Jazz Style Icons

It’s all about jazz for me at the moment, in the run-up to the Glasgow Jazz Festival (June 29-July3) and I’ve had to neglect this blog a little  … However, I have – as always – been finding a great deal of style inspiration in jazz –  not so much from the current crop of jazz stars as from the greats of yesteryear. Here’s a selection of some of my favourite style icons, starting, above, with Chet Baker (1929-1988), the James Dean of the jazz world, who wins my style award for services to the white T-shirt .. And below is his one-time band-mate, baritone sax star Gerry Mulligan (1927-1996) who was rarely without a crew cut and Ray-Bans in the 1950s.

Another super-cool jazz musician whose music and style I love is the legendary Lester “Prez” Young (1909-1959), the ethereal-sounding tenor saxophonist who came to fame in Count Basie’s band in the 1930s and made a series of landmark recordings with his friend Billie Holiday. He became a much-feted solo star in the 1950s, and his signature pork-pie hat is as recognisable to jazz fans as Lady Day’s gardenia and Louis Armstrong’s white handkerchief – possibly moreso. So indelibly linked are the Prez and his pork pie hat that Herman Leonard famously took an evocative portrait of Lester Young without Young in it: the pork-pie hat plus the saxophone (and a swirl of cigarette smoke) were enough to suggest their owner’s presence.

As I mentioned, one of the most identifiable accessories in jazz history was Billie Holiday’s (1915-1959) gardenia – which, for a decade from the late 1930s, was a key part of her look. Legend has it that the first gardenia was pinned on her head to cover a patch of hair which had been singed by tongs. It quickly became her trademark..

I also love the hair style she sported for much of the 1950s – the sleeked-back ponytail. This was how she wore her hair in the landmark TV programme, The Sound of Jazz.

Perhaps more of an all-round style icon was the lovely Lena Horne (1917-2010), a woman with exquisite taste and a sense of elegant style that lasted her whole life.  She was known for her turbans and for her gorgeous evening gowns …

Not all of the great jazz style icons have left us: Annie Ross (born 1930), the 80-year-old pioneering jazz vocalist is still performing (she plays in London next week, at the Bluesfest, and in Glasgow’s Oran Mor on July 8). And I haven’t seen a photo of her looking less than stylish. Check out this beautiful portrait from the 1950s.

And I especially love this one: three of my favourite jazz style icons captured on photo as they record the wonderful album Annie Ross Sings a Song of Mulligan (that’s Chet Baker in the middle). Cool in every sense of the word..

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