On his new album, My Funny Valentine: The Chet Baker Songbook, Canadian crooner Matt Dusk interprets Baker’s iconic repertoire, but not his laconic delivery. “Ultimately if you try to copy somebody, it’s always going to be a second-generation copy. The way I approached the songs was to make it about me doing them, my way.” Dusk also had a little help from his friends: Grammy-winner Arturo Sandoval, Juno winners Emily-Claire Barlow and Guido Basso and an 80-piece orchestra. With this record, the mid-century retro aficionado decided to press vinyl for the first time. “I think the album is conducive to that type of listening.”
Opposites attract I idolize the way Chet Baker performs. He’s a guy who can basically get in there and sing so minimalist, not give any care to the way he sings, vs. where I come from, it’s all about study and give the big vibrato and the big point of view. Even stylistically he’s the opposite stage persona — casual T-shirts, where I do the full dressed-up look.
Suiting up to get into character One of my favourite singers of all time is Frank Sinatra. It’s very evident in my voice, because I was also trained that way, to sing like him. The Rat Pack thing, it kind of is a costume, because we live in a generation now that has basically discarded anything that’s fancy. Jeans and a T-shirt and a sports jacket are now OK for formal wear. Unless it says “black tie” specifically, you can get away with that. But I love the idea of dressing up. It’s almost a caricature.
Making tracks Recording Back In Town at Capitol Records, I dressed in a suit every day. It was too much of a dream to pass up the role because Studio A — everybody went in there — Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald. And wearing a suit was so conducive to it. But with My Funny Valentine, I’m producing the record, too, I’m on a mission. Roll out of bed totally creative and then on the computer until the very last minute, then run to the studio. I was posting it on U-stream; people could watch the record being thrown down, and people were writing that they’d never see me in a T-shirt! I have no in-between — I am either dressed to the nines, or dressed to the ones.
Style inspiration It all goes back to Cary Grant, Alfred Hitchcock movies, even Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. Men’s fashion really hasn’t changed all that much. What has changed is the cut of the pants. Sometimes the shoulders.
Suiting up When I first got into the business I would buy vintage and second-hand suits. I’d go to men’s stores and find out what kinds of suits worked on me, and what brands, and then would find them online for $250 and get them tailored to fit. Now I wear Pal Zileri. I can wear the same suit six years, 12 years from now. I don’t like wearing baggy clothes. I like fitted things, even casually. That comes from the fact that my stage clothes are very tailored: I could gain 10 pounds and wouldn’t fit into them any more. When you’re wearing a suit, it should fit you like a glove.
Shoe-shine boy The secret is patent leather shoes because they look very well kept and they’re always shiny. Onstage,
it’s a depth perception of colour. If they were matte, over time they would just look tired. I get them at Aldo or Sacha, which I buy in the Netherlands because I go there quite a bit. You don’t have to pay a lot for shoes — just make sure you take care of them. And shoe trees!
Accessorizing I have a lot of watches, probably 20. For men, it’s watches and shoes! Watches that people have given to me or that I’ve purchased abroad. The last was a gift to me, a Jaeger-LeCoultre, several years ago. It’s timeless (mind the pun). And I love cufflinks. I have a lot from where I bought most of the 1940s furniture for my house, a vintage store called Of Things Past. But it depends on the suit: a lot of modern suit arms are cut so tight that you can’t even have a French cuff, and you have to choose between wearing the cuff or the watch.
Five o’clock shadow around the clock I never shave. I have a Wahl clipper from Walmart from, like, 1988, and keep it on the lowest setting because it’s meant for hair and use it once every seven or eight days. The reason why is that when I was younger — and even now — I have no depth to my face [stretches his cheeks back with his hands]. Especially when I was younger, I’d look like Odo from Deep Space Nine. I’d always get carded, so I stopped shaving. I’ve always had bad dry skin around my moustache, so I use that blue Nivea Creme. It works better than what I went to my dermatologist for.
Grooming (including the famous coif) I am fickle and explore different products. Recently I was at an event for Chivas Regal as an emcee and as I was leaving, they handed me a bag of goodies like American Crew moulding wax. If someone looks at my hair and says it looks great, I think, “Thank god it’s dirty!” Day 2, Day 3 hair is the best. I’ve done so many weddings and have always told the bride and groom before, just listen to me, word of advice, I’ve done this 80 times, don’t wash your hair on Thursday, OK? Let it be.
Cologne I like to smell good and I’ve got three on the go — Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male, Moschino Uomo, which is this weird one that’s discontinued and I have to buy off eBay, and there’s that new Paco Rabanne in the gold bar [1 Million]. Every time I wear that one, women ask what I’m wearing.
My stage clothes are very tailored: I could gain 10 pounds and wouldn’t fit into them any more. When you’re wearing a suit, it should fit you like a glove
Less is more I love to sail and whenever I’m on the boat everyone makes fun of me because I always wear Speedos. I go pretty short, like Daniel Craig’s James Bond — by TYR, they’re like sports briefs.
Teenage dream You wouldn’t recognize me in the yearbook photos. Parachute pants with the elastic band waist. The tragic ’90s. I was a child of Zellers.
Retro is a lifestyle I sail, I drink scotch, I bowl. I’m so old-school I even have a custom bowling ball.
But Retro Tropicana is for walls, not closets No Cuban shirts, no Hawaiian shirts. They’re so loose-fitting and ugly. I’d rather be without a shirt than wear one.