Among the challenges of working on a top-secret assignment the most nail-biting one is awaiting the launch; you have to discover it on your own. In this case The United States Postal Service announced the launch of JAZZ in the USA Philatelic catalog and the online extension of the catalog called Beyond the Perf. What a thrill to have the word “FOREVER” associated with your work. Paul will walk us through the project:

“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.

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.

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.

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.”

Blurb on Beyond the Perf about the Stamp:

With this stamp, the U.S. Postal Service is proud to pay tribute to jazz, America's musical gift to the world, and to the musicians who play it on festival stages as well as in studios, clubs, and concert halls. Art director Howard Paine designed the stamp to showcase the work of Paul Rogers, an artist living in Pasadena, California. In creating the art for the stamp, originally using ink on paper and then finishing his work digitally, Rogers explored the way images could become a visual equivalent of jazz music. He was inspired by the cover art from vintage jazz record albums, work that captured the music's improvisational quality while built on a clear understanding of its underlying structure.

More detailed research for the design on Paul's blog: