces such as In a Silent Way (1969) and Bitches Brew (1970). On these albums, electronic instrumentation and studio technology radically changed the character of his music; in another sign of the changing times, the fine suits Davis customarily wore gave way to bellbottom trousers and vests.

Later in his career, Davis moved into funk, attempting to win new listeners with works such as On the Corner (1972). He recorded albums such as Tutu (1986) in a layered studio process, playing his solos over pre-recorded backgrounds.

“As a musician and as an artist,” Davis wrote in his Autobiography, “I have always wanted to reach as many people as I could through my music.” One of the countless people he reached was the singer and songwriter Joni Mitchell. “Miles,” she once told him as he came off stage, “you played beautifully.” “Never mind that,” he replied. “How’d I look?”

The Miles Davis and Edith Piaf (Forever®) stamps are available online and in Post Offices nationwide.

Name, image and likeness of Miles Davis with permission from Miles Davis Properties, LLC.
Edith Piaf Photograph by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Miles Davis Photograph © 2011, the estate of David Gahr. All rights reserved.

Inspire Your Students With New School Days & American Ways Calendar

For generations, stamp collectors have understood the historical and cultural connections stamps have with the pulse of America, which makes them wonderful teaching tools. Each stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service is a snapshot in time, capturing interesting bits of Americana throughout our history.

With our 2012–2013 School Days & American Ways Calendar, educators can inspire their students to learn about our country through stamps. Our poster-sized calendars include monthly themes that correspond with primary-grade curricula in history, geography, science, and language arts. Important dates and relevant postage stamp images are added throughout the months to help connect individual stamps to classroom subjects.

The 28-page Teaching Guide will help you coordinate these monthly themes into well-rounded lesson plans. The guide includes ideas for interactive learning activities that will help engage students, such as journaling, small group work, art projects, games, and class discussions.

Stamps make wonderful teaching tools that can help spark curiosity in young learners. You can learn more about all of our instructional products online at the Postal Store.

The Picasso of Jazz

Miles Davis was one of the most important musicians of his era. While beloved in many countries around the world, he is a particular favorite in France, where he performed frequently and was made a Chevalier in the Legion of Honor, roughly equivalent to being knighted. The French culture minister who presented the award on July 16, 1991, described Davis as “the Picasso of jazz.” The comparison is apt: Davis was a creative genius who changed the course of jazz multiple times during his career.

With his understated, lyrical playing and charismatic personal style, Davis became known as the embodiment of the “cool” aesthetic—but his talent on the trumpet was certainly hot. Davis made his first 16 known studio recordings before the age of 19, and for decades after was in the forefront of jazz musicians, setting trends and exploring musical styles from bebop through cool jazz, fusion, and funk.

The Miles Davis and Edith Piaf joint issue with France celebrates a lively musical conversation between nations. Issued in June, the commemorative stamps pay tribute to two groundbreaking artists who crossed international barriers with their music.

Name, image and likeness of Miles Davis with permission from Miles Davis Properties, LLC.

Happy Bastille Day!

Happy Bastille Day, everyone! Otherwise known as French National Day, Bastille Day is celebrated every year on July 14 to commemorate the beginning of France’s historic revolution. On this date in 1789, revolutionaries stormed the Bastille fortress and prison in Paris. Since then, this day has come to symbolize Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Freedom, Equality, and Brotherhood) the world over.

In 1989, USPS joined France’s La Poste in issuing stamps that marked the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. And just last month we teamed up again for a joint issuance that celebrates our shared cultural history—the Miles Davis and Edith Piaf (Forever®) stamps. Edith Piaf is one of few French popular singers to become a household name in the U.S.; the great American jazz trumpeter Miles Davis is beloved in France, where he performed frequently.

Davis was made a Chevalier in the Legion of Honor. He was also awarded the Grande Médaille de Vermeil by the city of Paris (the equivalent of making him an honorary citizen). Americans may know Edith Piaf best for her 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.

This year, to celebrate Bastille Day, why not relax with some music by Miles Davis and Edith Piaf?

To see all USPS joint issues, including the 1986 Statue of Liberty and 1983 American Bicentennial with La Poste, visit Beyond the Perf.

Name, image and likeness of Miles Davis with permission from Miles Davis Properties, LLC.

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

It’s Cinco de Mayo, everyone!

On this day in 1862, Mexico made a dramatic military stand against France—considered at the time the greatest military power in the world. Although France overwhelmed Mexico just a year later, the date is remembered for the small Mexican army’s improbable victory over a superior French force. The successful campaign was so stunning that it kindled a newfound spirit of nationalism and resolve to defend the country’s sovereignty. “¡Viva el Cinco de Mayo!” echoed across the proud nation. By 1867, after the withdrawal of French troops, Mexico had finally regained its freedom.

Today, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in festive style, particularly in the United States, where the celebration has gradually emerged as an opportunity for Mexican Americans to express pride in their heritage and solidarity with the entire Latin-American community. The day is marked by a fun festival atmosphere with parades, traditional foods, dancing, and the music of mariachi and other bands.

What are you doing to celebrate?