Smart Dress Code
Are musicians dressing too 'scruffy' for a paying audience


06/07/12 -

Hi Fred, I am a big follower of many of the bands who you have on your site, and indeed many others who are touring bands. I try to get to festivals when I can and support the people who have many years of experience playing Trad Jazz. The vast majority of bands are well presented in their stage appearance and look well turned out suited and booted. I have to say though, on a few recent events that I have been to, there has been someone in the band that appears as though they might have been sleeping rough and just got out of bed. "Scruffy" might be an understatement to describe them. Why don't the people who are either guesting or even a members of an established band take pride in their appearance? They let the rest of the band members down who have taken the trouble to look well presented. Is it familiarity that the fact it can only be a pub as the venue? After all you would not go to see a concert, and expect the orchestra dressed in swimwear, would you? The late great Dave Savill was always dressed immaculate, irrespective of where he performed".  acquaintances. - Peter Gibson

07/07/12 -

Hi Fred, In reply to Peter Gibsons’ comments re ‘correct band dress'. Just what is that; stripped waistcoats and bowler hats? long scarves and berets? straw boaters (God forbid!). Surely the yardstick is not what a guest or even band member looks like but how well they can play. Scruffiness is in the eye of the beholder whereas good jazz is in the ear of all! As to the question of orchestras in swimsuits---it could catch on, especially if it was during a performance of Handel's Water Music. - Jeff Roberts

07/07/12 -

Hi Fred, Peter Gibson was so right when he says that the late Dave Savill dressed immaculately, I well remember Dave in full suit and tie plus highly polished shoes playing on the back of a Lorry with Bruce Carnaffin and I. Dave was a great player and a great guy and he is sorely missed "A TRUE PROFESSIONAL" - Unwin Nunns

08/07/12 -

Re Jeff Roberts' comments: As Jeff is the only one who mentions "correct band dress", he's arguing with himself there. Peter Gibson doesn't ask for that, merely that players actually dress as if they care what they look like, and that they have some respect for an audience who have made an effort to pay to see them. Actually Jeff, some bands could benefit from looking good: That's the first impression, and can distract the audience a little from maybe how not so good they sound! - Cheers, Jon Critchley


09/07/12 -

Many years ago I did a dep job for a band doing a gig in a pub, the dress was very glittery waistcoats and boaters, to be honest I felt a bit stupid but I was getting paid. In the interval I got chatting to three elderly ladies and asked them if they enjoyed the band, one of them said to me, "You can tell its a proper jazz band from the way you dress'".   I rest my rather sad case. - Barrie Marshall

09/07/12 -

I know that I'm old fashioned, but as a professional musician of many years standing, I wouldn't dream of turning up to play in anything other than a jacket, clean shirt and tie with trousers that have a crease and polished shoes, or dinner jacket if required. It's a matter of personal pride. Sloppy dress usually means sloppy playing. Respect the audience who have paid to see you. There are too many folk who think it's clever to dress as "Man at Oxfam" when turning up to play. - Louis Lince

09/07/12 -

Seems Jon you have found me out, arguing with oneself happens at a certain age! thankfully you can’t have reached it yet!  So you expound the theory that looking smart is often a cover for bad musicianship. Exactly my point—it’s not how you look but how you play that matters.

Let me refer you to the O.E.D. definition of smart, neat, trim, stylish, fashionable, elegant in a high degree. Now just what is that? To one person nothing less than a suit and tie is the criterion, to someone else it is a casual sweater or polo shirt. This I think illustrates the wonderful diversity of jazz fans and musicians from all spectra of society, drawn together by the music. Audiences and players are diminishing as fast as the venues they play in are closing, let us not discourage any neophytes by imposing a playing and watching dress code. How long before we see 'smart casual—no trainers. Ties preferred’ on the door of our local club?

Jeff Roberts

09/07/12 -

I agree with Peter Gibson that a scruffy appearance is disrespectful to an audience, but I can't recall when I last saw a scruffy musician
(unless it was me and my dress-sense is badly adrift). Jazz and fashion have never been easy bedfellows as evidenced by the photographs of great jazzmen committing those two huge sartorial (and social) gaffes of wearing hats INDOORS and showing their braces. In other genres of music formality is more widely accepted. My wife sings in a (mixed voice) choir and uniform is compulsory for concerts: white blouses with skirts and hosiery of black; there is a dress code for the women too.

It would be good if the same stringency were applied to the quality of the music: too often I read comments such as "well up to their usual standard" and "a great evening's entertainment" - somewhat nebulous assessments. Could reviewers consider the programme
(imaginative or predictable), arrangements (varied or formulaic), solos (creative or cliché laden), dynamics and emotion (musical or visual), harmonic competence (ability in many keys or the comfort zone of F, Bb and Eb, and knowledge of the chords or otherwise)?
realise that listeners may need help from a competent and impartial player for the harmonic judgement.) Comments in these areas would give encouragement to those musicians who are constantly trying to improve all aspects of their playing ability.

Harmoniously (and trying to remember to check that my seams are straight),

John Muskett


My good friend and colleague John Muskett should remember that (a) The pictures were in the USA where it's not a social gaffe to wear a hat indoors and (b) It's usually hotter there so jackets may be discarded. Have a look at the San Jacinto hall recording sessions where they're wearing vests (in the UK sense!)

best as ever,
Louis Lince

10/07/12 -

I have noticed that in Rock music if they have a female singer she often looks gorgeous and dresses beautifully but the guys seem to be wearing jeans and tee shirts they have had for years, worn for years and have never been washed but the band just about always plays very well. I remember a lot of years ago, about 40, seeing and hearing a band, the clarinet player looked like he had slept in his clothes and looked very tired but it did not detract from his wonderful clarinet playing, I cant remember the name of the band or clarinetist.

Barrie Marshall

11/07/12 - Here is a story regarding scruffy`performers.

An old friend of mine, Gordon Tilburn, first class drummer and businessman, both founded and managed the White Eagles Jazz Band, and also promoted band concerts and dances, mainly in Yorkshire. In 1964 he hired a group to guest at a concert and dance at the Queen's Hall in Bradford, Yorks., along with the White Eagles. He paid the group a fee of 80pounds. The said group turned up about one and a half hours later than the contracted time, so, in the meantime the White Eagles had to fill in.  When the group eventually turned up they were all very scruffily dressed, and I understand did not smell very nice either. As they tuned up ? behind the curtains on the main stage they drowned out the playing of the White Eagles.  So eventually the gig was completed.

Neither the group's scruffy appearance nor their timekeeping seemed to do them any harm. They kept on getting gigs, and, in fact, still exist.

Oh! Their name? The Rolling Stones!

Very Best Wishes,
James Hall
(In Mallorca)

(Wonder if they are still wearing them? - Fred)

12/07/12 -

I have always subscribed to Thelonious Monk's approach. Dress ; sharp as possible. I also think hats and braces are very acceptable having numerous examples of both but I have always thought that musicians at the more modern end of jazz carry the smart clothes thing better. Still, if someone has had a recent wash and brushed his knitted sweater he will probably pass muster.

Moe Green

The subject raised its head again in 2014 when Norman Gibson wrote -

12/04/14 -

At the weekend I went along to see Trevor Foster ( lovely clarinet player ), and the rhythm section of his regular band, who were accommodating a very fair trumpet player from Scotland, and a very handy Northern Ireland trombone player/vocalist, as guests. It was an extra event run by East Belfast Jazz Club and the overall performance was very enjoyable. It was a pity the lighting over the band was not bright enough, but, as a number of people were heard to comment, it was just as well as these two front men were dressed more akin for gardening than out front with a band on a Saturday evening ! Obviously, I have refrained from naming the said players. -

Norman Gibson

13/04/14 - 

I have just read Norman Gibson's letter regarding the sartorial tastes of these two musicians. To turn up for a job looking like you have just been planting potatoes shows a complete lack of respect for the audience. I don't know where this attitude comes from. Some musicians seem to think that looking like they have been sleeping in a doorway is part of the jazz ethic. You have only to look at old photos of bands from the 20's to see that these musicians took a pride in their appearance. These present day scruffs would not have got through the door of one of those old clubs. -

Moe Green.

13/04/14 -

Totally agree with Moe Green about turning up smartly attired. And if Tuba Skinny want to play concerts in the UK they will have to smarten themselves up. Dirty jeans/cut-offs, tennis shoes and t-shirts are NOT the way to go. - 

Louis Lince

14/04/14 -

Moe generally uses very colourful descriptive language, and whereas I know where he is coming from, I have to say his words used did not come from me. Just making the point I felt was appropriate as, in eight years of running jazz evenings, I personally have never had any musicians turn up in dress which caused offence. Re; Louis Lince comment - will see what I think when we see Tuba Skinny at FestJazz Brittany in July. -

Norman Gibson

14/04/14 -

Hello Fred,  In the light of comments on matters sartorial by Norman (12 and 14/04/14), Moe and Louis (13/04/14), should there be a band called Tuber Skinny?   Harmoniously (and moderately tidily),   - 

John Muskett

14/04/14 -

Regarding my old mate Norman Gibson's remarks about our clubs special event at the Ivanhoe hotel, unfortunately I have to agree with him. A couple of the musicians were not dressed appropriately for a jazz event, but luckily the stage lighting was not right so it helped to disguise their attire. Although I was not too happy, I did not say anything as I generally leave dress code to the discretion of the musicians. On the plus side they played a great selection of tunes, all in the Eddie Condon style & the audience certainly enjoyed it. At the moment we are preparing for our third jazz festival in October & with a bit of luck we may be honoured with another visit from Norm. -

George Smyth East Belfast Jazz Club

15/04/14 -

Hi Fred It is one extreme to the other on musicians' dress. Kevin Grenfell and his Jazz Giants came to our 120+ audience last night, and they were all immaculately 'suited and booted' and wearing jazz ties on their white shirts. A pleasure to see - matching their great talent. -

Norman  Gibson

16/04/14 -

I have been turning over Louis Lince's statement that Tuba Skinny  'if they want to play in the UK they would have to smarten themselves up.' He seems to have lost track of the many street, swamp and ad hoc groups that play, mainly on Royal, during the French Quarter festival in New Orleans. It is quite acceptable for these young people to wear what they feel like on the street ( doubt if any clothing would be dirty ! ),  as most of visiting jazz fraternity are similarly dressed. However, it can be seen from the photo' herewith, when they appear indoors to an audience, their dress is comfortably casual befitting to their style and exuberance. If they come next year I will be more than pleased to have them perform for me in that attire.

Norman Gibson

17/04/14 -

Personally, I think a well turned out band shows professionalism, intensity and pride, but it is not the ‘be all and end all’.

We have all seen a shift in fashion – most of the so called ‘fashionable’ clothes these days are the crumpled efforts on pegs throughout many high street shops and boutiques.

Would I purchase these personally – no chance!  Wouldn’t give yer tuppence for it.

Whether they are popular through the choice of the nation, or in the mind of wannabe designers – who will ever know……but folks are buying ‘em!

In recent years we have generally become a ‘dressing down’ nation – perhaps this applies worldwide.

I do think it’s unfair to stick a ‘label’ on those looking for an edge, as opposed to those who are simply not THAT bothered about appearance though.

With reference to Tuba Skinny, I have already expressed an opinion that this is a raw, infectious street band, and, in my opinion, seeing them ‘glammed up’ on stage during a performance on the tour of Oz, spoiled the product.

The spontaneity of their performance and the surroundings adds to their appeal and is what they are about – just my view.

Terry Cheney

18/04/14 -

Can’t help smiling at some of the comments re ‘scruffy dress’. If the musicians were getting anything like MU rates (currently £108 per player per 3 hour gig) the punters might have good reason to complain.

Zoob Lington

18/04/14 -

A few thoughts on band dress code. I normally like to be smart but there are times when this isn't possible or appropriate. Having experience of the rough, tough Peak District and Staffordshire Moorlands, I have played in pubs where green wellies would not be out of order. In other pubs the beer was so good there was a risk you would be crawling out, and I wouldn't want to ruin my best trousers. I have walked through snow to local gigs and played in my boots, but these were black and highly polished, not scruffy hiking boots. There are dangers in looking too smart, playing more formal gigs wearing black and white I have been mistaken for a waiter on a number of occasions. Mad Ed always asks me to be loud and tasteless, but I'm never sure if this applies to my shirt or my musicianship. Whichever, I seem to fit in. Anyway, how about a rule that waistcoats may only be worn by people who can actually button them up?

Sam Wood

20/04/14 -

Having stepped of the plane from New Orleans earlier today, I can add my comments to this forum. I did get to see the afore-mentioned band a couple of times, plus several others including the marvellous Doreen Ketchen. Yes, they may appear 'scruffy' to the average UK jazz audience on the YouTube clips, (no mention yet of the stubbly beards, tattoos and nose-piercings), but the point is that they dress appropriately for their age and can identify with their audience - an audience mainly in their twenties and thirties for indoor ticket gigs, which are always sold out. The 'happening' clubs along Frenchmans (Spotted Cat, Three Muses, d.b.a etc) are full of mainly younger people revelling and dancing to the absolutely authentic New Orleans sounds being reproduced by these young enthusiastic bands - a situation badly needed here in the UK. We simply can't expect young people here to be 'cool' when going to to a jazz gig with their granddads!

In the street, bands often play in temperatures over 90 degrees with very high humidity, so loose casual clothing is very appropriate. Many of the bands playing on the street are just that - street bands playing for tips, trying to get on the ladder up to something bigger, and club gigs that might pay more. However, make no mistake that many of these bands play true to New Orleans musical roots, and they are very much the torch-bearers for the future, and acknowledged by some of the older masters. 30 or 40 watching tuxedos or musical braces, or 300 paying to listen to scruffy - you decide.

Barry Pryme

22/04/14 -

I am in accord with Barry Prime's letter. I remember playing with a band in the French Market many years ago and it was HOT ( the temp. as well as the band ) ! and yes, I was wearing tee shirt, shorts and sandals. Anything else would have been impossible. I have been thinking about this dress thing and while I like to see a smartly dressed band I can look at it from the younger end of the spectrum. Years ago most people dressed smartly because that is what they did. It was the norm but there has been a big change in the way that people dress. I find it sad that when I attend a concert by the Halle Orch. lots of people look like they have just popped into Asda for a loaf ! But that is just me. Young bands have got to relate to a young audience and that includes the way they dress. Old people in suits must be very off putting. I like to dress reasonably smartly partly in homage to the musicians of the 30's and 40's ( that sounds a bit daft but there you are ). I agree that the music comes first before fashion although I did once try a string vest and matching jock strap.

Moe.  Green

22/04/14 -

At my age, not far behind Moe, people may expect me to dress 'my age', but those who know me know I generally dress down casual. I do appreciate the advice on MU rates, and, although I can't see what it has to do with musicians' dress, I can from here on save some money on band fees !

Norman Gibson

22/04/14 -

As a regular jazz listener and performer I have read with interest over the last few weeks the comments regarding musicians appearance.

The narrow minded views of some people absolutely astound me. Surely a group such as Tuba Skinny made up of young musicians must be encouraged as much as possible. To say they will have to smarten themselves up to play in the UK is patronising and ludicrous.

The lack of young people (audience and players) interested in our wonderful music both in the UK and USA is extremely demoralising. I regularly attend jazz festivals/parties and Im lucky to see anyone there under 60 (not a criticism, just an observation).

Most of my heroes of jazz always were smartly dressed. People like Eddie Condon, Peanuts Hucko, Bobby Hackett etc etc but this was in the 1930s/40s where style and dress sense was obviously of a different period.

I certainly wasn't put off by the wonderful American Music album cover showing George Lewis, Baby Dodds etc sitting and playing in their vests. I also remember seeing Maynard Ferguson, possibly the most dishevelled person I have ever seen but did it interfere with my appreciation of his trumpet playing...? No.

The late pianist/trumpet player Dick Cary, in my opinion possibly the best band pianist ever, more often than not used to wear shorts and an incredibly loud Hawaiian shirt and often refused to wear shirt/tie etc as too restrictive.

It may seem a little petty to use the above examples but there again I think its incredibly petty and narrow minded to judge people on what they wear rather than their talent. Its the music that counts and young performers deserve our support and encouragement.

Duncan Ledsham

23/04/14 -

Some years ago I was starting to give jazz lectures on cruise ships and I attended a series of talks (about public speaking) by Arnold Burman. The point that he made, amongst many others, was that if you want to give some gravitas to your presentation, rule number one is to be better dressed than your audience. If they are in shirtsleeves, you wear a tie. If they wear a ties, you wear a jacket. If they wear jackets, you wear a suit. You only need to be “one better”. This rule applies equally to entertainers and jazz bands should never forget that they are primarily there to entertain their audience. I’m certainly NOT talking fancy waistcoats and bowler hats – just common manners out of respect for the audience by whose grace the musician is given the opportunity to create his music.

I’m sorry if this offends the lazy ones but I do feel the truth has to be told. -

Chris Walker

25/04/14 -

These are my final words on the subject (probably to many folk's relief) Does Duncan Ledsham (who commented on the re The AM Cover of the San Jacinto recording session) not know that this was a recording session made in the evening during the middle of a hot New Orleans summer in an unventilated room - it was not a public performance. In Bill Russell's diaries he recounts that George was embarrassed by the picture. When the Lewis and Ory bands played in the UK in 1959 they wore Dinner Jackets or suits dependent on the venue. I was there and saw them. When they played in The USA they wore suits or sports jackets and flannels with collar and tie - there's an abundance of photographic and video evidence.

Chris Walker summed it up admirably in his comments about respect for an audience.

Louis Lince

27/04/14 -

I would like to assure Louis Lince that I am fully aware of the circumstances regarding the American Music San Jacinto recording session. Mr Lince unfortunately misses the point I make; 'don't judge an album by its cover'.

Duncan Ledsham



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