When I was in high school, wearing a tuxedo was a special occasion, which usually meant renting one for some kind of formal dance. In fact, there were some of my classmates who actually got a tux for semi-formal dances as well. For band performances, we were only required to wear a jacket and tie, but some of my friends made a point of getting a tux for big performances like the spring concert, and making it known ahead of time that they would be wearing a tux. My senior year, I happened to fit into one of my Dad’s black suits from when he was in his 20s, so Mom and Dad bought me a tux shirt, bow tie, and cummerbund, and I did my final band concert in a fake tux.
At the beginning of my freshman year in college, I joined a fraternity. Since I was also working, and knowing that I would be going to at least one formal event each year, I went out and bought my first tuxedo. At the time, I thought it was pretty cool that I owned my own tuxedo. Fortunately, I didn’t need to wear it for wind ensemble performances, so it didn’t receive all that much wear during my college years.
When I got to graduate school, it finally started paying off, as I was required to wear it for most performances (with the exception of jazz band). Pretty soon, I had to replace it. As I started working quite a bit outside of school, it didn’t last as long as my original tux, so I had to get another one before I finished graduate school. In my second year of graduate school, I started playing in Doc’s bands at Orange Coast College. I used to remember during the final rehearsal before any of his concerts, he would write on the board: “No warm up or tuning on stage. Wear a tux.”
A year after I finished graduate school, I started working for a very busy bandleader, and by busy, I mean I was doing between 300-400 gigs a year. The tuxedo became my working clothes. I bought multiple tuxedos with extra tux pants, and always kept one of them in the car. In fact, I would add a new tuxedo to the collection each year, and rotate the ones which still looked decent. As a working musician playing many high-end gigs in Los Angeles, I discovered that wearing a tux earned you plenty of poor treatment on the job. If you were wearing a tux, you were a second class citizen. People pushed you around (especially wedding coordinators). I got really sick of wearing a tux. I hated it. When I took over the jazz program at Orange Coast College from Doc once he retired, the first thing I did was to stop requiring my bands to wear a tux for concerts. From that point forward, it became my mission to get out of the tux.
When I started working for Mark Wood and the Parrot Head Band, that contributed to the declining number of tux gigs. It was so refreshing to show up to a gig wearing shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, and flip flops. Once I became full time faculty at the college, I was finally in the position where I was able to pick and choose my gigs. I started saying, “No,” to weddings. And most of the time, the fanciest I had to dress for a gig was a black suit.
Still, I had a handful of tux gigs scattered throughout the year. But each year, that number went down. I actually kept track of the number of tux gigs. In fact, in 2011, I almost made it all the way through the year without having to wear a tux! But a week before the end of the year, I got a last-minute call for a New Year’s Eve gig which also happened to be a wedding. That meant that not only would I miss out on my first tux-free year, but I would also be starting off 2012 wearing a damned tuxedo. Aargh!
I finally got to the point where I have gone a number of years without ever having to put on a tuxedo for work in the music industry. I’ve been very proud of that fact.2020 has been a challenging year for all of us, but for musicians, it has severely changed our way of life. Any gigs after mid-March were a blessing. 20 years ago after 9/11, much of the corporate gig market went away. And who knows once COVID is done, if or when live performances will ever return to their pre-COVID abundance?
All this to say that I wouldn’t mind wearing a tuxedo again in 2021 . . .