Dressing Your Upper Lip


Moustache - header

I know many of you have been patiently waiting for this one, so here it is: the top ten jazz moustaches of all time, according to the Purple Cabbage. Because there are so many greats to choose from, the decision making process was an arduous one, and we send our sincere apologies to anyone who did not make the top ten, and feels they should have. So, without further adieu, let’s get to it!

Number 10 – Wynton Marsalis
moustache - marsalis
Wynton might not strike one as a particularly strong moustache sporter, but we award Wynton with the number ten spot for the boldness to sport a pre-pubescent ‘stache on his 1990 release, “Haydn: Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra”. While some may claim that one earns the honour of wearing a stache, Wynton, at the tender age of 29, rebuts loudly and clearly, saying, “listen up boys, I ain’t playin’ around here”. Sure, it may be a little thin in the middle, but like jazz music, half the battle is playing the wrong notes with confidence – and if this album cover portrays one thing, it’s definitely sheer confidence.

Number 9 – Joe Zawinul
moustache - zawinul
Sporting a moustache is not always about boldness or making a statement. For a select few out there, moustaches are about class – and very few sport a moustache with as much class as Joe Zawinul. Completely eclipsing his full upper lip – no more, no less, – this ‘stache is perfect from all angles. What does perfection look like? Some say perfection looks like a cross between Richard Gere and Santa Claus, with the apparent demeanor of your favourite grandfather. Others say it looks like Joe Zawinul.

Number 8 – Joe Pass
moustache - pass
With age, comes great responsibility; the responsibility to make an informed and stylistically sound decision about dressing your upper lip. The number eight spot goes out to Joe Pass, for fitting in the right ‘stache at the right time. Look at a picture of young Pass (pictured above on the cover of “The Complete Pacific Jazz: Joe Pass Quartet Sessions”). Although balding – gracefully, one may add – it is apparent that there is direction here. Now look at the picture of older Pass. What a wonderful celebration of style, skill, character, and timing… impeccable timing.

Number 7 – Barry Elmes
moustache - belmes
Representing Toronto – and Canada as a whole for that matter – Canadian born, Barry Elmes, comes in at number seven. It is said that some choose to wear a moustache, while others are chosen. In all honesty, Elmes does not earn the number seven spot, but the number seven spot earns Elmes. Pictured on the inside cover of Time Warp’s “East West”, Elmes’ ‘stache has an endearing quality to it. Although a little long on either end, and slightly droopy, one cannot dislike it, but one definitely cannot like it either. It is clear that the moustache must have seen something in its host, but that is not up to us to debate. This is simply something we must grow to accept.

Number 6 – Eddie Gomez
moustache - gomez
Just shy of stylistic genius, Eddie Gomez misses the mark by just a hair. Truthfully, was it not for the hat, glasses and cigarette combo, this ‘stache may just have been able to pull it off successfully. Unfortunately, topped off with what could only be the upper-body shot of the Captain Morgan stance, Mr. Gomez throws this hopeful ‘stache over the edge, earning him the number six spot on the countdown.

Number 5 – Lenny Breau
moustache - breau
Holding the number five position, Lenny Breau reminds us that sporting a ‘stache can be as much about exploring new possibilities and pushing the envelope as the music one plays. Perhaps drawing loose comparisons to the “Zappa” ‘stache, Lenny truly makes this one his own by growing out the ends, as well as the chin puff, just long enough to say, “I don’t care, take it for what it is”. And for all you Zappa-comparing haters out there, I challenge you to put a ruler to Zappa’s, and then to Lenny’s. Now I dare you to say that they are remotely close in thickness. I DARE you!

Number 4 – Chick Corea
moustache - chick
Oh Chick, I hate to be clinging on to the past, but as you may know, what has been done cannot be undone. I am, of course, talking about Chick Corea’s 1976 release, “My Spanish Heart”, featuring a matador-like Corea, posing on the front cover with what could only be described as the wings of a great yellow-headed vulture, perched on his upper lip. Much like the bird’s characteristically large wingspan, this ‘stache too reaches unparalleled lengths, running clearly from the center, onto his cheek, in a single bushy bout. What strikes me as particularly interesting is its raw, distressed quality – significantly more pronounced on the back cover, thanks to the alternate due – begging the question, “is there a fan blowing in his face, or is he just happy to see me?”

Number 3 – John Abercrombie
moustache - abercrombie
John Abercronbie brings us to the top three moustaches in our countdown. What Abercrombie brings to the table is the classic, yet hardly ever successfully executed, crossover. Although by no means a revolutionary style in other genres of music, the handlebar is particularly difficult to crossover to the jazz world. Drawing crude parallels, it is like driving a NASCAR car on a Formula 1 track. You’ve really got to love NASCAR, and clearly Abercrombie really loves the handlebar. Never having seen him wear anything else but the handlebar, Abercrombie has successfully adapted the foreign staple to his own style. For attempting and succeeding at the often-perilous handlebar jazz moustache, Abercrombie earns the number three spot on the countdown.

Number 2 – Keith Jarrett
moustache - jarrett
Although still a strong moutache sporter, no current endeavors match Keith Jarrett’s moustache from the late 60’s and early 70’s. Keith is a fantastic example of the period ‘stache: a ‘stache from an isolated and often short period of time, with distinct characteristics, and often observed on trend-followers. Drawing clear influence from the disco years, this ‘stache-fro, package-deal belongs on a crystal-ball-lit, multi-coloured, dance floor. Worn with such vigour, yet extreme tastelessness, Keith lands on the number two spot.

Number 1 – Peter Erskine
moustache - erskine
Perhaps an unlikely contender for the number one spot, Peter Erskine does in fact take the cake! A ‘stache combining style, class, over-the-edge disregard, sheer boldness and a few other of the aforementioned qualities, Erskine lets us all know what separates the boys from the men with the cover of his 1986 release, “Transition”. Unsure of what the name “Transition” actually refers to (the thesaurus says: passage, move, transformation), I could only interpret the title as a direct reference to his scalp hair’s recent passage and movement to his upper body torso. But this all seems okay, as the dark aviator glasses appear to block any small remnants of insecurity and humanity altogether, leaving nothing but a stick wielding, wife-beater-wearing, killing machine. But forgive me, I have digressed. Coming back to the moustache itself, although Erskine’s ‘stache has taken various forms throughout the years, it is clear that whether we are looking at “Weather Report Erskine”, or “back cover of Downbeat Erskine”, we are dealing with a man whom has truly withstood the test of time. Because of this, Peter Erskine earns the number one spot on the Purple Cabbage, Top Ten Moustache Countdown of All Time.

Of course, we wouldn’t have a complete countdown without the token honourable mentions. So here it goes.

Best Foreign Moustache – Django Reinhardt
moustache - django
A classic moustache, the sort one would only expect to find in the most cultured parts of France. Its darkness and slenderness give the lip that sought-after contour, especially when worn with a smile. Not to mention it looks great smoking a cigarette. Had it been a North American occurrence, Django’s ‘stache may have even made the top three, however, taking context into consideration, we’ve decided to award Django best foreign ‘stache. Altogether great ‘stache, but a little far from home to really relate to.

One Stache Wonder – Vince Guaraldi
moustache - guaraldi
Perhaps best known for writing the soundtrack to Peanuts’ Charlie Brown cartoon series, Vince Guaraldi sports a ‘stache reminiscent of Speed Network’s, Dennis Gage, from the show “My Classic Car”, crossed with a hint of Hanna Barbera’s “Dick Dastardly” from Wacky Races. Although having cut several records aside from his work on Charlie Brown, Vince Guaraldi receives the one ‘stache wonder honourable mention for composing the soundtrack that has served as the childhood theme to so many mainstream audiences.

The Purple Cabbage
February 2011

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About The Purple Cabbage

A Toronto Jazz and creative music blog featuring interviews, new releases, culture, shows, and all things Toronto Jazz.
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One Response to Dressing Your Upper Lip

  1. Ralph Humphreyl says:

    Well, a no more deserving man than Peter should get this dubious award. I did enjoy the digression as well. Congrats Peter.

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