The Professor’s Guide to Jazz Fashion

Anyone who’s been following the Trad Jazz scene may have noticed something interesting evolving in recent years.

Have you seen a Trad Jazz record cover from the 70s? Are you picturing what I’m picturing: a group of nerdy guys with stripey shirts, straw hats and bow ties (that may or may not spin)? Now, think about the NY scene nowadays. The fashion department, in my opinion, has improved somewhat.

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So if you’re a NY Trad musician, you’d better get your wardrobe sorted out. No longer is it just the vocalists’ job to glam up and garner the attention, while the rest of us hide behind our instruments, wiping the hamburger grease from our hands onto our beer-stained shirts.

Any musician wanting a career in the Traditional Jazz scene in NYC needs to be aware of the importance of fashion. And when I say importance, I mean: “find the best suit/dress you can, get it tailored, and then learn to play the trumpet” kind of important.

Even the humble sideman now needs to look like he’s just popped out of the pages of an old-timey GQ. And you’re in the audience? You’re not getting off that easy, either. Even if you’re there to dance, or just listen, you’d better be ready to strut your well-tailored stuff. You never know who’s taking photos- you might be on the cover of the next Syncopated Times.

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So I, your humble Jazz liason, after much observation, have compiled a three-tiered rating system of the NY Vintage dresser. Which one are you? (Don’t forget: no matter what tier you’re on, it’s never too late to graduate).

Tier 1: The Amateur

You’ve seen a couple of old movies. The cast looks pretty snazzy, and you think to yourself, “I wanna look like that.” So off you go to the nearest Walmart, but on finding out there’s no vintage department, you do your best with what they’ve got. It’s vaguely old timey, but as you squint from the light reflected off the shiny fabric, you wonder if they had polyester in the 1920s.

Tier 2: The Vintage Shop Dresser

Department stores just don’t fulfill your old-timey fashion needs. Thrift stores are for you. You’re like a gold prospector, sifting through the racks of 1970s flares & tie-dye shirts for that nugget of vintage gold. And when you find it: sure, it’s ill fitting, overpriced and smells like your grandmother’s attic, but that’s a small price to pay for actually looking like your grandmother, before she had your mother.

Tier 3: The Extreme Vintage Dresser

If you’re gonna post 50 selfies a day on Facebook and Instagram, you’d better have the right threads for the job. Even your relationship suffers, due to your constant demand for your partner to take your photo, but hell, you’re worth it. You laugh at all the other lamoes with their faux vintage rags. You’re the real deal baby.

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Do you ship at thrift stores? Yuk! Who knows who was wearing those clothes. They could have died in that dress! (And if you’re lucky, not from a communicable disease.)

Ebay? Forget about it. If you wanted sweatshop kids making your clothes, you’d regress to Tier 1.
No siree, you’re serious about your fashion and you go to the only trusted source: actual old people. (You prefer the term vintage people.) And the source: retirement homes. These people actually wore these clothes when they were new: it’s a trusted source. So you get friendly and gain their trust. Perhaps you bring a guitar and have a little singalong every week, and when you leave, slip a tie or hat into your guitar case. If they’re lucid enough to notice some clothes missing—you replace with cheaper items (see Tier 1).

Sure, it’s a long game, but nobody said looking good was easy.

Is it morally questionable? Who cares. Leave those questions to be debated by the badly dressed lemmings. You’re far too good looking to care.

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Reedman extraordinaire Adrian Cunningham is the leader of Professor Cunningham and his Old School Jazz Band, based in New York City. His most recent CD is Ain’t That Right! The Music of Neal Hefti issued on the Arbors Jazz label. Visit his sites online: www.adriancunningham.com and professorcunninghamjazz.com.

The Professor is delighted to field your questions regarding jazz, the music business from a musician’s perspective, and a variety of other germane topics. Write him at oldschoolprofessor@gmail.com.

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