Art & Photography

Miles Davis, Modern Jazz & The Ivy Look

In an extract from Jazz Festival, a new photo book by ‘the Father of music photography’ Jim Marshall, writer Graham Marsh remembers the Ivy league-inspired style championed by Miles Davis and other Jazz greats 

For any hipster or Young Turk ‘riding on a blue note’ in the 1960s, jazz festivals were the genuine article. Whether it was at Fort Adams State Park in the resort town of Newport, Rhode Island in August, or at the 20-acre oak-studded Monterey County Fairground in California in September, it must have been something else. Both festivals were like a vinyl record collection coming to life. Gerry Mulligan, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington and the endless roll call of jazz luminaries live on stage at Monterey and Newport was an outstanding experience for all those lucky enough to have been there.

You can almost feel the sun’s warming rays and an ocean breeze emanating from Jim Marshall’s evocative photographs in this book. Jazz Festival is not a nostalgic yearning for the past, but a celebration of the continuing cultural craze for all things relating to Modern Jazz and Ivy Look clothing which for some people, who care about these things, is important. Sartorially and musically, both are still intrinsically linked and both are without doubt the essence of cool.

John Coltrane with Wes Montgomery photographed at The Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, CA September 24, 1961 © Jim Marshall Photography LLC
Miles Davis, the coolest man on the planet during his Ivy-suited period was probably most responsible for both the ‘look and sound’ of Modern Jazz. The look was predominantly East Coast Ivy League, but the sound was uniquely his own. Miles used to get most of his Ivy clothes from Charlie Davidson’s Andover Shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just off Harvard Square. Davidson was a sort of bridge figure between Modern Jazz and the Ivy Look. As well as Miles Davis, Davidson was a friend of George Wein and Charlie Bourgeois, who were both closely associated with the Newport Jazz Festival, and at the same time to a fame famed journalist, George Frazier 111, himself a well-known connoisseur of clothes and jazz. Indeed, Frazier christened Miles, ‘The warlord of the Weejuns!’ If Miles wore it, it was instantly hip.

In the 1960s, when it came to jazz, style was part of the equation in both clothes and attitude. At Monterey and Newport black culture was openly embraced and integrated audiences were the norm. Nobody cared – as long as you looked sharp and dug the music – anything else was just jiving, there was strictly no room for squares. At both festivals, on any given day it was a sea of Bass Weejun loafers, natural shouldered seersucker jackets, essential Lacoste tennis shirts and Clarks desert boots. Definitely on the money were also button-down shirts, chinos and 501 Levi’s. Topping off these proto-cool clothes was a formidable array of men and women’s hats.

Left: Photographed at Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, CA September 21, 1963 © Jim Marshall Photography LLC – Odetta photographed at Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, CA September 4, 1960 © Jim Marshall Photography LLC
Left: Photographed at Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, CA September 21, 1963 © Jim Marshall Photography LLC – Right: Odetta photographed at Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, CA September 4, 1960 © Jim Marshall Photography LLC
From straw pork-pie snap-brims with deep Madras bands, back-buckle Ivy sports caps and deeply hip berets to Audrey Hepburn-influenced wide-brimmed straw hats and head scarves, plus a confection of chapeaus that would not look out of place on the catwalks of a Parisian fashion show. It was a veritable catalogue of Ivy cool. It was dressing fine, making time and moreover, a visual feast for Ray-Ban and Persol-shaded eyes.

Although the Ivy clothes may have been de rigueur, at the centre of it all was the music. It was Ornette Coleman on stage playing his yellow plastic Selmer Alto Saxophone, accompanied by Don Cherry on Pocket Trumpet. It was John Coltrane endlessly riffing on some standard-issue show tune. Miles Davis and Gerry Mulligan paring the music down and laying it out, looking like fashion plates to the assembled congregation. It was saxophone colossus, Sonny Rollins taking care of business, always ahead of the musical curve. His insouciant trademark top button only fastened on his three-button jacket. These musicians were the cat’s whiskers and in mid-20th century America it was Modern Jazz that fused the connection between music and the Ivy Look.

Jazz Festival is out now via Reel Art Press