Michael Arenella is a musician, crooner, bandleader and impresario who, much like the artists who inspired him, grew up in Georgia and made his way to the bright lights of New York City. With his energy and musical passion, Arenella reignites jazz standards of the 1920s and 30s, bringing them to life for a new generation.
He’s well known for leading his Dreamland Orchestra at his Jazz Age Lawn Party on New York’s Governors Island and his magnificent personal style.
Arenella isn’t a Johnny come lately to jazz. He explains, “even from an early age, Jazz was my long-lost language. Like being born with words in your head, but not knowing how to say them. I learned the trombone at age 7, and then melodies rushed in.”
His “holy trinity” of favorite artists include three stalwart icons of the Jazz era: trombonist and singer Jack Teagarden, cornetist, pianist, and composer Bix Beiderbecke, and trumpeter, composer, and singer Louis Armstrong.
However, for recordings, he’s less apt to play favorites. When I asked his favorite records, he countered, “no favorite recordings, that, to me is like having a favorite colour. Any colour alone, eventually turns to yellow.”
Currently he’s working on his horn. He muses philosophically, “I’m reconnecting with what it is to be a horn player. I’ve never taken for granted the joy of turning an inanimate piece of brass into vibrations of sound and expression.
But I’ve recently taken it with more reverence and appreciation, because it really is a dying art. People will always sing; but will they always play trombone?”
For Arenella, jazz isn’t just the music but an entire lifestyle. I asked him what drew him to the 1920s in particular. He elaborated, “it was a time of reckless abandon, before the storm exploded overhead.
It was charged with energy, there was this sense of reaching and pushing boundaries. Androgyny and free thinking were in vogue. The wild and reckless dances and Jazz were the screams of youth begging to be freed from the past.”
As for his own carefully cultivated personal style, Arenella explains, “when first starting out as a public figure, I was pretty obsessed with being ‘vintage’ to make a mark. It’s because I hadn’t really yet found my own style.
Now, I never try to be ‘vintage,’ even though that’s a part of my DNA. It will come through regardless. I just like what I like, what makes me feel good. While the classic cues of style are timeless, I no longer adhere to rules. And I know what suits me and what doesn’t.”
In fact, he’s recently teamed up with master tailor Alan Flusser to create his own custom-made suits which are, “neither vintage nor modern. They are just timeless with a wonderful drape.”
When it comes to grooming, his approach has evolved. Arenella explained, “when a young man, my hair was like that of a wolverine: dark, curly and untamable. Still, I would attempt to keep it at bay with pomade which never worked. Now, at age 40, my hair has mostly turned to silver, and I’ve stopped using product in it.
I have also decided not to dye it. I am enjoying my age, and the patina that life has formed over me.” Arenella’s current priorities on looking and feeling his best are clear. He emphasizes, “exercise and moderation in food and drink.
If I don’t feel up to par in my birthday suit, I won’t in any suit.”
Finally I asked Arenella for one piece of advice for the guy who wants to add a bit of retro flair to his personal style. He summarized, “it’s great to get obsessed with ‘Mad Men’ or ‘Great Gatsby’ or other retro influences.
If you are feeling it, go for it, immerse yourself in it. Learn the rules and try to be as authentic as you can.”
Then take it a step further. “Learn what gave rise to the trends. Immerse yourself in the zeitgeist, the technology, the culture, the skills and perspectives and struggles of bygone generations. Learn why they wore hats, how they got to work, what they drove, what they listened to, and the fashion will then make more sense.”
And the last step? “Then, totally throw it all aside. Whatever sticks, is who you are.”
Michael Arenella & His Dreamland Orchestra is the world’s premier Jazz-Age dance orchestra, steeped in the hot-dance band tradition of the 1920s and early 1930s. Their size ranges from a full dance orchestra to smaller incarnations. They play their “Hot-and-Sweet” music anywhere that fine and eclectic tastes meet. For his event schedule or more information please go to the Dreamland Orchestra website.