Meet Bob Whittaker: the bearded, sax-playing duffle coat-wearer who fronts the awesome Blind Monk Trio Jazz band
On a chilly night in December 2015, Bob Whittaker (sax), Hugo Harrison (bass) and Johnny Hunter (drums) took to the stage at the Jazz Café in Newcastle.
What happened next was vintage Blind Monk Trio. They rocked the room with their trademark jazz blend of Thelonious Monk-inspired tunes, fused with alternative rock and eastern folk ideas. Or ‘Eastern Bop’ as they call it.
In many respects it was just another successful night for Blind Monk Trio. But down south in Leicestershire, their performance was met with excitement.
Because bearded Bob had taken to the stage wearing a duffle coat.
Not only that, he rocked the room playing his Lupifaro Platinum handmade sax…still wearing the duffle coat.
NOT ONLY THAT, the duffle coat is one of our duffle coats.
There was only one thing for it. We had to track down the bearded wonder who had taken duffle coat wearing (and sax playing) to a whole new level. And here’s what he had to tell us about life, jazz, beards and duffle coats. Oh, and flossing.
Bob, you’re supported by the Arts Council’s Jazz North scheme, does that mean you only play in the north? How can Midlanders and Southerners get to enjoy the show?
Bob: The Jazz North scheme’s been great. It’s pretty hard work hustling for jazz gigs anywhere in the U.K.. It’s a small, but very healthy scene, and there are some serious British players around all after the same gigs.
Jazz North has made that a little easier. It’s an Arts Council scheme which mainly helps jazz stay healthy in the North by promoting a handful of chosen artists. Doors open easier and promoters have heard of you.
We’ve played most cities and jazz festivals now with more booked – it’s all good. We’re talking to more promoters now so hope to be in Birmingham very soon, and should be down at a couple of the London clubs this year.
We’ll cut to the chase and talk duffle. Which duffle coat do you wear and why?
Bob: – It’s an original Montgomery, classic fit, classic camel colour. It’s the most comfortable, easy to wear coat I own. I’m into classic style and the duffle is the most iconic English outerwear ever.
I sometimes wear an old American pea coat. It’s great but it’s shorter so you can’t wear a tweed under it and there’s no hood!
The only problem with my duffle is I don’t like to wear stone/khaki pants with it – too much “beige” – I need an navy one as well. [Looks meaningfully to camera.]
So did you wear a duffle as a kid, is that where the duffle love comes from?
Bob: Yup, [I had] a charcoal one from Burtons – everyone had duffles or parkas.
Are you a buffalo horn ‘n’ leather toggle man, or wooden ‘n’ rope toggles all the way?
Bob: Well this one is leather/ buffalo horn (a later design). I’m itching for a classic navy with rope/ toggles – best of both worlds (prays to the god of duffle for a discount code).
We’ll have a word with the god of duffle about the discount code. Do you have any tips for styling a duffle? Is a Lupifaro Platinum handmade sax an essential accessory this season?
Bob: Haha yes! Although I wouldn’t recommend always pairing a duffle and sax. Not good in rain and also that’s my thing don’t even try it! But duffles work with loads of stuff – my favourite looks are either over a polo shirt with tweed blazer, or a heavy, chunky crew sweater/ submariner.
Have you ever found an unusual use for your duffle coat?
I can’t remember using the duffle for anything too unusual. It’s good for padding out a bass drum and great when you’re up and down freezing motorways for 4/5 hours – it’s like a sleeping bag.
Now, can we talk about the beard? How much maintenance does it take?
Bob: Ha – Beard! It’s been there for awhile! I can’t stand shaving, so I stopped. I keep hearing that we’re at full “beard saturation” or “peak beard”, that’s of no concern to me. I’ll still have it in 20 years or whenever it becomes fashionable again. Not much maintenance, wash, oil, balm, brush through – a little scissor work maybe – good to go.
We’ve seen from Instagram that you’re a fan of beard oil…any particular brand?
Bob: Beard oil, beard oil. Used to be hard to get, now everyone’s making it. Even Boots are stocking Percy Nobleman’s. I have a cupboard full of it, if you don’t want beardruff, it’s essential. Beard stays strong and smells good – I like Penhaligon’s ( they’re so English it hurts) and the amazing Captain Fawcett’s Booze & Baccy collaboration with Ricki Hall ( the bearded supermodel) smells incredible.
Wow, ‘beardruff’, who knew? So does the beard enhance your playing powers in any way? Or does it get in the way?
Yes of course, total enhancement in every area – I’m like a Jazz Zeus
Finally, is there anything else you’d like to add about saxophones, Blind Monk Trio, duffle coats, beards or life?
Go buy a Lupifaro sax, don’t worry about peak beard, go see the Monkmen whilst wearing a duffle, drink good whisky, smile and floss.
Huge thanks to Bob Whittaker for his time (and for wearing a duffle coat). Blind Monk Trio are currently working on an album, so watch their website for details. You can also find them on: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.