In life and music, Miles Davis was rebellious and uncompromising, always taking music in his own direction and forging new paths in jazz. Before his death in 1991, he was considered a living legend. His “Birth of the Cool” album (Capitol Records, 1949) set the stage for the West Coast cool jazz scene.
His 1965-1968 quintet with pianist Herbie Hancock, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams proved to be one of the most influential jazz groups in history. He then set the jazz world on fire while upsetting the jazz police and purists with his genius concept of jazz fusion, recording such albums as “Bitches Brew,” “A Tribute to Jack Johnson” and “On the Corner” (Columbia).
Davis’ music will inspire musicians for many generations to come, but now his image will also be preserved around the world with the U.S. Postal Service and La Poste of France’s issuance of Miles Davis and Edith Piaf commemorative stamps.
Piaf, forever associated with her hometown of Paris, is one of the few popular French singers to become a household name in the United States. She toured the United States 10 times and sang twice at Carnegie Hall. In 1960, she discovered the defiant song that would become her anthem, “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” (“No Regrets”).
Americans may know 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. The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Likewise, Davis has a strong contingency of fans in France, where he performed frequently and was made a Chevalier in the Legion of Honor. He was awarded the Grande Medaille de Vermeil by the city of Paris–the equivalent of making him an honorary citizen–which was presented to him by Jacques Chirac, then mayor of Paris and later president of France.
“These musical greats never performed alongside each other, so the U.S. Postal Service and France’s La Poste are now bringing them together on these new stamps,” stated U.S. Postal Service Deputy Postmaster General Ronald Stroman at the special dedication ceremony held at the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan.
“With our Miles Davis and Edith Piaf stamps, our goal is to encourage more people to learn about these artists and the unique form of musical diplomacy they practiced,” added Stroman. “Like the music of Miles and Edith and the friendship between America and France, these stamps will last forever.”
Joining Stroman to dedicate the new Forever stamps were Emmy Award-winning actress Cicely Tyson; Sirius/XM Program Director Mark Ruffin; Carter; musician and producer Don Was, currently chief creative officer of Blue Note Records; Columbia Records music executive George Avakian; musician Jon Barnes; and members of the Davis family, including daughter Cheryl, son Erin and nephew Vince Wilburn Jr. A musical tribute was performed by the Juilliard School of Music, Davis’ alma mater.
This is the first time the United States and France have jointly issued a stamp since 1989, when both countries honored the bicentennial of the French Revolution.
“The whole day was surreal, it’s hard to describe. I’m still floating from yesterday’s event,” said Wilburn Jr. “My uncle’s music will live forever, just like his new Forever stamp.”
Art director Greg Breeding designed the stamps using an undated, black-and-white photo of Piaf made by Studio Harcourt Paris and a black-and-white photo of Davis from 1970, taken by David Gahr, the same photo that was used for the cover of Davis’ album “A Tribute to Jack Johnson.”
“My family is very grateful and honored to have a commemorative stamp recognizing the important cultural legacy of my father, Miles Davis,” stated Erin Davis. “We sincerely thank the U.S. Postal Service and all of the dedicated fans who stepped up to support this initiative. We’re so touched and we really appreciate all the heartfelt work that went into making this a reality. Thank you.”
The Miles Davis and Edith Piaf stamps also feature a historic first, as a QR code is printed on the back of the stamps. The code can be scanned with a smart phone, causing a landing page to open with an option to listen to Davis’ music while viewing photographs and a timeline of the lives of both Davis and Piaf.
“It’s about time. Picasso has a stamp, so Miles should have a stamp,” said Lenny White, drummer and Miles band alumnus. “Miles changed the face of music many, many times. There should be as many accolades as for Lady Gaga. Miles is the real American idol.”
During the stamp dedication ceremony, Grammy Award-winning composer Mike Stoller stated, “Piaf was the little sparrow, a small person physically whose monumental voice made her internationally famous. For people everywhere in the world, her voice was the voice of Paris.”
The Davis and Piaf stamps are being issued as Forever stamps in self-adhesive sheets of 20, with 10 of each design, and are being sold at a price of 45 cents each or $9 per sheet. Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First Class mail one-ounce rate. The U.S. version of the stamps went on sale Tuesday at post offices nationwide. The U.S. version and La Poste versions can be purchased in the United States online at usps.com.
A second Davis stamp dedication is scheduled for Los Angeles on June 27 at the Hollywood Bowl’s Museum Terrace from 7-8 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. The dedication will be followed by the Hancock-hosted “Miles Davis Celebration” concert at the Hollywood Bowl featuring Marcus Miller, the Miles Electric Band (featuring Wilburn on drums) and Kind of Blue: Jimmy Cobb’s “So What” Band. For ticket information, please visit hollywoodbowl.com.