Friday, October 21, 2011

Miles of style

The man in the green shirt: Miles Davis on
the iconic 1958 album cover
Jazz musician, Miles Davis, slouches on a chair against a copper backdrop. He’s casual in a pale green button-down shirt and dark trousers, trumpet in hand as he stares out defiantly. The picture, which appeared in 1958 as the second cover version for his album ‘Milestones,’ remains one of the most iconic images of the legendary artist. Tracks like ‘Sid’s Ahead’ and ‘Dr. Jekyll’ may have caught the attention of fans and critics alike but his self-made cool and effortless image spoke to yet another group – the fashion pack.

Fiercely talented, passionate, irreverent and an eternal rebel (he was known to walk out on his audience with barely an apology), Davis was the whole celebrity package.
Such was his influence that men across the globe tried to emulate his look. “People in London and New York went to men’s stores asking for the green shirt of that color in Miles Davis’ album,” says author, music professor and journalist, John Szwed, who wrote the newly released book ‘Miles Davis: The Jazz Musician as Dandy.’

Szwed explains that a camera filter could have been the simple and practical explanation behind the pale and unusual shade of green. Button-down with a simple collar, the shirt is almost unremarkable, yet, Szwed explains, “there was something about this shirt.”

Indeed, it even provided the inspiration for an illustrated book by author Richard Williams. Titled ‘The Man in the Green Shirt,’ it was published in 1993, two years after the artist’s death. The 150 pictures chronicle the life of the artist starting from his Bebop years. In the 1940s, he appeared dapper in sleek suits by the Brooks Brothers, a look that defined his aptly named album, ‘Birth of the Cool.’ In the 1950s, he added his trademark casual country club look complemented by a pair of Bass penny loafers.

Whatever Davis played, he played it with passion and intensity. And whatever Davis wore, he wore it with attitude and grace. With sleeves rolled to the elbows and shirttails tucked in almost as an afterthought, Davis had the charisma to transform the simple green shirt into a must-have.

He passed away at the age of 65 in September 28, 1991 but Davis lives on in the musical genre that he helped to shape and the fashion trends that he left behind. “Miles Davis says he changed his music five or six times but it was more six or seven,” says Szwed about the artist’s continuously evolving style. “He changed the way music was heard (as well as) the persona that he had built in the process.”

Miles Davis - Sid's Ahead

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