If you’ve spent any time in your local post office lately, you may have noticed a little red display on the counter advertising a jazz CD. True, you may not have noticed the jazz part of the product because of course it doesn’t say it’s a jazz CD. We all know how dangerous that can be for sales. The CD, Letters to Santa, is being sold exclusively at select post offices and online at the US Postal Service web site. Thanks in no small part to the special partnership with Concord Music Group who pulled it all together, the compilation has a decidedly jazz bent, with cuts from Nat King Cole, Diana Krall, Rosemary Clooney, Natalie Cole and Boney James. And it’s selling. Turns out retail isn’t dead.
It seems that the project was the brainchild of Gregg Field, who is a renowned producer as well as a partner at Concord. Field explained that the idea came about because his father-in-law Henry Mancini had been honored with a postage stamp back in 2004. And with Concord having success selling CDs at Starbucks, something clicked. “It just got me thinking that we could do something specially for the Post Office. Hey, it’s not the sexiest place in the world, with people waiting in lines, like at DMV. But I knew that if you put something good in front of people, it will sell.”
The first project that Concord produced and branded specifically for the Postal Service was a Charlie Brown Christmas compilation three yeas ago. Though it was successful, both label and institution had other things going on and there was no immediate followup. Field subsequently discussed doing a project tied to the Ella Fitzgerald stamp, Letters From Ella, with the Post Office but that fell through after some personnel changes at the institution. And Concord ended up releasing that album commercially through their normal channels. Field had nearly given up on doing another CD for the Postal Service. Nearly. Earlier this year, Field happened to be in Washington, DC for some work with ASCAP and thought he should check in with his contact at the Post Office about another CD. This time, there was interest.
Gary Thuro, manager of licensing for the U.S. Postal Service, acknowledged that the proposed concept connected with his organization’s mission. “For us, it really helped that the artists and music were traditional,” said Thuro. “That connects well with what we do.” The Postal Service also wants an exclusive product. “Yes, it’s important that the product be made exclusively for the Post Office,” added Field. “Two of the songs on his compilation are new. One is from a recording I just did with Natalie Cole [‘Merry Christmas, Darling’] and another is from a new session we did with Monica Mancini and Dave Koz.”
Thuro didn’t even get upset when I mentioned that many of us spend a lot of time in line at the post office, so it makes sense to market appropriate material to this captive, though sometimes seething, audience. “We know it’s an impulse buy,” Thuro said. “People don’t come to their post office to buy CDs, but it’s a great CD at a great price. With people coming in to ship gifts, we see it as a natural buy. They can buy a greeting card and just add it into their shipment.”
But where do they draw the line? Why not sell candy and magazines? Or Charles Bukowski’s book Post Office? Well, scratch that last one, but what made this project feel right? “It really has to match what we do. Previously we’ve done CDs connected with our stamps for jazz, blues and classical singers. With our Letters to Santa program, this one seemed like a natural correlation.” And Thuro explained that the Postal Service has been affected by the economic malaise just like any business. “We’re always looking for new ways to generate revenue,” he noted.
Let’s talk numbers. Thuro confirmed that the Postal Service bought 170,000 copies of Letters to Santa from Concord and he full expects to sell every single one in the 60 days allotted. They are being sold in 9,800 of the 36,000 offices, with the distribution based on the offices with the most traffic. For the record, Letters to Santa charted this week at number three on the Billboard Jazz chart. For his part, Field was astonished and pleased that the compilation sold 12,000 units in the first week. “We were on the charts just under Whitney Houston and above Kenny Chesney. Can you believe that?”
Makes you wonder if Field has discovered some sort of secret formula for jazz album sales. What’s next, the DMV? “You know, that’s not a bad idea,” said Field, half-kidding. At least, I think he was half-kidding. Actually, Field and Thuro have plans in the making for their next joint project, an Ella Fitzgerald compilation in time for Valentine’s Day—Love Letters From Ella. The DMV will have to wait.
In turn, we wondered if Thuro is starting to feel like an A&R executive, with submissions from artists and producers cluttering his inbox. “No, I’m not getting too many. I do have a gold record on the wall though,” he laughed. “It’s from the Postal Service [an indie-rock band of note].” Apparently the band was given special authorization to use the name, in part because they professed their appreciation for the U.S. Mail as a means of exchanging songwriting and creative ideas among the bandmembers. Neither snow nor rain nor sleet indeed.
The cost of Letters to Santa is just $9.99 and there is no tax. If your local post office doesn’t have them on hand, you can get it online at the US Postal Service web site.
Here’s the track listings for Letters to Santa:
1. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow—Michael Bublé
2. The Christmas Song—Nat King Cole
3. Sleigh Ride—Diana Krall
4. The Christmas Waltz—Frank Sinatra
5. Merry Christmas, Darling—Natalie Cole
6. Christmas Time Is Here (from A Charlie Brown Christmas)—Vince Guaraldi
7. Just Like Me—Vanessa Williams
8. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town—Ray Charles
9. White Christmas—Rosemary Clooney
10. O Tannenbaum—Boney James
11. Delivering Christmas (from Letters to Santa)—The Muppets
12. It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year—Erich Kunzel & The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra
Bonus Track: I’ll Be Home for Christmas—Monica Mancini and Dave Koz Originally Published