The Saucony Jazz 81 Is a Tuned-Up Classic for a New Age

Saucony celebrates the 40th anniversary of its classic Jazz silhouette with a new and improved version designed to give new ‘heads an icon to call their own.

Arguably the most iconic shoe in Saucony’s 123-year history, it’s reborn as the Jazz 81 — a sleek reinterpretation that stays true to the original overall design and tweaked with modern style considerations. The Jazz 81 is essentially a premium version of its predecessor, ditching basic suede and nylon for buttery smooth Wolverine suede and durable nylon mesh for a subtle upgrade that’ll pay dividends for years to come.

Another detail that might go unnoticed (but eagle-eyed sneakerheads might) is the omission of the S-stitch accent on the Saucony logo for a more polished look. Coming in three neutral yet stylish colorways that work with just about any fit — Black/Silver, Grey/Silver, and our favorite, Navy/Silver — the Jazz 81 is a solid choice to replace those everyday kicks in your rotation with one that’s destined to be your next go-to sneaker.

To get a better sense of its versatility, we tapped a diverse crew of creatives — from musicians Brandon Woody and Matthew Jamal, dancer Jess Hu, photographer Tyrell Hampton, model Melissa Ramirez, and DJ Stretch Armstrong himself — to show us what jazz means to them while each demonstrates their unique style sensibilities. We spoke to them to learn more about their background and relationship with music, the power of jazz as a creative outlet, and more.

Shop the Saucony Jazz 81: Saucony US, Saucony IT, Saucony UK, Saucony FR

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Jess Hu wears the new Saucony Jazz 81.


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My love for art started with the piano. I played for seven years and entered various showcases and competitions. During my active years, I became fascinated by the clarinet and saxophone and played in my school jazz band. I soon discovered dance and it became the defining form of expression I wanted to pursue. I’ve been dancing for over 14 years. Music and dance is the root of my inspiration and has evolved into how I create in various avenues of art, whether it’s fashion, modeling, visual direction, and how I collaborate with others.

I’m directing my first short film, refining a platform to represent and scout/cast dancers on a broader spectrum than just conventional “dance” projects, curating virtual exhibition spaces, and releasing music.

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Music has been an integral part of my life. My introduction to freestyle was through jazz. Jazz taught me the freedom of expression at a young age and the beauty of collaboration. I spent hours practicing my first jazz solo on my saxophone. Jazz taught me that as long as you have the foundation you can turn it into your own form of expression, and I’ve carried that lesson into my dance career.

It’s adaptive to the nature of the environment. It’s comfortable and its sleek style gives it versatility. I can wear them out around the city to run errands and straight into dance rehearsal.

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Brandon Woody wears the new Saucony Jazz 81.

I’m a bandleader, film scorer, model, and mentor. In the last few years, I’ve toured with artists like Solange, taught at a public school in Baltimore, toured with my own band, and modeled a bunch. I’ve been getting into film scoring for shows and movies recently. I hope to continue traveling the world and bringing people together with my music as well as bringing fashion and music together in the most respectful way.

I’m working on a few people’s albums that I’m playing horns on, but also working on my own project. My band UPENDO is releasing our album in March.

Since I was a little kid I listened to all types of Black music with my parents, so I think music just seeped into my soul at a very young age. The first program I went to was the eubie Blake center for the arts and that was where I first learned about jazz. I was so curious and astounded, and I just kept getting more curious as the years went by. Music is the easiest way to tell my story, and to express myself.

I actually bought an older pair of Jazz sneakers in black and grey two years ago from a store in Baltimore — I thought they were so unique because they had jazz on the front of them. It’s a coincidence that years later I’m modeling and making music for the shoe that I used to wear. The Jazz is definitely gonna hold a special place for me.

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DJ Stretch Armstrong wears the new Saucony Jazz 81.

I’ve been DJing professionally since 1989. I’m most known for the radio show I co-presented from 1990-1998 with Bobbito Garcia, where we shaped the rapidly-evolving hip-hop scene and gave a platform to unsigned future superstars like Nas, Jay-Z, Mobb Deep, DMX, Wu-Tang Clan, and countless others. In addition to playing in clubs all over the world and broadcasting in NYC, I’ve been actively archiving cultural artifacts, in particular, New York radio mix shows and night club flyers — the latter being the topic of the book I published, NO SLEEP: NYC Nightlife Flyers 1989-1999.

I have a mix show on Apple Music Hits called Stretch and Bobbito Radio. I’m also working on a slew of music releases that will feature remixed recordings from our ‘90s radio show. Earlier this year, via our 89Tec9 imprint, we released remixes of the first time the Notorious B.I.G. graced the airwaves, as well as the truly legendary time that Big L and Jay-Z traded bars in 1995.

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Music is as important to me as air. I listen to it every day, think about it every day, and am constantly in awe of its magic. I’m intrigued by how my taste in music changes over time. Music I couldn’t appreciate when I was in my twenties all of a sudden makes complete sense to me. As we get older and our internal lives become more complex, so does our appetite for deeper forms of music that elicit new and more subtle ways of feeling and thinking.

I really appreciate the simplicity of the Jazz sneaker. It compliments my understated attitude and style. It’s a really comfortable shoe that feels like it’s a part of me when I wear them.

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Melissa Ramirez wears the new Saucony Jazz 81.

I was introduced to modeling and talent opportunities in 2018 then officially started modeling in 2019 when I signed with an agency. My first corporate job was supporting a brand activation and experiential retail agency. Now, I’m working at Marc Jacobs on the Raw Materials team where I source leather, fabric, and hardware for handbags, but began my journey as an intern in the Production Management and Product Development department.

Personal projects like volunteering, continuing to learn on my own, writing and reading more, discovering how available I can make myself to painting and dance. And overall, responsibly taking care of myself physically and mentally in order to bring me closer to the woman I desire to be.

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Music has always been important because it’s an avenue of expression for me. it provides me with latitude and freedom for exploration. It connects me to my family, lovers, and friends, to storytelling, to larger communities of adults (pre covid). Jazz, in particular, I reserve for moments where I want to give up feeling distracted and make myself fully available to the sounds, rhythms, sensations, pleasure, and pain that it brings.

My connection to the Jazz sneaker is simple — you choose what makes you feel good every day.

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Matthew Jamal wears the new Saucony Jazz 81.

My music career started with playing double bass in orchestras. I toured with Soulful Symphony for a bit and played a couple of studio orchestra jobs, but I branched off into other genres like jazz, R&B, folk, and rock. Eventually, I left orchestral playing to continue exploring new sounds and started studying jazz more. I started playing with groups like Upendo (founded by Brandon Woody) and had opportunities to play with my mentors like Damien Sneed, a multi-genre pianist and composer.

I have two personal projects I’m working on. I’m writing and directing a short film to be released with a seven-minute composition of mine titled “Organic Sounds of the Black Mind.” A few months ago I also started writing a piece for orchestra that I hope to premiere this year.

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Music has always been a way for me to cope with trauma and understanding emotions. I have vivid memories of my mom crying and putting on one gospel song on loop to regain her strength or to let things go That’s when I first learned the power that music holds. I remember not knowing how to deal with pain, loss, and heartbreak and turning to my instrument. I didn’t get into jazz until moving to New York to attend music school. I saw how it was rooted in blues, and how free and expressive it was. To me, it’s one of the freest forms of music there is.

As soon as I put it on I instantly noticed how comfortable it was. I’ve been going to the gym in them and I love them. Style should be comfortable and practical, and Saucony achieved that. I’m a huge fan of the navy suede, and it’s cool that [Saucony] is dedicating this shoe to an art form that I know and love.

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Tyrell Hampton wears the new Saucony Jazz 81.

I’m a photographer and a dancer.

My cover with Zendaya for GQ just came out and it’s probably the biggest milestone in my career so far. I’m very excited for the next few months though.

My relationship with music is a special one because of my movement background. One of my favorite memories with jazz music is having dance class to live instruments.