John Coltrane, 1926 – 1967

September 23, 1926 – John Coltrane, American saxophonist and composer.

“Trane” worked in the bebop and hard bop idioms early in his career, and helped pioneer the use of modes in jazz and was later at the forefront of free jazz. He led at least fifty recording sessions during his career, and appeared as a sideman on many albums by other musicians, including trumpeter Miles Davis and pianist Thelonius Monk.

As his career progressed, Coltrane and his music took on an increasingly spiritual dimension. Coltrane influenced innumerable musicians, and remains one of the most significant saxophonists in music history. He received many posthumous awards and recognitions, including canonization by the African Orthodox Church as Saint John William Coltrane and a special Pulitzer Prize in 2007.  His second wife was pianist Alice Coltrane and their son Ravi is also a saxophonist.

Shown here today is a First Day Cover with a very nice cachet picturing Trane with a soprano sax.  The 32-cent stamp was issued by the U.S. Postal Service in 1995 as part of its Jazz Musicians series.  Also shown is the cover of one of Trane’s more spiritual works, “A Love Supreme”.  My dear friend Arthur Fowler introduced me to this record and I am forever grateful to him for doing so.  It remains as one of my favorite jazz recordings of all time.





Sultan Abdul Hamid II of Turkey

September 22, 1842: Birthdate of  Abdul Hamid II who issued a firman in 1889 stating “That there shall be no interference with the Jews’ places of devotional visits and of pilgrimage, that are situated in the localities which are dependent on the Chief Rabbinate, nor with the practice of their ritual.”  (Mitchell Levin)

Abdul Hamid II was the 34th sultan of Turkey, who ruled from 1876 to 1909.  While his policy (stated above) towards the Jews in his country was lenient, his regime was autocratic and was effectively a brutal dictatorship which was responsible for government-led pogroms and massacres of Armenians and Bulgarians.

Despite his conservatism and despotic rule, some modernization of the Ottoman Empire occurred during Abdul Hamid’s long reign, including reform of the bureaucracy, the enhancement of the country’s railways, the establishment of a system for population registration and control over the press and the founding of the first modern law school in 1898. The most far-reaching of these reforms were in education: professional schools were established. The University of Istanbul, although shut down by Abdul Hamid himself in 1881, was reopened in 1900, and a network of secondary, primary, and military schools was extended throughout the empire. Railway and telegraph systems were developed by primarily German firms.  (Wikipedia)

Shown here is a 1-piastre postage due stamp from 1908, bearing the tughra (official seal) of Abdul Hamid II.  The stamp is listed in the Michel catalog as #TR P29 and in the Yvert Tellier catalog as TR T41.


Old Faithful

September 18, 1870 – Old Faithful Geyser is observed and named by Henry D. Washburn during the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition to Yellowstone.

Old Faithful is a cone geyser located in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, United States. Old Faithful was the first geyser in the park to receive a name an it is one of the most predictable geothermal features on Earth.  Since 2000, it has erupted every 44 to 125 minutes.

Eruptions can shoot 3,700 to 8,400 US gallons (14,000 to 32,000 L) of boiling water to a height of 106 to 185 feet (32 to 56 m) lasting from 1.5 to 5 minutes. The average height of an eruption is 145 feet (44 m).  Intervals between eruptions can range from 35 to 120 minutes, averaging 66.5 minutes in 1939, slowly increasing to an average of 90 minutes apart today. (from Wikipedia)

The U.S. Postal Service has issued 3 stamps featuring the geyser.  The first was a 5-cent stamp commemorating Yellowstone National Park on July 30, 1934 as part of the National Parks series (Scott No. 744).  In imperforate variety of this stamp was also printed (Scott No. 760).  The second is an 8-cent stamp issued as a part of the 1972 National Parks Centennial series (Scott No. 1453).  The most recent issue is a $17.50 Express Mail stamp which pictures the geyser and a buffalo in the foreground (Scott No. 4379).


Catholics and the Munich Massacre

September 9, 1972: In a highly unusual move, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops…called for prayers…on behalf of the Israeli athletes who were murdered by Arab terrorists” saying that “decent people everywhere can only be appalled by the tragic and outrageous killing at the Olympic Games.” (Mitch Levin)

The NCCB was established, in part, to attend to the Catholic Church’s own affairs in the United States, fulfilling the Vatican Council’s mandate that bishops “jointly exercise their pastoral office” (Decree on the Bishops’ Pastoral Office in the Church, #38). NCCB operated through committees made up exclusively of bishops, many of which had full-time staff organized in secretariats.

The Gambia issued this souvenir sheet on November 9, 2000 in memory of the 11 Israeli athletes murdered at the Munich Olympics:


Tsar Peter I and the “Beard Tax”

September 5, 1698 – In an effort to Westernize his nobility, Tsar Peter I of Russia imposes a tax on beards for all men except the clergy and peasantry.

Those who paid the tax were required to carry a “beard token”.  This was a copper or silver token with a Russian Eagle on one side and on the other, the lower part of a face with nose, mouth, whiskers, and beard. It was inscribed with two phrases: “the beard tax has been taken” (lit: “Money taken”) and “the beard is a superfluous burden”.  Those who resisted the ban on beards were forcibly and publicly shaved.  (Wikipedia)

Eventually, the ruler’s stance softened. Smelling a profit, Peter imposed an annual “beard tax” upon those who hoped to keep their facial hair. An impoverished beggar could retain his for the meager yearly sum of two kopeks, while a well-off merchant could expect to shell out 100 rubles … Despite the fee’s widespread unpopularity, it remained in place until 1772, 47 years after Peter’s death.  (Mark Mancini, “Mental Floss”)

Here are some postage stamps depicting a montage of Russian men sporting beards:

Karl Marx – philosopher and revolutionary socialist:

beards - karl marx - russia


Ilya Repin – realist painter:

beards - Russia IlyaRepin - realist painter

Ivan Turgenev – novelist and playwright (b. 1818, d. 1883)

beards - russia Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev - author - b.1818 d.1883


Krushjanis Barons – Latvian folklorist and writer (b. 1835, d. 1923):

beards - Russia Krushjanis Barons - Latvian folklorist writer

Darius Milhaud, 1892 – 1974

September 4, 1892: In Aix-en-Provence, France, Gabriel Milhaud, an almond importer and Sophie Allatini Milhaud gave birth to composer Darius Milhaud.  (Mitch Levin)

Milhaud was a member of Les Six—also known as The Group of Six—and one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century. His compositions are influenced by jazz and make use of polytonality. Darius Milhaud is to be counted among the modernist composers.

Born in Marseilles to a Jewish family, Milhaud began as a violinist, later turning to composition instead. Milhaud studied in Paris at the Paris Conservatory where he met his fellow group members Arthur Honegger and George Taillefere. He studied composition under Charles Widor and harmony and counterpoint with André Gedalge. He also studied privately with Vincent d’Indy. From 1917 to 1919, he served as secretary to Paul Claudel, the eminent poet and dramatist who was then the French ambassador to Brazil, and with whom Milhaud collaborated for many years, setting music for many of Claudel’s poems and plays.

The jazz pianist Dave Brubeck became one of Milhaud’s most famous students when Brubeck furthered his music studies at Mills College in the late 1940s. In a February 2010 interview with JazzWax, Brubeck said he attended Mills, a women’s college (men were allowed in graduate programs), specifically to study with Milhaud, saying, “Milhaud was an enormously gifted classical composer and teacher who loved jazz and incorporated it into his work. My older brother Howard was his assistant and had taken all of his classes.”  Brubeck named his first son Darius.

Milhaud’s former students also include popular songwriter Burt Bacharach.  Milhaud told Bacharach, “Don’t be afraid of writing something people can remember and whistle. Don’t ever feel discomfited by a melody.” (Wikipedia)

Pictured here are two stamps honoring Milhaud:  the first by France, issued as part of the Europa series in 1985 and the second by Israel in 1994 in a set featuring Jewish composers:


Frederick Douglass, 1818 – 1895

September 3, 1838 – Future abolitionist Frederick Douglass escapes from slavery.

Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, c. February 1818 – February 20, 1895) was an African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement from Massachusetts and New York, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writings. In his time he was described by abolitionists as a living counter-example to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.  Northerners at the time found it hard to believe that such a great orator had once been a slave.

Douglass was a firm believer in the equality of all peoples, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant. He was also a believer in dialogue and in making alliances across racial and ideological divides, and in the liberal values of the American Constitution. When radical abolitionists under the motto “No Union With Slaveholders”, criticized Douglass’ willingness to dialogue with slave owners, he famously replied: “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”

The United States Postal Service has issued two postage stamps honoring Douglass, the first in 1967 (Scott No. 1290) and the second in 1995 (Scott No. 2975h):


Klezmer Music

September 2, 1806: Birthdate of Mikhl Yosef Gusikow (Michael Joseph Gusikow) “a Klezmer musician from Shklov who was popular in Germany and France during the 1830’s.”  (Mitchell Levin)

Klezmer (Yiddish: כליזמר or קלעזמער (klezmer), pl.: כליזמרים (klezmorim) — instruments of music) is a musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe. Played by professional musicians called klezmorim, the genre originally consisted largely of dance tunes and instrumental display pieces for weddings and other celebrations. In the United States the genre evolved considerably as Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, who arrived between 1880 and 1924, met and assimilated American jazz. During the initial years after the klezmer revival of the 1970s, this was what most people knew as klezmer, although in the current century musicians have begun paying more attention to the “original” pre-jazz traditions as revivalists including Josh Horowitz, Yale Strom, and Bob Cohen have spent years doing field research in Eastern/Central Europe. Additionally, later immigrants from the Soviet Union such as German Goldenshtayn took their surviving repertoires to the United States and Israel in the 1980s.  (Wikipedia)

In 1998, Israel Post issued this stamp commemorating the Klezmer Music Festival held in Zefat, Israel:

klezmer music festival - Israel 1998

And, here is a photo of some traditional Klezmer musicians:

klezmer musicians