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Italian born, American raised clarinetist and saxophonist, Giacomo Smith, has made London his home for over a decade. He initially moved to the ‘Big Smoke’ for a year, intending to return to his home of New York. Upon witnessing the talent and creative spirit of London’s vibrant jazz scene, he never left. Since then, Smith founded Kansas Smitty’s House Band and Bar with creative partner Jack Abraham, performed with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and debuted a clarinet concerto composed for him by renowned composer and arranger, Guy Barker. He has performed as a soloist at the Royal Albert Hall, the Irish National Concert Hall, the Salle Pleyel, and at many other venues across the UK and Europe. Smith has also produced records for Jamie Cullum, Zara McFarlane, actor Damian Lewis, Jas Kayser, and Joe Stilgoe. However, Giacomo’s love of Ivy style is a relatively new development, and one which comes full circle to complement his musical inclinations. We sat down with Giacomo to better understand the genesis of both passions, as well as the importance in a pared-down, non-flashy approach to dressing.
At what age did you begin playing music, what was your first instrument and what motivated you to pick it up?
I started playing piano at five years old because my mom played in the house and I was captivated by the sound. You push a key and boom sound comes out, magic.
What was your introduction to Jazz and how do you feel that Jazz remains relevant in the 21st century?
My mom used to play from a book of the tunes from Brubeck’s Time Out. She showed me that record after I asked where the song was from. I thought “Take Five” was the coolest thing ever. When I say cool, I really mean cool. None of the music I was hearing on the radio had that same nonchalant, irreverent, rhythmic moodiness. It was a little dark, but not sad. It was a little mean, but not angry. That kind of “we don’t care if you like this, we know it’s good”. I think that kind of classic jazz will always remain relevant because it taps into a casual nonaggressive counterculture of “cool” that society needs.
Can you remember the first significant piece of clothing you purchased? What was it and where was was it bought?
Ha, where I grew up people wore carpenter jeans and sneakers. If you were going to church, swap the jeans for a pair of khakis. Oh, dearie me… It wasn’t till I moved to London that I took dressing seriously. I realized that if people are going to spend their hard-earned dollar to come see you play, you should take yourself seriously. Some people think caring about what you wear is a form of snobbery. Yeah sure if you’re flashing Gucci all over the place. That’s just as déclassé as flashing a wad of cash to try and impress. As for embodying who you are on stage, Art Blakey said “they see you before they hear you”. ‘Nuff said.
When was your first visit to the shop and what were your first impressions?
I first visited the shop in October of this year. I’d known of it for a little while because of the Ivy slant which I’d gotten into through Jason Jules’ Black Ivy book. Well, I guess I was into it before since I idolized those photos of Miles and others in the 50s, but I never knew it was called ‘Ivy’. I instantly dug the shop because, to me, it was very jazz and very cool. There’s the Ivy Jackets and the Vetra – there’s the popover and the button down. You do what you do, and you know it’s good. It’s not for everyone, but the people it is for are going to love and cherish it enough to make up for all the rest. Jazz isn’t for everyone, which is another thing that makes it so cool. Two other things in the shop – the music is 10/10 and there’s no iPad or self-checkout and no surgical lighting. It’s the kind of place I’d want to hang out in for a bit.
What item of clothing could you not live without?
I’d have to say button down shirts. They make me feel like me.
What is your number one style tip for the readers at home?
Never be shy about wearing a tie out and about.
Do you have a sartorial hero?
I like a lot of what Coco Chanel said about fashion, mainly about not being seen to be trying too hard. Heroes could be anyone from Paul Newman, to Miles, Rollins, Duke and Bill Evans.
If you could choose to attend a concert from any artist, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you wear?
Great question, I’d go see Django play in Paris before WWII. I’d probably go for a white Oxford, knit tie, navy slacks and my JS grey tweed ivy jacket. I wouldn’t have the guts to go up and talk to him after either…
Do you feel that your profession has impacted your style? Or do you feel as if your sense of style has impacted your choice of profession?
Definitely the former. Seeing the aesthetic that surrounded one of the eras of music that’s moved me the most in my life has made me want to emulate that aesthetic. I’ve always been a jazz man, so it only makes sense that I dress like one.
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