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Love Letters: Jazz And Stamps

The Ella Fitzgerald stamp, introduced in 2007. USPS hide caption

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The Ella Fitzgerald stamp, introduced in 2007.


Just in time for Valentine's Day comes a CD of recordings from Ella Fitzgerald brought to you by ... the US Postal Service.

Yes, the US Postal Service. Well, with a little help from Concord Records.

Love Letters From Ella is the name of the compilation, and it's being sold at 3,200 select Post Offices around the country. It's a special edition reissue of a 2007 Concord release featuring performances from the mid-to-late 1970s through the early 1980s. She's paired with the Count Basie Orchestra, guitarist Joe Pass, pianist Andre Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra.

The package also includes a reproduction of the USPS stamp issued in Fitzgerald's honor on Jan. 10, 2007, designed by artist Paul Davis and stamp designer Ethel Kessler. The Ella Fitzgerald stamp was issued in 2007 and is another example of jazz being recognized by the mainstream as an important part of our collective social fabric.

I'm not looking to take on those of you who say that issuing a stamp is a far cry from real recognition and respect. It just got me thinking about stamps with jazz musicians on them, and it turns out that the US Postal Service and jazz musicians do have a bit of history:

The first stamp to feature a jazz musician was issued on May 17, 1969, honoring W.C. Handy. (The first stamp to honor an African American was issued on Apr. 7, 1940, and featured Booker T. Washington.)

Duke Ellington was honored in 1986; Dinah Washington was included in a series dedicated to rock 'n' roll / rhythm & blues in 1993; and vocalists Mildred Bailey and Billie Holiday were included with the Blues Singers collection in 1994.

The stamp dedicated to Latin Jazz. USPS hide caption

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The stamp dedicated to Latin Jazz.


On Sept. 16, 1995, jazz got its own stamp series, featuring Louis Armstrong, Eubie Blake, John Coltrane, Erroll Garner, Coleman Hawkins, James P. Johnson, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus and Jelly Roll Morton. The entire series was designed by Dean Mitchell of Overland Park, Kan., and Thomas Blackshear of Colorado Springs, Colo. Count Basie, Benny Goodman and others were included in a series on big bands in 1996.

Eleven years later Ella Fitzgerald received her own philatelic moment as part of a series called Black Heritage.

Latin jazz also has a presence, with a Tito Puente stamp issued in 1996 as part of a series honoring Latin Music. Puente has an entire Post Office dedicated to him in the East Harlem neighborhood where he grew up. And in September 2008, I attended the unveiling of a stamp dedicated to Latin Jazz itself, which featured a performance by legendary percussionist Candido Camero.

As recognition goes, you can do far worse than having a stamp drawn in your honor. I remember waiting in line at the Post Office to buy a handful of sheets of the 1995 jazz series. In those pre-e-mail days, it inspired me to write a few more letters than I was used to just to show off the cool stamps.

You can still get many of the jazz-themed stamps, although you'll have to order them online from the Postal Service because many Post Offices don't carry back-issue stamps. But I bet your friends and family would dig getting something in the snail mail from you instead of one of those online e-cards.

Especially if it has a hip jazz stamp.