Penthouse Serenade: Hef on Ivy, 1960

Sat 1 Oct 2011 - Filed under: 1960s,Clothes,Film,Jazz,Personae — Christian
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If you’re a sucker for the “Mad Men” vibe of cool dudes, sexy chicks and midcentury style, you should really check out “Playboy’s Penthouse,” Hugh Hefner’s variety show from the early days of his budding Playboy empire. Episodes are available on DVD, including through Netflix.

The episodes were taped in a party atmosphere that brought together a cross section of fashionable society (the kind of crowd seen in our post “A Swellegant, Elegant Party“), and adult music (jazz, vocalists) that’s a far cry from the musical acts featured on today’s late-night shows.

And then there’s everybody smoking, including the singers while they perform. Is smoking glamorous? Don’t be daft: Of course it is.

In a February 1960 episode, a young beauty from Hef’s harem asks him about the turnback cuffs on his dinner jacket. Hefner, who had previously donned the Ivy League Look, proceeds to bore the girl to death with a dissertation on men’s tailoring, pointing with his Dunhill shell briar for effect.

Here’s what he says:

Well, this suit is Continental, Elsa. It’s a new style in America. Look, Tom’s formal is Ivy, which has been very popular. The difference is in the cuff. This has a little more cut to the jacket; it’s a shorter jacket. You’ll notice Tom has flaps on his pockets. These pockets are slanted.

After the war, when everybody was wearing full shoulders and full suits, Ivy came in. Ivy had been with us in the East for a long time, but it became very popular on a national level. Ivy has enjoyed a strong popularity, but just this last season something new has come over from Italy, and it’s Continental. It’s like Ivy in that it’s slim, but it’s a little more trimmed at the waist, a little more padding in the shoulder, the pockets are often slashed, and in addition the jacket is a little shorter, and you get accessories sometimes like the cuff and no belt.

Then Tom (the Ivy-clad fellow pictured above at left), perhaps concerned that the fashionableness of his attire may be nearing its expiration date, asks “Do you think Continental will replace the Ivy League style?”

Hef replies:

Playboy doesn’t think so. We did an article on it a couple of months ago. Ivy is so fundamental that I think it’s going to be with us. It’s basic, good conservative dress, and we think it’ll stay with us always. But Continental has a little more flair, it’s a little more elegant, and we think it fits those occasions when a man wants to dress up. We think there’s a place for both.

Ditching Ivy for Continental may be an error in judgment for us natural shoulder fans, but it’s not as bad as ditching clothing altogether in favor of pajamas.

After Hef’s style speech, he introduces Cal Tjader, who goes on to play the vibes in a gray sack suit and black knit tie (and with his specs and receding hairline, kinda looks like Newton Street Vintage circa 2009).

Here’s Tjader doing the lovely “Shina no yoru,” originally a Japanese propaganda song from the ’30s.

I like to sing it Nihon-go de in the shower. — CC

Farewell, Indian Summer

Mon 5 Sep 2011 - Filed under: Jazz — Christian
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It’s the end of summer, and time to put away the Indian madras for another year. Hope you had a great three months; mine was certainly a summer to remember: the romance of a lifetime (kindled at J. Press of all places), and a new hobby-obsession I’ll be writing about soon.

“Indian summer” refers not just to the meteorological phenomenon (which actually occurs in fall), nor to wearing madras for three months of the year. It’s also the name of a haunting tune by the operetta composer Victor Herbert, a standard that has been recorded by pop vocalists and jazz musicians alike.

I’ve enjoyed singing it at the piano for many years; the initial chord change from G to D+ providing much of the charm. But the lyrics are also poignant while extremely economical. And that’s not easy: As I recall, the lyrics were added after Herbert’s death, and not a single note of the melody could be altered to accompany the words. It took lyricist Al Dubin several weeks, but he finally came up with this:

Summer, you old Indian summer
You’re the tear that comes after
June-time’s laughter

You see so many dreams that don’t come true
Dreams we fashioned when summertime was new

You are here to watch over
Some heart that is broken
By a word that somebody left unspoken

You’re the ghost of a romance in June
Going astray
Fading too soon
That’s why I say

Farewell, to you Indian summer

Here are two renditions of the tune, one from 1939 and one from 1959. You might also like to check out versions by Coleman Hawkins and Maynard Ferguson.

Fall programming starts tomorrow. Happy Labor Day. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD (Continue)


George Shearing: Introduction and Farewell

Fri 25 Mar 2011 - Filed under: Jazz — Christian
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I started high school in suburban California riding a skateboard and running a music fanzine for which I scored an interview with Metallica, back when Metallica was still accessible to 15-year-olds with fanzines.

But change comes rapidly in those years, and by my senior year I was wearing sportcoats to school and listening to classic vocalists on the local AM radio station.

One of my favorite singers was Mel Tormé. I dug his style and thought he looked really cool on his album covers, and my interest in him increased even more when he became a routine reference, and occasional guest, on the ’80s sitcom “Night Court.”

So when Tormé came to the outdoor amphitheater at the Paul Masson Winery, I jumped at the chance to see him perform live. He was accompanied by a man I’d never heard of: George Shearing.

I rediscovered Shearing a decade later when I got interested in the “space-age bachelor” phenomenon of the ’50s and ’60s (eventually writing about it for L’Uomo Vogue), and had several albums of his urbane cocktail music. (Continue)


Black History Month: Trane Keeps A-Rollin’

Sun 27 Feb 2011 - Filed under: Historic Images,Jazz — Christian
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For the final of our tributes to Black History Month, first-time contributor Jason Marshall takes a solo.

John Coltrane, saxophonist and visionary, set standards in nearly every facet of his short but ultimately fruitful life.

While generally associated with Philadelphia, Coltrane is actually from Hamlet, North Carolina, and never tried to hide his Southern roots. In an interview by author Frank Kofsky — one of the few times his voice was recorded — the usually soft-spoken Coltrane gives casual yet measured responses to provocative questions in a thick Southern drawl.

This casual treatment of the provocative was a reoccurring theme with Afro-American musicians sartorially inclined toward the Ivy League Look, especially those whose matriculation in post-Jim Crow America was almost never casual but always provocative.

In “Men of Color,” Lloyd Boston writes, “Avant-garde sax-man John Coltrane’s music may have been ‘giant steps’ ahead, but he favored an understated style of dress: single-breasted sack suits, buttondown oxford shirts, and plain ties.”

John Coltrane’s musical trajectory gave birth to what is now known as postmodern saxophone playing, while his sartorial sense facilitated the goals of a legend in the making with more to concern himself with than the roll of the buttondown collars he was often seen in, or whether the sleeve on his terrycloth-knit polo hit his bicep at just the right spot.

Trane, as he’s affectionately referred to, had style in spades because he never seemed to have time to look anything but correct and presentable. Yet in hindsight his photographs seem to have been styled by Frank Muytjens: natural-shouldered, three-button jacket paired with a buttondown-collar shirt (with or without tie), odd trousers and typically penny loafers. Add to that look an austere haircut, occasional neat mustache, and nothing less than the most fertile musical imagination in jazz and there you have John Coltrane, musician. — JASON MARSHALL

Jason W. Marshall is a New York-based, Grammy-nominated saxophonist, composer and arranger. He is also a noted wardrobe consultant, lecturer, and clinician on the subjects of jazz history and improvisation, as well sartorialism from an Afro-American perspective. He hold degrees from the New School for Social Research and Aaron Copeland School of Music.



Zoot Suit: Sims, Eugene Smith, and the Jazz Loft Project

Mon 10 May 2010 - Filed under: Jazz — Christian
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The New York Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center currently has a great exhibit for fans of midcentury style.

Entitled “The Jazz Loft Project,” it’s based on the work of photographer W. Eugene Smith, who spent years chronicling the goings on in a loft in Manhattan’s wholesale flower district, where jazz musicians would come for all-night jam sessions.

Smith took some 40,000 photos from 1957-1965, plus 4,000 hours of audio tape of the sessions and life in the building.

Visiting musicians included Zoot Sims (shown here with natural shoulder and collar roll, and below in a shot by Smith from the exhibit), Bill Evans, Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk.

In addition to the musicians, the exhibit features great atmospheric shots of New York in the ’50s and ’60s as seen from Smith’s window on Sixth Avenue and 29th Street, plus audio and video samples.

The exhibit runs through May 22, then moves to Chicago, Duke University, San Diego and Arizona through 2012. Organizers are currently looking for venues in Europe and Asia (contact them if you can help find a venue). — CC (Continue)


Travel My Way: Jazz-Ivy Icon Bobby Troup

Thu 18 Mar 2010 - Filed under: Jazz — Christian
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During the heyday of The Ivy League Look, a number of guys from preppy backgrounds wound up working in the field of jazz. Bobby Troup was one of them.

Raised in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Troup prepped at The Hill School, then studied economics at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. While an undergraduate, Troup became increasingly interested in the piano, admiring Count Basie’s minimalist style, and penned his first hit song, “Daddy,” which was recorded by Sammy Kaye & His Orchestra in 1941.

In 1946, Troup drove from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles to seek his fame as an actor, musician and entertainer. Along the way he wrote his best-known song, “Route 66,” which he sold to Nat King Cole, who had a major hit with it the same year.

Troup later married torch singer Julie London, and hosted the television show “Stars of Jazz.”

Though his jazz albums of the ’50s were not popular, they featured many leading West Coast Jazz musicians. His light and breezy version of “Route 66″ can be found on the album “California Cool,” while a 1964 version of it, from “The Julie London Show,” can be seen below.

Troup died in 1999 at the age of 80. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD


Brooks Brothers’ Swingin’ Christmas Party

Thu 10 Dec 2009 - Filed under: 1990-present,Clothes,Jazz — Christian
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Last night Brooks Brothers held a Christmas bash at its flagship 346 Madison Avenue store. The event drew hundreds, with shopping proceeds benefitting St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

On the third floor, Wynton Marsalis (pictured at left) and members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, who are dressed by Brooks Brothers, played swinging renditions of Christmas tunes.

At one point, Marsalis thanked Brooks CEO Claudio del Vecchio and asked him to take a bow. From the middle of the room a tall gentleman gestured cordially.

I cleared my throat, pulled out a business card, meandered through the crowd, and made my pitch.

“Well you know we’re not hiring right now,” del Vecchio said with a chuckle, “and a couple people already like to think of themselves as Chief Historian.”

Del Vecchio and I chatted a bit more and he was actually quite responsive. I’ll see if I can get him to sit for an interview come the new year.

Back to the event: When I entered the store, a jazz trio led by Matt Rybicki was playing “Speak Low,” one of my own favorites to play on the piano (it’s in F: I always forget lyrics and composers, but never the key). Since no one was paying attention to them except me and an old man, I requested a couple more old favorites: “Deep Night” (Em/G). They didn’t know it, and offered “Night And Day,” which must be the tune most requested by people who request tunes. I counter-parried with “All The Things You Are” (A flat). Rybicki, the bassist, looked to his bandmates and said, “In three?” The drummer smiled and said yeah. The pianist looked a little apprehensive, and said, “OK, we can give it a try.” Off they went in 3/4 time and of course it was awesome. Musicians seem to be at their best when challenged. (Continue)

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