Catching up with Dandy Wellington

It doesn’t get any more dapper than this…

by Josh Madden

Dandy Wellington and his band are fresh off the coattails of performing some swingin' jazz numbers at an event at Bergdorf Goodman. The Party was a celebration for a new book I am a Dandy by Nathanial Adams. It's so appropriate to have dapper Dandy present and performing, since he knows a thing or two about the art of dressing well. More than just a snazzy suit, he makes a living doing what he loves. You can catch Dandy and his band weekly at venues such as Hotel Chantelle, Macao Trading Co, Bathtub Gin and Ella Lounge. We caught up with him between sets and got some dandy scoop!

When and where did you begin your journey performing, singing, and expressing your special style?It’s been a long time in development. I was brought up in Harlem, by a mother who loves jazz, theatre, dance, and all forms of art. To this day, the walls in my house are covered in works of well-known African American artists. And the air is filled with the sounds of jazz.We were always singing and dancing around the house when I was younger. Everything from musicals and jazz standards to Jamaican Soca were always playing. So in that environment it was only fitting that I would become a performer.

Who are your biggest musical influences?Most of my influences come from the silver screen and the ballroom of the 30’s and 40’s. I’ve always been a fan of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. Many of the films they did featured songs by Irvin Berlin and The Gershwin’s. Those songs became anthems for me growing up. Then of course there are the hot bands of Harlem such as Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson, Noble Sissle, Fletcher Henderson and Chick Webb, to name a few. My band plays a wide range of Jazz Age tunes, with the earliest dating back to 1907.

Who are your style icons?Though most of my style icons are from days gone by (Fred Astaire, Sammy Davis Jr., Gene Kelly and Duke Ellington) many also exist today as well. From photographer Karl Guerre, whose eye for fashion is unparalleled among the street photography elite, to the design house of Ralph Lauren and Tom Ford. They are constantly innovative and yet unwavering in their respect for the history of menswear.

What stores and designers are essential to satisfying your vintage and non vintage wardrobe needs?When shopping for vintage in New York, I have a group of stores I always visit, among them is Archangel Antiques, Fabulous Fannys and Davis Owen Vintage. Non vintage brands I love are Ralph Lauren and tie maker Carrot and Gibb. When I get bespoke shirting or suiting, I always go to Against Nature.

Do you feel both men and women could stand to be more expressive and confident in their style?I think we can all improve our personal style. Many people are restricted by their job and daily life and can’t expand to far beyond their norm. A construction worker can’t be expected to rock a suit right after a hard day at work because of the physical demands of his job. I would never frown on that, because that workers job embodies an important element of this city. Pride in what you do…hard work…grit. For those who don’t work physically intense jobs or are working for themselves, I would say in most cases, a little style will help more than it can hurt. As I always say, dress for who you want to be.

Which venues do you feel provide the ultimate setting for a great jazz experience?I truly love all the venues we’ve performed at recently. My regular engagements at Hotel Chantelle, Macao Trading Co and Bathtub Gin are just fantastic! Each has a wonderful aesthetic, as well as great food and a wonderful cocktail menu. All of that adds so much to the whole experience of listening to jazz. The perfect mix is a bit of something old, and something new. I have had the pleasure of performing at such exceptional venues like, Berdorf Goodman’s Men’s Shop and Symphony Space. Both of those experiences hold a special place in my heart.

After a performance or in between meetings where do you like to grab a bite or a coffee?My absolute favorite restaurant is The Smith on 3rd ave. And for a sandwich and great coffee I head over to Tiny’s, in the LES.

Are there any professional dreams or goals for yourself and the band that you’d like to share?It is still a dream to play in Harlem more often. I was born and raised there and Harlem is where jazz had its hay day. But yet, you’d be hard pressed to find traditional jazz pouring out of a club or bar in Harlem these days. Elegance, mixology and a love for the Jazz Age, all need to make a comeback in Harlem. I would certainly love to work with Ralph Lauren in some capacity. It’s a great brand steeped in American history.

Words and photo: Tina Turnbow