Miles Davis, in his autobiography refers several times to anyone with badass-cum-suave style as someone who's "cleaner than a broke dick dog". While most jazz musicians of the Fifties and Sixties had crazy cool style a few really stand out for me, the reason being that in addition to being terrific players they had wicked sartorial style going on that complemented their music. While everyone knows Miles was legendary for being a fashion plate with his beautifully tailored Italian suits there were some other guys that were equally as slick.
One jazz icon who instantly comes to mind for his great fashion style is legendary pianist Hampton Hawes. A bebop and post-bop artist with male model looks, Hawes was always pictured wearing the smartest tailored suits and striking the most smoldering looks at the camera.
There was always something haunting about Hawes and his troubled life which he documented in his memoir, "Raise Up Off Me", co-written with jazz writer Gary Giddins. In addition to being one of the sharpest dressed musicians in jazz he bears the distinction of having his prison term pardoned by President John F. Kennedy in his last year as President. Legendary stuff.
Another legendary player who filled out his threads with crazy cool was pianist Horace Silver, one of MIles' favorite pianists. Silver is best known for his immortal recording "Song For My Father", one of the ten most popular jazz compositions of all time. A funky blues-style player who could finesse any style of music, Silver's image is that of a hipster with neatly processed hair wildly tousled as he intensely attacks his keyboard. With his clothes still neatly pressed! That's crazy cool.
Like Hawes, many of Silver's albums shows him resplendent in a beautifully tailored suit and tie, bespoke probably - the fit's just too good. Nowadays Silver dresses more casually but still looks neat as a pin. As I get older, I find this look much more admirable than the" heroin-chic I just fell out of bed" type look. It gives me hope. Despair doesn't win the day anymore.
Illinois Jacquet was arguably the founding father of R&B saxophone, born from his wildly honking tenor sax solo on Lionel Hampton's record "Flying Home". Jacquet, who shares the same birthday as me (10/31, different year) always counterbalanced his raw, abrasive saxophone playing with the some of the sharpest suits worn in jazz.
Like Horace Silver he also had smooth hair - his mother was Native American - and also was a pioneer for being the first jazz musician to be artist-in-residence at Harvard University in 1983. He also jammed saxes with President Bill Clinton at his inaugural ball at the White House in 1993. Now that's crazy cool.
While I don't seriously expect every musician to bust out a Brooks Brothers suit and Florsheim shoes to rock the room the point I'm really trying to make is that fashion and a clear sense of personal style can be the greatest compliment to whatever music you choose to play. Because long after the music's over everyone will remember the way you looked, and you only have one chance to make it count.