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Woody Shaw Jr. was working regularly as the sole leader of small groups whose styles were oriented towards “hard bop”: Video

24.12. – Happy Birthday !!! Woody Shaw Jr. was born in Laurinburg, N.C. on 1944 to Rosalie Pegues Shaw and Woody Shaw, Sr. He grew up in Newark, New Jersey, and began playing trumpet at the age of 11. Shaw attended Arts High School in Newark where he studied trumpet and music theory with Jerome Ziering. Newark has a rich Jazz history and many notable Jazz artists are originally from there, including Sarah Vaughan, Wayne Shorter, Eddie Gladden, Larry Young, and Grachan Moncur III. His first and perhaps greatest inspiration, in terms of the trumpet, came from listening to Louis Armstrong and, not long after, Clifford Brown.

Woody found out later that he had picked up the trumpet during the same month and year that Brown passed away. This was an auspicious sign for him and he felt that there was a “higher” reason for this; that it confirmed a deeper connection and purpose regarding his place within the lineage of the trumpet masters. His other primary influences were, of course, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham, Booker Little, Freddie Hubbard, and Lee Morgan. Woody particularly felt a strong connection to Dizzy because of the fact that his father (Woody, Sr.) and Dizzy had gone to high school together at Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina. Woody Shaw, Sr. had been a Gospel singer with the Diamond Jubilee Singers in the 1930s.

In 1963, after many local professional jobs, Woody worked for Willie Bobo (with Chick Corea and Joe Farrell) and also performed and recorded as a sideman with Eric Dolphy. The following year, Dolphy invited Shaw to join him in Paris, however, Dolphy suddenly died shortly before Shaw’s departure. He decided to make the trip nonetheless, and found steady work in Paris with close friend Nathan Davis and such musicians as Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, Johnny Griffin, and Art Taylor.

In 1963 Woody performed frequently in Paris, Berlin, and London with a group that included Nathan Davis, Larry Young, and Billy Brooks. Young, Brooks, and Shaw were childhood friends back in Newark, and they would further develop their rapport as friends and as musicians when Shaw finally brought them to France that same year. The following year, Shaw returned to the U.S. to play in Horace Silver’s quintet (1965-1966) and eventually recorded with Chick Corea (1966-1967), Jackie McLean (1967), Booker Ervin (1968), McCoy Tyner (1968), and Andrew Hill (1969). In 1968-69 he worked intermittently with Max Roach, with whom he appeared at a festival in Iran, and during the same period he began to work as a studio musician and in pit orchestras for Broadway musicals.

Thereafter, Woody continued to record with people such as Pharaoh Sanders, Hank Mobley, Gary Bartz, and Archie Shepp, and eventually formed a quintet with Joe Henderson in 1970 (also his fellow frontline-man in Horace Silver’s group), which featured George Cables, Lenny White, and Ron Carter. From (1971-1973) Shaw held an important engagement with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, recording three albums for Fantasy Records (”Child’s Dance,” “Buhaina,” and “Anthenagain”) before finally settling in San Fransisco, where he co-led a group with Bobby Hutcherson, soon after recording on Hutcherson’s albums: “Live at Montreux” and “Cirrus” (both on Blue Note).

Shaw returned to New York in 1975 as a member of the Louis Hayes-Junior Cook Quintet, which, after Cook’s departure, became the Woody Shaw-Louis Hayes Quintet. Cook was soon replaced by Rene McLean, and then by Dexter Gordon, who adopted the band for his acclaimed “homecoming” performances in 1976. By 1977, Shaw was working regularly as the sole leader of small groups whose styles were oriented towards “hard bop”, yet with a strong “modal” element which was heavily influenced by harmonic conceptions that were brought forth and developed by people like John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner.

In 1978 Shaw was signed to Columbia Records and began recording a series of albums which were, and still are, considered jazz classics. Among these are albums ROSEWOOD, STEPPING STONES, WOODY III, FOR SURE, & UNITED (Rosewood was voted Best Jazz Album of 1978 in the Down Beat Reader’s Poll, which also voted Woody Shaw Best Jazz Trumpeter of the Year and #4 Jazz Musician of the Year.)

The late 70s to early 80s would be a very prosperous period for Woody Shaw as a soloist, band leader, composer and also as a father; in 1978 his son, Woody Louis Armstrong Shaw III, was born and would become a key source of inspiration for one of Shaw’s most significant recordings (WOODY III, named for the new born boy). Among Woody’s regular sidemen in this period (1977-1983) were the saxophonist Carter Jefferson; pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs; bassist Stafford James; and drummer Victor Lewis, and from 1980 to 1983 his qintet included pianist Mulgrew Miller; trombonist Steve Turre; Stafford James once again; and drummer Tony Reedus. After touring and recording with a group of constantly changing personnel, in 1986 Shaw formed a new quintet with Larry Willis (also his sideman from 1979-1980), bassist David Williams, and drummer Teri Lynne Carrington.

Woody Shaw was fortunate to have had such a wide range of experiences throughout his career. This was something that had a significant impact on the development of his own personal style and musical voice. Shaw’s influences ranged from Louis Armstrong to Bela Bartok and yet he was able to incorporate such varied tastes into an extremely rooted yet completely original approach to improvisation. His approach to Jazz, and more specifically to the trumpet, is based on a unique harmonic language, which in many ways reflects his deep love and natural affinity towards modern classical music, as well as the direct influence of Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane on his conceptual and technical framework.

Much like Dolphy and Coltrane, Woody also felt a strong affinity to music from Asia, Africa, and various other parts of the world, and always tried to incorporate elements from many different sources into his own approach to playing, and living (Woody was dedicated to a form of martial arts called Tai Chi and possessed a natural but intense affinity with Eastern philosophy and various other spiritual practices and systems of thought. This is something which can be said to have profoundly enhanced his intellectual and creative abilities. Woody Shaw states: “Music is more than just notes to me….there is a lot of emotion and life that must go into it….you must put your experiences into it. Music is my religion”). Shaw was able to translate all of his different influences into a comepletely distinct harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic language, through a process which would inevitably lead him to expand the possibilities of his instrument, and of music in general.

The latter stages (1980s) of Woody Shaw’s career included many new and interesting collaborations with such people as Kenny Garrett (Woody Shaw appears on Kenny Garrett’s very first recording as leader, entitled Introducing Kenny Garrett) and Freddie Hubbard, who was not only an early influence of Woody’s but a very close friend of his as well. Woody and Freddie recorded three records together during this period in dedication to Clifford Brown, Fats Navarro, and Louis Armstrong (”Time Speaks,” “Double Take,” and “The Eternal Triangle”). Woody also recorded with Mal Waldron and again with Dexter Gordon, and also toured and recorded with the Paris Reunion Band, which featured musicians who had previously lived and worked there, such as Joe Henderson, Johnny Griffin, Nathan Dvais, Idris Muhammad, Jimmy Woode, Kenny Drew, and Curtis Fuller. He would continue to record and tour around the world to such places as Egypt, India, and east Asia, while still developing musicially and searching for new sources of inspiration and creativity.

Like many geniuses, however, Woody’s journey would involve periods of prolonged struggle and hardship, yet through his sacrifice and dedication to the evolution of Jazz music, he added to the vocabulary of the trumpet and created a musical language which was all his own. In many ways, he is the last true innovator on his instrument and is well established as one of the major contributors in the line of great modern trumpet players that began with Louis Armstrong. Furthermore, Woody Shaw’s early departure (May 10th 1989), while tragic in many ways, considering his tremendous role as one of the leaders of his generation, helps us realize how much he achieved in such a short period, and how far ahead of his time he truly was, and still is. The scale and complexity of his achievements are comparable to those of the greatest innovators of modern music, and thus his contributions live on forever as a tremendous source of learning for future generations, and as a true representation of the dignity which characterizes the profound legacy of Modern Jazz.

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