All Dressed Up And Nowhere To Go: Fashion and Marketing in Jazz

Here’s an article from that I found interesting entitled “Who Ever Said Jazz Had to Be Drab?”. Not me, and that’s for sure. I didn’t let the dogs out either.

The article features 15 “edgy jazz musicians” who are “fashion-forward” and are “rocking” the stage in “decidely 21st-century mode.”  Here are the Jazz Fashionistas:

1. Cassandra Wilson: She’s a beautiful woman, dressed in beautiful evening wear.  No edge, just class and refinement.

Photo Credit: Jenny Bagert/Blue Note Records

2. David Sanchez: Shaved head, goatee sans soul patch, nice shirt from Banana Republic. Fashion forward?

Photo Credit: Devin Dehaven

3. Esperanza Spalding: 70s afro, 70s turtleneck, retro look, dull edge if an edge can be found.

Photo Credit: Johann Sauty

4. Greg Osby: White shirt, black pants, hat.  Sharp, but not edgy.

Photo Credit: Clay Patrick McBride

5. Gretchen Parlato:  Jazz yoga anyone? Her outfit looks sharp, but nothing you couldn’t find in a Sears catalogue. Edge-free, but great music here.

Photo Credit: Jeaneen Lund

6. Hiromi: The article says “looks as if…she’s some superhero from a Japanese anime flick.”  Yup, that pretty much describes it.  刃の鋭くない

Photo Credit: Muga Miyahara

7. Theo Bleckmann: “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”

Photo Credit: John Labbe

Bleckmann’s PoMo pose is not edgy or forward looking. He looks like an escapee from Pee Wee’s Playhouse who had an aneurism in the Red Rum Restaurant.  This type of absurdist performance art doesn’t shock or endear, it just comes off as a sad and transparent marketing ploy that falls completely flat as it pleads and begs for attention. That said, I love his music. If his remake of Kate Bush’s “Running up that Hill” was all he ever did, that would be enough for me. Or his version of “Lili Marleen.”  But Theo has done much, much more than that.

There are eight more that are generally dressed quite nicely, but nothing that could be described as “fashion forward” or “rocking” the stage fantastic (does jazz “rock”?). Nor are they “decidedly 21st Century,” with many retro looks from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s to be found along with one who is in obvious need of immediate medical attention.  What is interesting is the demographics of the entire set:

-There are 6 singers and 9 instrumentalists. 40% are singers, 53% are saxophonists and pianists, and 7% are/is one lonely vibraphonist, which is not very representative of the jazz community.

-Most are young enough to be classified as “young lions.”

-Most are slim and trim.

If you play trumpet, drums, flute, trombone, or bass, if you’re over 40 or overweight, or you don’t sing, you’re probably out of luck. But out of luck for what exactly?  What does all that fashion get you?  Not much.  Artists in all genres and their record companies are notoriously tight-lipped about CD sales and income (unless they sell a million or two that is). A couple of recent articles show general income and online sales statistics from all genres:

1. RIAA Accounting: Why Even Major Label Musicians Rarely Make Money from Album Sales

Here’s the graphic that tells the tale. (Read also the post from Courtney Love on the link above.)

2. How Much Do Music Artists Earn Online?

Apparently, not much.

Keep in mind that these figures are for all genres, not just jazz.  These dire figures must be exacerbated in jazz where sales of 5,000 units is considered a huge success.


It seems doubtful that false marketing of this type will create any appreciable (or sustainable) demand. These artists are not edgy, or “decidedly 21st Century” and they don’t “rock the stage” with their fashion statements–they make their impression through the high level of musicianship that allows them to express themselves and convey meaning to their audiences. That’s not to say that presentation is meaningless; it must, at minimum, be professional and dignified to match the dignity of the music (which most of these images achieve). In short, we don’t need media pundits to lie about what we look like; it’s dishonest and misleading, and there’s nothing to gain anyway, so what’s the point?

About FraKathustra

2 Responses to “All Dressed Up And Nowhere To Go: Fashion and Marketing in Jazz”

  1. Hey FraKmaster,

    thanks for this article. First off, I will check out some of these people’s music because I hadn’t heard of some of them. I must agree that there is not much to say about the fashion issue with these examples. I would break them down into two simple categories. 1) Dressed up nice for a gig 2)Insultingly transparent marketing ploy.
    That being said, I often wonder when I see young artists making such a stellar effort, what they forsee as the outcome of their own promotion. Is it just a mind set that is so engrained in performing arts, the quest for stardom. Short of getting in to the record sale numbers and income statistics, what do young jazz stars like these imagine as the ultimate goal. If it is furthuring their art, improving their ability to express themselves, and increasing the amount of people they can reach, then I say very good. But somehow I think when I see the these kind of clever and contrived personas I imagine they seek a bigger prize. Perhaps one day when they are teaching adult beginners at the Community College, and selling their CD’s in the lobby after Faculty Jazz Night, they may question what the ultimate prize was supposed to be.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: