Woody Shaw: Trumpet In Bloom
By Chuck Berg
This is destined to be the year that the boundless energies of Woody
Shaw come into focus. In the first place, his playing has never been
better. Coupling the bop-oriented idioms of Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan
and Freddie Hubbard with the avant garde dialects of Eric Dolphy and John
Coltrane, Shaw has added a technical virtuosity and fiery intensity that
make his stylistic approach second to none.
In addition to being a masterful stylist, Shaw is a leader with
strong musical convictions. After a highly successful two-year tenure
as co-leader of the Woody Shaw/Louis Hayes Quintet, the trumpeter has
organized a group even more responsive to his musical design. Along with
the leader, there are saxophonist Carter Jefferson, pianist Onaje Allan
Gumbs, bassist Clint Houston and drummer Victor Lewis. It's a dynamic
unit already making waves.
Moreover, Shaw's career has benefited from the wise counsel of his
manager and wife, Maxine Gregg, and has taken a leap forward due to the
support of Bruce Lundvall, President of CBS Records. So, with a major
label recording contract, a hot new album (RosewoodColumbia JC
35309), top-notch management and a group of kindred musical spirits,
Woody Shaw is now sittin' on top of the world.
But Shaw's accomplishments have not come by playing to the
marketplace. Eschewing the fusion phenomenon, Shaw has steadfastly marched
to the beat of his own drummer. As a result, Shaw's talents have been in
demand by other uncompromising artists like Eric Dolphy, Horace Silver,
Art Blakey, Max Roach, McCoy Tyner, Andrew Hill, Archie Shepp, Pharoah
Sanders, Jackie McLean and, most recently, Dexter Gordon.
Born in Laurinburg, North Carolina, on Christmas Eve in 1944, Shaw
is as open and energetic as his music. Playing it safe is not Woody's
way. Our conversation took place in Shaw's East 31st Street apartment
with the sounds of John Coltrane and traffic from nearby Lexington Avenue
counterpointing our dialogue.
- What kind of influence did your family have on your musical
- Well, coming from the traditions of the deep South, there was always
a lot of music around. I had a cousin who played classical piano, you
know, Chopin and Mozart. Every Christmas she would come down and play
for the family. I got very jealous. I guess I was about nine or ten years
old. So I was determined to show the family what I could do. I picked up
a trumpet when I was about 11 and gradually learned to play it. I had
a close affinity with the instrument. It just felt natural. So that's
more or less how I became involved with the trumpet.
- Why trumpet instead of saxophone or piano?
- Actually, I had started playing bugle. I used to be in the Washington
Carver Drum and Bugle Corps. This was an all black senior corps which
was affiliated with the Masons. When you say "bugle," people think in
terms of the military bugle. But a lot of bugles have one rotary valve
which produces a series of chromatic notes. When I was playing bugle,
though, I had to use the tuning slide for chromatic notes. Anyway,
because of the bugle, I was attracted to the trumpet.
- Who was the first trumpet player that you listened to and
- Louis Armstrong. I loved Louis. Also Harry James. I liked the
flashy trumpet players. And Dizzy É so, I had a close affinity with the
instrument and became the best trumpet player in school. This was in
the sixth grade.
- There was always a wide variety of music around our house. My father,
Woody Shaw, Sr., was involved with gospel music. We listened to Tito
Puente and all of that Latin stuff because we liked to dance. I remember
a record by Lester Young and Howard McGhee on trumpet. Our friends would
come over and we'd dance. So you can see it was a good environment for
music-religious, dance, everything.
- What was your dad's gospel music experience like?
- Well, he belonged to the Diamond Jubilee Singers. They were very
popular in the South. They were affiliated with the Fisk Jubilee Singers
who came from Fisk University. But the Diamond Jubilee Singers developed
a reputation of their own. I was fascinated. I'd sit down with my mouth
open and just listen to those guys sing, man. The rhythms and the feelings
they generated were terrific. I'd sit there and just go to sleep every
night. So that was my first real close contact with live music.
- When did you move to Newark?
- When I was about two months old my family had already moved to Newark
but my mother went back to North Carolina to have me. When I was a little
stronger we went back to Newark. In the meantime my father was holding
the fort down.
- Who were you listening to in junior high?
- I was still into Louis Armstrong, Harry James, the flashy trumpet
players. I remember Ray Anthony. I used to watch him on television. Then
my mother took me out one day and bought a $1.25 record at the A&P. I'll
never forget it. On it were Benny Goodman, J.C. Higginbotham, Glen Gray
and the Casa Loma Orchestra. It came all the way up to 1945 with Dizzy
Gillespie playing "Night In Tunisia." This fascinated me.
- Was Diz the first bop trumpet player you listened
- He was the first "modern" jazz trumpeter. At that time
Dizzy was playing things that were impossible. Imagine me at 11 years old
hearing Dizzy Gillespie. It sounded impossible to my ears. Nevertheless,
Diz made me feel I had to be a jazz trumpet player.
- Other people? Shorty Rogers, Pete Candoli, everybody, you know. I
just loved the trumpet. There was another record that had a variety of
jazz artists, like Sarah Vaughan. It also had Clifford Brown and Max
Roach playing "Cherokee." I'll never forget it. It just haunted me. Such
a beautiful dark tone. Clifford more or less shaped my conception of
what I wanted to sound like. I was about 13 when that happened.
- When I was in junior high I met a teacher who took a profound interest
in me. His name was Jerome Ziering. He was a legitimate trumpet player
who also played a lot like Harry James. He noticed my talent and took
me under his wing. He said, "Woody, you're going to have to learn how
to read. There are a lot of good white trumpet players out there who
are going to make it competitive." He actually wanted me to become a
classical trumpet player. I told him my folks couldn't afford trumpet
lessons. He said, "Okay, instead of charging you $10, I'll charge you
$5. You must study with me." I was still about 13 and Mr. Ziering was
steadily helping me get my sound and technique down. So the whole legit
world of trumpet started to open up. A little later I was starting to
get into Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd, Kenny Dorham. That was around '58 or
'59. Mr. Ziering knew I had this interest in jazz, so in addition to
making me study out of legit books, he brought in solos by Dizzy and Bix
Beiderbecke and Bunny Berigan. So he helped shape my concept of jazz.
- He was really an extraordinary man.
- Just beautiful. As far as the trumpet goes, I have as much respect
and love for Mr. Ziering as I have for Clifford Brown and Dizzy
Gillespie. He's a very big part of my background. He was such a great
trumpet player. He's now a school teacher in New Jersey.
- So he was your first teacher.
- My first real idol, you know. He had a great interest in the students
and made them learn about the basics of music. He wanted me to sit in
the New York Philharmonic because I was a natural with the trumpet. One
day he said, "Woody, can you hit this note?" He played a high G. I hit
it. I can hardly hit it now, but I hit it then. I must have been about
13. Anyway, he made me try out for the all-city junior high and all-state
junior high orchestras. He told me what to practice.
- Did you make those?
- Yes I did. I was playing 3rd or 4th trumpet but I was in there. After
junior high, I went to the Arts High School in Newark. It's like the High
School of Performing Arts in New York. Anyway, that's where people like
Wayne Shorter, Sarah Vaughan, Scott La Faro and Connie Francis went. I
then started to really grow as a jazz musician. I was also starting to
meet people like Hank Mobley and Kenny Dorham.
- Had you started coming into New York to go to clubs?
- Not yet. I'd sneak into Birdland occasionally when I was about 15. I'd
dress up and look older. I've always looked older than my age. I guess
it's from growing up so fast. I had very good marks at school during that
period. I was a super student. I even skipped a couple of grades-from 7B
to 9A. But then came the thing with girls. Also, I started to hang out
a little bit. Actually, growing up too fast. My parents said, "Woody,
Mr. Ziering wants you to study, to get good marks and to develop your
trumpet technique." But I thought I knew it all.
- In high school there was a fantastic variety of trumpet players. I'll
never forget it. They were all Italian too. These guys would really
get tone, man. They were into Mendez. So that shaped and rounded my
perception of what the trumpet should sound like. I still believe the
main thing about trumpet is that tone. I like to hear a big fat round
pretty sound. I don't care what a cat's playing, if he's got a big round
pretty sound, he's got me.
- I'm about 16 now. I'm growing up. I run into musicians like Buddy
Terry and Art Williams. Art Williams, who later passed away, took an
interest in me. He was a bassist and used to play in different spots
around Newark. There was another gentleman by the name of Jimmy Anderson
who taught me about chords. When I was about 16 or 17 he said, "Well,
you've got to learn piano." So I started working on piano. In the process
I discovered I had perfect pitch. At this point I was thoroughly engulfed
in music and really into Lee Morgan even more than Clifford Brown. To me,
nobody played better than Lee Morgan. I was also into Donald Byrd. Dizzy,
of course, had always been my man. I was also starting to discover people
like Clark Terry and Maynard Ferguson.
- I must go back a little bit to about age 14, when I met a man who
was responsible for getting people like Wayne Shorter and Walter Davis
going. His name is Ladozier Lamar and he directed a big band at the Newark
YMCA. We played stock arrangements by Duke Ellington and Count Basie. He
was very hard, you know. He really made us play those charts.
- Later, through some of the guys in the Y band, I met Alan Jackson
and started playing with his r&b band. I was also starting to jam
everywhere. So all of a sudden, there's this young kid with lots of
potential who loves to play, and it's me. I still love to jam, man.
- When did you start sitting in with established players?
- There was a club on Warren Street in Newark that had Tuesday night
sessions that I'll never forget. The first night I sat in, Kenny Dorham
and Hank Mobley were playing with a local rhythm section consisting of
Larry Young on piano and a bassist by the name of Geronimo who also ran
the sessions. Kenny really dug me 'til the day he died. I guess he could
hear what was coming next. Anyway, every Tuesday nights there would be
different players like Johnny Griffin, Lou Donaldson, Tommy Turrentine,
Stanley Turrentine, Shirley Scott, Jackie McLean, all the cats.
- Finally, I flunked out of school and the teaching staff couldn't
understand it because I had been such a brilliant student. Everybody was
worried, so I tried to go back to high school. I'm 18 now. Then I got a
call from Rufus Jones -- a chance to go on the road. So I finally quit
school and went on the road.
- Buddy Terry, the saxophonist, was in the band, which was great
because Buddy was one of my idols at that time. He was like the Sonny
Rollins of Newark. He taught me about chords. Every question I had,
Buddy Terry would answer for me, and he had all the hit records by Sonny,
- This was also the time of the avant garde, don't forget. It was fresh
then. And I could always go hear Mingus, Trane, anybody, at the Showplace
or the Jazz Gallery. That was when I was in my late teens. There were
lots of things happening then.
- There was a young drummer by the name of Wilson Morgan who used
to make me go over to Juilliard. I used to sneak in on brass classes
and stand outside the trumpet teacher's door and listen to him give
lessons. You know, I couldn't have gone to Juilliard because I didn't
graduate from high school, but there I was. It was like a whole new
- All of us were grasping for knowledge at that time. I knew Chick Corea
and Hubert Laws since they first came to New York. I remember this bashful
guy that used to play piccolo at jam sessions, Hubert Laws. But a lot of
cats who wanted to be jazz musicians left the scene and became teachers
and whatnot. Tyrone Washington and myself, and another good friend
named John Williams who played trombone, were very tight. We studied the
music. We knew everybody's solos. We were listening to Sonny and Trane,
and Charlie Parker and Bud, and at the same time this new movement called
the new thing, or avant garde. Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy.
- So I happened to be playing at the Club Coronet in Brooklyn with
Willie Bobo. That band had Chick Corea, Joe Farrell on tenor, Garnett
Brown on trombone and Larry Gales on bass. That was my first big time
gig. That's also when I met Eric Dolphy.
- One night Eric walked into the club. Somebody said he asked about
me. Remember I'm only 18 now. A week later, Eric called me to go on the
road with him to Pittsburgh to Crawford's Grill. That band had Bobby
Hutcherson, J.C. Moses, Eric and myself. Up to this point I was more or
less coming out of the Lee Morgan/Donald Byrd thing. But it was Eric
Dolphy who really turned me around. The thing about Eric's music is
that you could either play the changes or be free on it. He taught me
to play inside and outside at the same time. It had form and made a lot
of sense. Eric is the one who helped me find my own individual approach
to playing trumpet.
- I think a lot of people forget where the force of this music comes
from. Eric Dolphy knew what he was doing. Ornette Coleman knows what
he's doing. John Coltrane wrote "Giant Steps," which is a harmonic
masterpiece. It's like classical music. Can you imagine Arnold Schoenberg
not knowing about Mozart and Bach? I ask a young musician, "Okay, play
the changes," and bam, he can't play the changes. But on a free thing
he can play his ass off. I can't accept that. I had to go through it.
- I admit that there is new music. Definitely. Nothing stays the
same At the same time there's nothing that's really that new. It's all
linked. So I like all kinds of music. It's very important to me to know
how to play in all the keys, and to play changes. That's the classicism
of the music. At the same time, if I get tired of that I play something
- So Eric Dolphy was really important. I studied his music like hell,
man. A couple of months after the week at Crawford's Grill, I played
with him for one night at the Five Spot. And I made the record with
him, Eric Dolphy Memorial. Then I didn't see him for almost a
year. But we used to talk all the time. He was becoming very popular at
that time. Very controversial.
- A year later, May, 1964, Eric sent me a letter from Paris. He really
wanted me to come and work with him. Two days latter Bobby Hutcherson
calls and tells me Eric Dolphy's dead. I said, "That's impossible! I
just got a letter from him with all the details and my ticket. He says
he's going to meet me at the airport. You gotta be mistaken, man." But
I sent a telegram to confirm his death and it was true. So I really felt
out of it.
- A couple of days later I got a letter from Joyce Mortici, who was
to be Eric Dolphy's bride. She was studying modern dance in Paris at
that time. She wrote me a beautiful letter and asked me to come to
Paris anyway. I felt very strange about it, so I talked it over with my
parents. They said they thought I should go. I talked to friends like
Tyrone Washington and Larry Young and all the cats around Newark that
I hung out with and they thought I should go too. So about a week later
I went and met Joyce. The strange thing about Eric is that no one knew
how he died. There were different interpretations, but nobody really
- So I'm in Paris now. They had a local rhythm section there for me
to play with. I became very close to a young saxophonist who now teaches
at the University of Pittsburgh, Nathan Davis. He had been playing with
Donald Byrd and Eric. We became very close, almost like brothers, you
know. After a while Nathan and I were playing together with Bud Powell,
Kenny Clarke and all the cats on the Paris scene, Johnny Griffin, Art
Taylor. So I got a change to grow in Paris. I was playing every night,
seven nights a week, for six months. I loved it.
- In fact, I had grown so much in love with Paris at that time that I
made a proposal to the club to bring over Larry Young and a drummer by
the name of Billy Brooks. The club went for it, so I sent some money for
Larry and Billy to come over. We stayed there for something like seven
weeks. But after a while, we were starting to wear out our welcome in
Paris. It was time to leave. You can get too familiar with a scene,
and you gotta split. So we went to Germany.
- We met Joachim Berendt and did some concerts for him. We also did a
record for a label that became MPS. That was with Larry Young on piano,
Billy Brooks, Nathan Davis, Jimmie Woode on bass, and myself. We were
at Ronnie Scott's in London, at Duke's in Berlin, and in France. Then
Larry Young decided to go back home. He was on contract with Blue Note
and they wanted him to do some recording in the States. A week after he
left I got a letter from my father saying that Horace Silver was asking
about me. So I wrote him and asked him to pursue what Horace wanted and
find out if he wanted me to play with him.
- So after a year in Europe, it was time to get back home. Eric had
sent me a round trip ticket so I used it to get back home. I got in
touch with Horace. Since he had never really heard me, there was a
rehearsal. He really dug me and I was in. That band had Joe Henderson
on tenor, Roger Humphries on drums, Teddy Smith on bass and Horace and
myself. I was very lucky to play with Horace because he was one of my
idols. The three bands I always wanted to play with were Horace Silver's,
Art Blakey's and Max Roach's. Those were the three for me.
- I learned a lot about the basics by playing with Horace-form,
structure, discipline and whatnot. Horace's music is very
disciplined. It was a good experience for me to grow and become a real
professional musician. After Joe Henderson split, I recommended Tyrone
Washington. After about a year, Horace decided to disband. The new thing
was very prevalent and Tyrone and I were starting to affect Horace's
music. I guess he decided it was best to disband.
- Just before I left Horace I recorded an album with Chick Corea. It
was originally called Tones For Joan's Bones. I was on trumpet,
Joe Farrell on tenor and flute. Steve Swallow on bass, Joe Chambers on
drums and, of course, Chick. We even considered getting a band up but
it never materialized.
- After Horace's group was over I started meeting and recording with
people like Jackie McLean, Andrew Hill and McCoy Tyner. So there was a
lot of recording for Blue Note. I also started getting into the studio
scene around '68 and '69 with Clark Terry and Joe Newman, which was a
very good experience. And I started to play shows because I was a very
- What about your own goals?
- Well, in regard to my trumpet playing, I've been fortunate to be
affiliated with Vincent Bach. They helped me to decide which instruments
to use to develop my craft. But my big goal is to play the trumpet like
nobody else has played it. I don't know if I'll do it, but i would like
to sound like Woody Shaw. I come from the tradition of great trumpet
masters of the past like Dizzy, Brownie, Lee and Freddie. But I want to
sound like Woody Shaw. I've been heavily influenced by Trane and Eric
Dolphy and saxophonists in general, so I see a unique course developing
in my own style. I think I sound like Woody Shaw.
Woody Shaw: Trumpet in Bloom
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