The magic of Fred

Fred Astaire remains a style icon more than half a century after he danced across the stage and screen.

Last month Esquire magazine answered the question What Would Fred Astaire Wear Today? with a series of Astairesque looks. Just a tiny example of how the magic of the great dancer never fades.

Astaire conjures up a sense of lightness as we watch him dance, yet his genius lay in his serious exploration of the co-relationship between music and dance.

That’s the subject of a new book, Music Makes Me: Fred Astaire and Jazz, in which the author, Todd Decker, explains that the dancer saw himself in the same mold as a jazz soloist such as Coleman Hawkins or Roy Eldridge.

Decker believes that Astaire’s career as a dancer and choreographer made a significant contribution to the art of jazz.

In a review in The Wall Street Journal, Will Friedwald explains:

“Astaire, unlike nearly every other musical performer in the Hollywood studio system, was his own auteur, not merely a choreographer (albeit one with considerable help, usually from the faithful Hermes Pan) but a genuine “dancemaker,” no less deserving of that term than George Balanchine.

“Mr Decker digs deeply into Astaire’s creative process…its primary mission is to analyse dozens of dance numbers from across Astaire’s Hollywood career, which spanned roughly 25 years and 30 musical films…”

Decker found that many of Astaire’s jazziest dances were not based on existing songs but instead set to instrumentals that had been composed as a musical complement to Astaire’s own original ideas.

He singles out Bouncing the Blues, from the 1949 film The Barkleys of Broadway, in which Astaire and Ginger Rogers “fly into what seems to be the dance equivalent of a jam session, accompanied by swing pianist Mel Powell and combo”.

Here it is:

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What Would Fred Astaire Wear Today? Suit by Gucci, shirt by Patrick Ervell, shoes by Michael Bastian, Esquire Magazine

Jacket by Louis Vuitton, pants by Prada, shirt by Ermengildo Zegna, shoes
Burberry Prorsum

Fred Astaire in the movie Top Hat, 1935