The Look: Images and Styles That Have Influenced The Weejun – MJQ & Jimmy Giuffre

| 14 Mar ’09 | 12 Comments
Modern Jazz Quartet at Music Inn Guest Artist Jimmy Giuffre

Modern Jazz Quartet at Music Inn Guest Artist Jimmy Giuffre

Back in the early 1981 there were very few jazz LPs from the golden age of modern jazz in print. As such we relied on the vagaries of the record companies to reissue random titles. There were almost no concerted themed reissues.

Those that were most interesting often seemed to be from France or Germany. This was the beginning of the major record labels re-organising production to be in the cheaper territories for paying royalties and exporting throughout EEC as it was then known.

One of the first jazz LPs that I ever came across (and I have to admit my record hunting pal found it by searching in the ‘bin’ in front me) was the Modern Jazz Quartet at Music Inn: Guest Artist Jimmy Giuffre. It was a revelation as a 16 year old because it was jazz without saxophones or trumpets. Back then there were not even any books in print about modern jazz (with the exception of Joachim Berendt’s book that focused mostly on mainstream and older styles) so the only way to progress and find more in a similar vein was to assiduously read the liner notes, take note of other artists mentioned as well as seeing who the track authors were.

This first Jimmy Giuffre album lead me on a search not just for chinos and khaki field shorts and loop collar plaid shirts as sported by the ever cool MJQ, but also in search of more music by Giuffre. Within a couple weeks of moving to London in early 82, I had managed to find a Japanese reissue of Jimmy Giuffre 3 (£20 in Dobells – one fortnight’s dole money!) and then, shortly afterwards, a French reissue of this wonderfully laid back album on Verve called The Easy Way.

Jimmy Giuffre - The Easy Way - Verve 1962 - Check out the Imperials

Jimmy Giuffre - The Easy Way - Verve 1962 - Check out the Imperials

On the cover Giuffre was sporting a pair of what I called ‘military shoes’ back then, in the American style. Later, of course I could identify them as Florsheim Imperials or possibly Aldens. The dark suit with the no break trousers and white shirt was also an influence at the time, even if did spend most of my time wearing Levis and button down oxfords. As anyone around in London at the time will attest, back then we looked like people from another planet in the time of mullets and chemical wash denim. One benefit was that landladies always thought you were ‘such a nice well dressed young man’ looking as we did like throwbacks to another era.

Record covers were a huge part in this education, both for the clothes and of course the life long passion for the music.

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Category: jazz, music, shirts, Shoes, vintage

Comments (12)

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  1. Russell Street says:

    Real ‘roots’ stuff for me too.
    Those tiny B&W pics on the back of LPs were the best. You really had to strain your eyes to work it all out. Everything was hints & clues – Nothing was too obvious – Which made the whole thing into such an enjoyable quest!

  2. 3button Max says:

    well played weejun. Giuffre , and as cited before , Brookmeyer were wonderful players w/real roots in the swing tradition. They were also well dressed in that late 50’s to mid 60s look or take on an Ivy style.
    Have to dig out my cd of “Traditionalism Revisited” and hear them both…
    take care
    Max

  3. ScarletStreet says:

    “The Easy Way” is one of the first Jazz LP’s I bought with my own money, the rest being stolen from my dad and uncle. I was always transfixed by the cover photo. I love Bob Brookmeyer as well, and actually prefer Gerry Mulligan’s work with him, to the Chet Baker stuff. All though I like Baker as well. Reading the FNB board and this site really makes me wonder why the jazz inclined in England are so into the look of the musicians themselves but most modern Jazz fans in the United States aren’t. I’ve met plenty of fellow musicians and appreciators in U.S. who look at me like I’m nuts when I mention the clothes, or when they see what I wear. Even when seeing the Trad board at Andyland the first time I assumed that I would find more people who were into “the look” that were influenced by a Jazz or even a 1950’s/1960’s sensibility. It was a let down for the most part.

  4. 3button Max says:

    funny that the UK guys also got into the clothes aspect. To me the ivy, traditional look goes back to even Bix in a Brooks Bros suit and there are great elements from every decade 1920 onward. what is refreshing -and has been pointed out,probably by the redoubtable russell street(some time ago ,in another forum) was the UK view about the late 50’s -early 60’s US oriented Ivy look being almost democratizing- It pretty much was the fashion then and like the whims of fashion had its exaggerated aspects too.- ie lapels that were really too narrow.(yet the patch pockets were great!) My preference is the pre 1955 natural shoulder 3 button sack , plain front trouser(fuller and somewhat higher rise +1 &3/4 cuffs) but like the (what I call fashion period) Ivy league c.1955-65 as well.–would bet Giuffre is wearing Florsheim Imperials–great photos in post weejun…max

  5. The Weejun says:

    Hi Scarlet Street – What you have to remember is that most of these jazz guys were just wearing what many other people were wearing – in the US.

    Over here apart from the vestiges of the original scene (Ivy Shop, etc) for the most part there was little reference for us as to how/what/why/where all these clothes and music (and even general lifestyle) fitted together.

    Record covers (front and back) and books were the only reference we had. Then we’d see some real Americans in town and the look of chinos and loafers and oxford shirts was exotic and very foreign. Of course that look in its basic form has become a global workers’ uniform now.

    Nostalgia is definitely a warped mirror though. Even as a 16 year old catching a rare private viewing of Jazz on a Summer’s Day it was evident to me that many of the styles on spectators (that I loved) were of course totally unfashionable at the time. Common, but certainly not ‘fashion’. By the same token if you took a picture of a festival crowd today you will find a certain homegenous look which is not ‘fashionable’ but certainly ‘everyday’. In future people will look back to this style of bad chin strap beards and 3/4 length drawstring trousers and think how cool (and knowing) they all were.

    So for us I think we recognised that if the jazz we loved was cool (and the graphics of the album covers) then the guys must have been cool and ergo the clothes. Hopefully, the nostalgic lens was not too warped, because I certainly wouldn’t want to dress like most jazz musicians today!

    Seriously though, I think there must be an acknowledged ‘mapgpie’ element to those of us who care or follow these things, and I wouldn’t mind betting that any of you guys also follow/collect/research other ‘life strands’ and not just Ivy Style- am I right? Max for instance is obviously an obsessed musician as well as a style hound!

  6. Russell Street says:

    Yes -It was the appeal of “The Other” – Familiar yet unfamiliar clothes and styles of music, art & design.
    In England a Tweed jacket is a commonplace until it is given American ‘Ivy League’ styling and then it becomes divorced for us from all its usual taken-for-granted cultural resonances. It becomes something “Other”, loaded with new, alien significance.
    … An odd business to be sure, but a fascinating one to some.

  7. 3button Max says:

    well said as ever—Russ and weejun–
    take care
    Max

  8. ScarletStreet says:

    Thanks to both of you for your perspectives. It remains an endlessly fascinating topic to me. I would venture to say that the clothes have taken on that “otherness” qualities here in the States to some degree. At least in my neck of the woods they have. Oxford shirts, khakis, dress oxfords, loafers, cords, cardigans etc. You start combining these things at my age where I live and people don’t know what it is. They can’t figure it out. I like that. It’s probably childish but I like being different. Not better, not a different class, just different. I grew up in the rural south. I live in Louisville, Kentucky now. These clothes are for me an alternative to what is expected and just hopelessly cool as far I am concerned. The ironic thing is because I was born in 1981, I arrived at my look in much the same way. Looking at LP covers, and old magazines my dad had lying around. Watching movies from or set in 50’s and 60’s. Hell my cardigan fascination started with the movie Auto Focus about Bob Crane. I thought the cardigans with sedate dress pants look was “cool”. I arrived at some of things organically, my mom always outfitted us in Bean sweaters (not the “famous” one) and cords, but for the most part I had to seek out my conception through media sources as well. I have a lot of other interests outside the clothes. Some that dovetail (I am a musician as well), some that don’t but the clothes angle is all so interesting to me. I doubt I would find the FNB board nearly as fascinating if you guys weren’t also into to jazz and movies that I like etc. I’m pretty hungover, hopefully this makes some sense. I do enjoy your blog and Russell’s posts on FNB both quite a bit.

  9. Nick says:

    Very interesting comments on a topic that really interests/fascinates me as well. Speaking as an American jazz musician (a well-dressed West Coaster at that), I too have long found it odd that a) more jazz musicians don’t dress better in general these days and b) there is so little interest in classic clothing styles among those that do. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few exceptions and some real sharp dressers, but in general things have dropped off considerably since the mid 1960s at least if photos are anything to go by. I think the tradition of the sharp-dressed jazz man was severely effected by the late-60s “youthquake” which worked it’s way up, so that you had hippy-influenced fashion nearly everywhere by the start of the 70s. The late-60s Black Power ethos definitely appealed to a lot of prominent jazz stars (Miles Davis immediately comes to mind) as well which certainly had a sartorial influence. Once a tradition is interrupted its often difficult to get it back on track without negatively-tinged cries of revivalism. The second aspect of this is that until fairly recently, anything viewed as “retro” has long been disparaged pretty badly in the US. I have found that those of us that have been involved with retro scenes in the past (be it mod, swing, rockabilly, et al) tend to be the ones most interested in the style aspect and not hung up on looking back for inspiration. Finally, it should be mentioned that up until the 1970s “going to school” for your average jazz musician meant playing in a performing band (often a big band, sometimes led by someone active on the scene for decades previous) and coming up the ranks, rather than getting a degree at a college. I think the shift towards colleges producing subsequent generations of jazz musicians had an effect on how musicians viewed themselves hence a lot more people that now dress like “artists” rather than “performers.” There are pros and cons to all of this, but not enough room here to continue. A day late and a dollar short, by my 2 cents and then some…

  10. 3button Max says:

    well put Nick-
    yes fancy that a degree program in the 70s called Bachelor in Jazz studies!-Most of the jazzers college was in either classical music or some other endeavor-
    great exam[le of” going to school” was Getz playing section sax w/both Goodman and teagarden-one couldnt ask for a better undergraduate program.

  11. The Weejun says:

    Great comment, Nick, and nice to have a modern jazzers perspective from the US.

    Max, Don’t forget the Stan Kenton Orchestra as proving ground for style, too. Ol’ Stan was a snappy dresser and it can be no accident that Bud Shank, Art Pepper, et al were all dudes.

  12. 3button Max says:

    weejun-rather liked my dad’s old 10 inch capitol “sketches on standards” Kenton lp but 70s big band stylings left me cold .yet kudos to Stan woody etc for keeping the music alive in the 70s. Pepper’s playing however was timeless–interesting how many kenton alumni still playing-
    to me the real deal was Claude Thornhill, the spiritual godfather of birth of the cool.

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