Jazz Stamp for USPS
posted: December 28, 2010

One day last year the friendly voice of Howard Paine was on the phone asking me if I’d like to design a jazz stamp for the US Postal Service. Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and about a dozen others have been honored with stamps in the past, and in 2008 Michael Bartalos designed a wonderful Latin Jazz stamp, but there has never been a single stamp to pay tribute to America’s original art form, jazz.
It’s always an honor to design a postage stamp, and because I love jazz and have great respect for the history of the music, this one was very special to me. I started by thinking of all the artists I admire from the past who have created visual art with connections to jazz. I was going to have to rise to the occasion and deliver a design that would sit well in my mind with those images, or I knew I’d feel bad about it for a long time.
David Stone Martin did hundreds of record covers throughout the 1950-60s. The design on the left was a big,big influence on my thinking for this one....

The legendary Alex Steinweiss invented the album cover and created thousands of designs for Columbia Records and others....

My favorite American painter Stuart Davis knew how to make a painting swing, and he made this 5-cent stamp in 1964 to honor the fine arts....

The only requirements Howard gave me was that the letters J-A-Z-Z appear in the design and that no recognizable performer be depicted. Beyond that, he left it in my hands as to how to communicate the feeling of jazz. I thought that the best way to proceed was to design three stamps and show them as completed designs. If I took three different approaches, I might improve my chances of getting the Stamp Advisory Committee to approve one, and by taking each design to a finished stage I could refine all the elements to a level that I’d be happy with and would eliminate any guesswork in the approval process.

Finished comps...

The first sketch carries a lot of Stuart Davis’ influence with a red, white and blue palette and abstracted instrument shapes mixed into the letter-forms. The second design takes a more geometric approach to the letters-and-instruments idea and includes some musician’s hands.
A lot had to be worked out before this idea could be shown....

The third design was the one that I felt best about, and it was the one I most wanted to be chosen. It shows a combo hard at work on the bandstand or recording studio. The big challenge was in the interplay between the letter-forms and the drawings of the musicians. A limited palette of orange, black, grey, tan and white carried the feeling of a late-night scene without getting into too much detail.
It turned out that design three was approved very quickly with only a couple of small fine-tuning suggestions and a request to add a female singer into the scene. The singer could have been a problem, it’s not always easy to add another element to something that has been so worked out, but I was able to add her to the top left corner of the design.  Also, 2011 is the first year that all stamps will be “Forever” stamps, so the word "Forever" replaces the 44-cent number. From a design standpoint, I’ll miss the graphic element of a numeral in the designs, but it makes economic sense for the customer and the USPS.
I had the opportunity to show the design to the great Alex Steinweiss when I visited him last year in Florida. I laid a top-secret test-print on him while I was finishing up the project....

The stamp will be issued in March 2011with the official ceremony in the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans.
Marc December 29, 2010
Love this piece, Paul, and this post. The sketch leading up to the final design is great to see--the complexity of that sketch simplified into the final composition is magic.
Dave Wittekind December 29, 2010
Love this piece. It's tricky to bring so many disparate elements together into a cohesive whole, but you really pulled it off well. Like good jazz. :)
Tim OBrien December 29, 2010
Quite an honor. I would love to go to that stamp unveiling. Have fun and make sure you're there!
Scott Bakal December 29, 2010 knocked this one out of the park! Great, great piece of art there and congratulations on doing a stamp. I can't wait to buy a sheet of these.
laura l December 29, 2010
Ellen Weinstein December 29, 2010
Gorgeous piece! The sketches are really beautiful as well. How wonderful that you showed it to Alex Steinweiss. I look forward to getting these myself.
Flaherty December 29, 2010
John Dykes December 29, 2010
Designing a stamp is one of today's best illustration projects, and you did it masterfully. I really like the way you worked on the 3 completed designs... Congrats!
Daniel Fishel December 29, 2010
Fantastic work Paul! I really love this piece.
Joe Ciardiello December 29, 2010
Wonderful job Paul. Smart choice picking #3.
Craig Frazier December 29, 2010
Perfect guy for the job! Really nice Paul. Congrats, a high honor.
WADE December 29, 2010
high five
PjbFlynn December 29, 2010
Can hardly wait to stick this one on my most special letters and announcements. A very fine design for the USPS, congratulations on a job well done.
Patrick Hruby December 29, 2010
I'll be the first in line! I can't wait Paul.
Douglas Fraser December 29, 2010
Beautifully done, and paying homage elegantly & respectfully on so several levels. Perfect match of illustrator & assignment.
Victor Juhasz December 30, 2010
So looking forward to using these incredible stamps. Just beautiful.
sock December 30, 2010
awesome well done paul as you may know i bought steinweiss's library about 12 yrs ago. good t see him alive and kicking. great job on the stamp design. you're pumping out some jewels lately
Alex Nabaum December 30, 2010
Only an amazing designer could pull off that composition. Fantastic!
Richard Downs December 30, 2010
Great job and congratulations, Paul!
Jim Paillot December 30, 2010
Paul, this is terrific! I can't wait to start using them.
Noah Woods December 31, 2010
Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.
Brandon Reese December 31, 2010
Wow! Just great! Congratulations Paul. I will not waste these on bills.
Calef Brown December 31, 2010
Congrats Paul, it's beautiful!
Ward Jenkins December 31, 2010
Amazing, work, Paul! Love the progression and seeing the influences. And the end result is perfect! Congrats!
Curious Art December 31, 2010
I was blown away by this design when I saw it on the USPS site. (In fact I said to myself, "There's my stamp for 2011-- maybe forever!") I wondered who designed it-- thanks to Ward for tweeting both credit & link! Congratulations on a splendid design that perfectly expresses the subject.
Maura Cluthe January 1, 2011
wow - I love the stamp, Paul! Wonderful! Great post, too. Fun to read about your process & influences. How cool that you had the opportunity to meet Alex Steinweiss and show him the design as well! Wow! Cheers :) (thanks for the tweet, Ward!)
Simon J Fletcher January 2, 2011
I have to agree with David Wittikind, it really does look like Jazz! Congratulations, it really is a fantastic example of the balance between form and content.
Dave Diamond January 2, 2011
Paul. Always a pleasure visiting your work, particularly guessing which film your representing in your drawings. Must be thrilling to design a stamp for the U.S. postal service. Good wishes and a prosperous new year Paul.
Harry January 2, 2011
You're the man for the job, well done. Love Steinweiss and what a thrill it must have been to meet him and get his opinion. wow.
Greg Clarke January 3, 2011
Beautiful Paul. Love the organic gray-green stroke against the clean lines.
Jeff Kent January 3, 2011
Excellent, thanks so much for giving the World some more Jazz.
Aaron Spurgeon January 10, 2011
SOOO Fantastic!!!
Shout January 21, 2011
beautiful one Paul, congrats
Mr Tambourine Man February 28, 2011
I don't know if you are allowed to sell posters or shirts of these, but I'd be very interested in buying them if you did. Congrats.
Ed March 25, 2011
Great design! Thanks for the turn on to David Stone Martin.
NDband1 April 4, 2011
How wonderful that the stamp says "Jazz forever." Great work!
Christopher Marion Thomas April 8, 2011
You are an inspiration. Congratulations Paul. Play it again Sam? :)
Gail Boyd April 13, 2011
The only stamp that I will use from now on. Great design.
Bob Herndon April 15, 2011
Will there ever be a frame-able print of this?
Paul Rogers April 15, 2011
Bob, Sometimes the USPS makes prints of popular stamps, I haven't heard any news of this one yet.
FrameWorks April 19, 2011
One of the coolest stamp designs in recent years. Thanks for the peek into your creative process.
Al Quagliata May 23, 2011
Paul, I really love this design and just purchased some of these stamps today. Is a poster version available, perhaps through USPS? That would be great, to be able to own this design in a size suitable for framing.
Julia June 4, 2011
Paul, I LOVE this stamp! Just bought a sheet today and want to have it framed. I too, would love to by it as a poster. Thank you so much for showing your process. Wonderful work!
Elizabeth January 8, 2012
Hello, I love your stamp. You are so creative!! Our son's name is Jazz and I would love to have a poster of your stamp design framed in his room. Do you have a poster I could purchase?
Paul Rogers January 9, 2012
Hi Elizabeth, Thanks for the kind words. The USPS owns the copyright to the Jazz Stamp image. They sometimes make poster prints of popular stamps available. You could try contacting them on Facebook or on their blog 626 564 8728