Few American musicians have been as sorely missed and extravagantly praised as Jimi Hendrix. The guitar great died waaaaay too young but did manage in a few shorts years as recording artist to create an impressive body of work, one that continues to influence artists across many genres of music, including jazz and blues.
The U.S. Postal Service is honoring Hendrix with a commemorative Forever stamp, created by artist Rudy Gutierrez. It was issued last week. Here’s the lowdown.
The image, which resembles a vintage 45 rpm record sleeve, references the butterflies from Hendrix's song “Little Wing,” a third-eye symbol to represent the guitarist's spiritual side and a petroglyph to symbolize his Native American heritage. Hendrix is depicted wearing one of his signature military jackets and playing one of his white Fender Stratocaster guitars.
I admire Hendrix not just as an amazing guitar innovator but as a singer and songwriter. His death was a remarkable loss for anyone who appreciates not just music but the adventurous human spirit. Where might Hendrix have taken us over the ensuing decades?
Well, we know that on his short list of projects was a jazz-rock collaboration with Miles Davis. The two men hung out together and greatly influenced each other, as a 2006 piece from American Heritage magazine notes.
Miles Davis met with Hendrix frequently and the two giants planned to record at least one album together. Countless musicians cite Davis as a major influence, but with Hendrix it was the other way around. Davis always credited him as a chief inspiration for his seminal 1970 “Bitches Brew” album, which marked the birth of jazz fusion. The track “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” is a tribute both to Hendrix’s love of jazz and blues and to the funk that he was dabbling in during the last years of his life.
Famed journalist Al Aronowitz knew both and had this to say about their relationship.
Miles and Jimi hadn't known each other too long, but in the short time they did they had gotten pretty tight. Jimi was one of those kids who had grown up worshipping Miles as Miles kept getting younger. Which black kid who loved music had never heard of Miles Davis? For as long as Jimi could remember, Miles had been a legend to him, and it was only when he felt secure enough as a legend that he came to sit at Miles' feet and ask Miles to record an album with him.
Miles is a teacher, but Miles learned something from Jimi, too. Miles learned something about rhythms and something about phrasing and something about the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. It was Jimi who became the final inspiration to move Miles to renounce the classical forms of jazz, many of them created by Miles himself, and to start playing the rock halls. Miles knew how to stay as young as any kid. What Miles wanted to find out was how come a kid like Jimi could make $50,000 in one night when Miles still couldn't make $10,000.
And then there was the tantalizing prospect of a band with Miles, Jimi, Paul McCartney and Tony Williams. The Beatles office received a telegram in 1969 reading: “We are recording an LP together this weekend in New York STOP How about coming in to play bass STOP call Alan Douglas 212-581 2212. -- Peace Jimi Hendrix Miles Davis Tony Williams.”
That project never came together. Davis attended Hendrix’s funeral in Seattle.
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