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Shabaka Hutchings: "Style is a part of jazz. You associate a sharpness with the word"

The London-based jazz saxophonist and band leader chats dressing for the stage, buying vintage abroad and why touring is like a military operation

  • Interview: Sean Griffiths | Photography: Bare Clips
  • 23 April 2020

The jumper I have on was knitted by my grandmother. She passed away recently, so I’ve been wearing the jumper all the time as a bit of a tribute. I’ve worn it throughout the years, but I don’t think I’ve been ready for this neckline until now!

Touring is like a military operation, and the one thing you don’t want to be on tour is cold. You need to be prepared for every type of weather, but you might only be able to take one or two pairs of trousers and one coat. So what I’ve got on today would keep me warm and dry on the road, but is also movable too which you need if you’re in a van or a plane for a long time. The jacket was designed by Samantha-Jane of United80

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When I started out I played with a guy, Funsho Ogundipe, who ran an afrobeat band called Ayetoro. I was playing The Ritzy in Brixton and I went straight from college in jeans and T-shirt. He gave me a massive telling off: ‘You look like you’ve got out of bed to buy some milk and found yourself on stage! What would you think if you went to the doctor and he was wearing a T-shirt?’ He was right. I dress for the stage now.

My mum bought me these Barbour boots for Christmas and they’re amazing. They’re waterproof, which is great, and I’ve been playing in them the last few gigs. What you play in gives you a very particular vibe. I started out performing barefoot, then I got into sneakers and now boots, which give you more solidity.

One of my rings is from Japan, one’s designed by a mate who goes to Egypt and curves spoons into rings and another I saw in Brighton and liked it. I think I have one more, but I’m wearing nearly all the rings I’ve accumulated in my life.

My hat is by Nicholas Daley. I’ve known him for a couple of years; we first got in contact via his girlfriend Nabihah [Iqbal]. She was wearing a really nice suit on Instagram and I contacted her to find out who made it. She put me in touch with Nicholas, and I went to his studio. It turned out his new season was inspired by jazz styles!

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Style has always been a part of jazz. You associate a sharpness with the word. In Japan the women out-style the men. But In South Africa it’s the other way around – you see a lot of guys with a unique and quirky personal style there.

My shirt and trousers are by Nicholas Daley, too. The shirt has a big collar and the trousers are formal enough to wear to dinner before a show, but street enough to wear out later.

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Something that connects my approach to music with Nicholas’s to fashion is that we like to subvert the ‘traditional’. My baker boy hat harks back to an older style, but because it’s oversized, it puts my mind in the space of 90s hip hop.

‘We Are Sent Here By History’ by Shabaka & The Ancestors is out now on Impulse!

Sean Griffiths is Mixmag's Deputy Editor, follow him on Twitter

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