Jazz Goes To The Ivy Leagues

I love when my different hobbies and interests intersect. Sometimes, this happens in pretty blatant ways, like my love of jazz colliding with my love of birds a la Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker. Occasionally, though, the overlap is more subtle and on a deeper level. Take Ivy, for instance.

Ivy League style, that is.

Mealtime at Dartmouth College, 1965

Without getting too involved in the history and politics behind it, Ivy at its most basic describes a style of dressing that was endemic to Ivy League campuses in the American Northeast. In the 1950’s, the look became popular with many college campuses in general and America at large. Oxford cloth button-down shirts (known in certain circles as OCBDs), khakis, chinos, Bass Weejuns aka penny loafers, tweed and madras sport coats, sack suits with single vents, soft shoulder jackets, and three buttons (but the first button elegantly rolled into part of the lapel so it basically looked like a two-button suit) were the hallmark clothing pieces of the Ivy look. It’s a smart, tastefully understated style that flatters all who wear it and never looks out of style or out of place.

Enter jazz.

Before Dave Brubeck was bringing jazz to college, the university crowd was digging jazz. After all, it was young people that put Benny Goodman on the map and made Stan Kenton a rich man. Needless to say, whether it was big band or Dixieland, jazz was often the soundtrack for college students everywhere, including Ivy League campuses.

Miles at a recording session in the mid-50’s. Peep the OCBD shirt and the tweed plaid sports coat – no doubt a three-button sack coat.

In the mid-1950’s, jazz returned the favor when Miles Davis became enamored with the style after being introduced to it by Charlie Bourgeois, himself a stylish proselytizer of the Ivy League look. Shopping at the famed Andover Shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Miles popularized the look that many jazz musicians had already began adopting as their own, making Ivy even more hip. By the time Brubeck recorded his fourth album at college campuses in 1957, the relationship between Ivy and jazz was stronger than the ivy growing up Princeton’s walls.

I should probably mention at this time that for many years I’ve taken my cues from the styles and fashions of the 1950’s and 60’s, something that is plainly evident by those that know me (and, I suppose, people that don’t). While in college, I discovered a blog devoted to the Ivy look named, appropriately enough, Ivy Style. Helmed at the time by creator and writer Christian Chensvold, Ivy Style introduced me to a book that despite being relatively unknown by the masses is a big deal in fashion circles and Ivy circles in particular.

Published in 1965, ‘Take Ivy’ is a picture book that features photographs of Ivy League students going about their day on campus. “Who cares”, you may be asking yourself. Well, the book is a Japanese creation. Born out of a group of Japanese men’s desire to see and document the Ivy League look first-hand, which was growing in popularity in Japan in the mid-60’s, an octet of men jumped on a plane in May of 1965 and flew to the United States, where they spent a couple of weeks traveling to different Ivy League campuses in New England filming, photographing and interviewing the students. While not exactly finding what they expected (students in sport coat, OCBDs and ties), they nevertheless found and documented what real Ivy League students were wearing at that point in time.

They called them scruffy, but looking at the pictures 60 years later, they look anything but messy and unkept. The book, originally published in Japan in limited numbers and in Japanese, became a cult classic and collector’s item before renewed underground interest resulted in it being reprinted in English in 2010. In 2021, it’s still a classic tome and one that any person who claims to be an Ivy devotee has on their shelf. Check out this piece from the New Yorker for more background on this truly fascinating book and its origins.

Speaking of Brubeck…

When the guys were brainstorming a name for their book and project, Toshiyuki Kurosu came up with ‘Take Ivy’. Why? It was a pun inspired by Dave Brubeck and his group’s hit tune “Take Five”, written by Paul Desmond. In Japanese, the word “five”(“faibu”) and Ivy (“aibii”) sound similar, and being that “Take Five” was still wildly popular in Japan in 1965 (probably helped by Brubeck’s tour of Japan the previous spring), Kurosu thought ‘Take Ivy’ was too perfect not to use. Paul Hasegawa, another writer on the project and the only fluent English speaker, complained that the title wouldn’t make sense to anybody that didn’t speak Japanese. The rest of the team sided Kurosu, and when the book was published later that year, ‘Take Ivy’ was proudly emblazoned across the front. “Someone who knows English never would have thought of that name!”, a proud Kurosu exclaimed decades later. The Brubeck-inspired title has become part of the simplistic charm and lore of the work, cementing forever jazz’s relationship with the Ivy League look and at the same time is a fascinating if obscure example of the popularity and influence of Dave Brubeck and his music.

But the story and connection doesn’t end there!

A baseball game at Dartmouth.

In numerous interviews, the writers recounted that while they had grand plans to visit all eight Ivy League campuses in the United States, for numerous reasons they only made it to six. Of those six campuses, they found Dartmouth, located in New Hampshire, to be the most welcoming and sympathetic to their vision. As a result, they spent the majority of their time at Dartmouth’s campus and subsequently most of the photographs in their book are from Dartmouth. Coincidentally, the Dave Brubeck Quartet also spent some time at Dartmouth.

Three years before Kurosu and his team landed on Dartmouth’s sidewalks, Brubeck and his men played a concert there on a frigid winter night in January of 1962. Writing about the event in Dartmouth’s alumni magazine, Tom Long, class of 1965, recounted seeing and hearing Brubeck in Webster Hall. Can you guess what tune from that chilly evening concert that he singled out as being played for the lively audience of fans?

“Take Five”, of course.

Here’s an incredible picture from that night at Webster Hall of Dave Brubeck with Joe Morello on drums and Eugene Wright on bass. They’re clearly enjoying themselves, with the Ivy League audience enthusiastically digging them in turn.

Jazz goes to Dartmouth, January 1962

And of course, I couldn’t not post a video of the Dave Brubeck Quartet playing their signature tune “Take Ivy”, could I? I mean, “Take Five”.

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