Born Woody Herman Shaw II on December 24, 1944, in Laurinburg, NC; died May 9, 1989, in New York, New York; son of Woody and Rosalie (Pegues) Shaw; married Maxine Gree; one son, Woody Louis Armstrong.

Jazz trumpeter and flügelhorn player Woody Shaw significantly influenced the direction of American jazz during the hard bop and post-bop eras. He released over two dozen solo recordings before his early death in 1989. In terms of jazz styles, he was a contemporary of Eric Dolphy and Charles Tolliver, with influences stemming from Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Clifford Brown. Highly syncopated rhythms contributed to the unique Woody Shaw sound, a distinctive combination of pentatonic scales and chorded tones. Shaw's influence was seen later in the styles of modern mainstream jazz players, and to a great extent on saxophonists such as Wayne Shorter than on trumpeters and coronet players. Later artists who were ranked among Shaw's successors included Terence Blanchard, Wynton Marsalis, Steve Turre, and Ingrid Jensen, many of whom were collectively categorized as the "young lions" of jazz of the late twentieth century. In addition to his own compositions Shaw typically performed songs and arrangements ranging from works by Thelonious Monk and Ramez Idriss, to Oscar Hammerstein II.

Shaw was born Woody Herman Shaw II on December 24, 1944, in Laurinburg, North Carolina, the son of Woody and Rosalie (Pegues) Shaw. The young Shaw spent most of his childhood in Newark, New Jersey, where his father was a member of the renowned Diamond Jubilee Singers gospel group. Shaw, according to his own recollection, was raised around jazz. He began his musical education playing the bugle and switched to the trumpet when he was eleven years old. He left home at age 18, toured with Rufus Jones, and later joined Willie Bobo's band for a time.

In 1963, saxophonist Eric Dolphy invited Shaw to contribute to the Iron Man album. Shaw accepted, and the following year Dolphy offered to pay Shaw's expenses to work with him in Paris. Shaw received his plane ticket, although Dolphy died before Shaw's departure. Shaw proceeded nonetheless with the plan to visit Paris, where he appeared with Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, and Johnny Griffin.

Professional Career

During the French tour Shaw earned a reputation among his peers as a hard blowing trumpeter with exceptional fluency. Upon his return to the United States, he invested his efforts in forming his own band and in 1965 financed sessions wherein he performed with Joe Henderson, Ron Carter, and Herbie Hancock. Shaw's professional associations during the late 1960s kept him in the company of some of the most revered musicians of the era. He appeared with the Horace Silver Quintet from 1965-66 and later joined the Max Roach Quintet from 1968-69. Art Blakey offered Shaw a seat with the Jazz Messengers in 1973, and Shaw was heard on several of Blakey's recordings. The three band leaders--Silver, Blakey, and Roach--were renowned as being among the best hard-bop bands worldwide. Also during the late 1960s Shaw recorded at various times with alto saxophonist Jackie McLean, pianist McCoy Tyner, and Andrew Hill. It was Shaw's overriding goal as a jazzman however to branch completely into his own territory as a bandleader.

In 1970 Shaw released an album entitled Blackstone Legacy. The disk, originally waxed as a double album for Contemporary Records, included two long keyboard sets by George Cables and featured bassists Ron Carter and Clint Houston, with Bennie Maupin on saxophone and drummer Lenny White. Shaw's own musical arrangements and several of his own compositions enhanced the album, and critics hailed the recording. It was Shaw's first solo effort, although in 1997, nearly ten years after Shaw's death, an earlier album was discovered and released by 32 Jazz under the title Last of the Line.Shaw's follow-up album to Blackstone Legacywas called Song of Songsand overall featured a less impressive medley of supporting musicians. Shaw's most notable contribution to jazz during those early years was embodied in a conscientious attempt to keep alive the jazz genre of hard bop. In time he collaborated with many of the greatest musicians of the post-bop era in the 1970s, and to a large extent his work bridged a stylistic gap that separated such post-bop musicians as Freddie Hubbard from the subsequent era of jazz players who became known as the "young lions," characterized by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

Leader of the Band

In the early 1970s, Shaw spent some time on the West Coast where he worked with Joe Henderson in Los Angeles and with Bobby Hutcherson in San Francisco. In New York City, Shaw teamed with drummer Louis Hayes even into the later part of the 1970s, and on occasion joined with the Junior Cook Quintet. Sometime around 1972 in San Francisco, Shaw met a young trombonist name Steve Turre. Shaw was impressed with Turre's talent and within two years assembled a quintet that featured Turre on trombone, with pianist Mulgrew Miller, drummer Tony Reedus, and bassist Stafford James. By 1974 Shaw's efforts of the previous 12 years realized fruition; his stature escalated with the release of The Moontrane,a Muse issue that featured Steve Turre on trombone and Victor Lewis on drums, with pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs.

In 1975, Shaw along with the Louis Hayes Quintet served as sidemen on tour with Dexter Gordon after the bandleader's return to North America from a self-imposed European exile. Shaw's subsequent collaborations with Dexter Gordon were also well received and Columbia Records awarded Shaw a recording contract to lead jazz bands. Shaw then collected Gumbs, Houston, Lewis, and Carter Jefferson on saxophone, and expanded his repertoire to include a mixture of bop and modal, with lots of "dialogues" between the band as opposed to improvisational solos that frequently took center stage. Shaw took up the flügelhorn and used it on many of the slower songs, but consistently favored the coronet for fast, loud, and piercing themes. The rapport between Shaw and Jefferson proved inventive and the two became highly adept in their collaborative efforts. Their first album for Columbia, a popular release called Rosewood, also featured Joe Henderson. A follow-up album, Stepping Stones, gained even greater popularity.

By 1976 Shaw worked almost exclusively on his own terms. That year he formed a septet with Fran Foster, trombonist Slide Hampton and four other colleagues. That group released one album together, called Woody Shaw Concert Ensemble at the Berliner Jazztagge. That recording served to showcase the intensive horn harmonies characteristic of Shaw's personal style. Shaw's career approached a climax in 1979 with the release of Woody III.For that album Shaw collected a 12-piece ensemble; they performed an original Shaw compositions which constituted a three-part autobiographical suite. Woody III was perhaps Shaw's best work with respect to the presentation of hard horn rhythms. After that time he experimented with assorted styles, including Latin rhythms and string compliments, much of which was heard on For Sure!

In 1981, Shaw's appeal waned slightly. The overall "cohesiveness" of his instrumental assemblage was less pronounced on his 1981 album, United;although by 1982 the charisma resurfaced, once again revitalized with the release of Lotus Flower.During the late 1980s, Shaw teamed with drummer Louis Hayes and the Woody Shaw Quintet, yet much of their best collaboration remained unheard until TCB released Lausanne 1977 in 1997, eight years after Shaw's death. Bemsha Swing,released in 1986, was among Shaw's final albums. Jon Andrews of Down Beat called Shaw's tones on that album, "clear and strong."

During the course of his career, Shaw performed in venues around the world, including Europe, Mexico, Canada, Latin America, Australia, and Japan. Among his last performances was a 1988 concert given in West Germany with a group called the Paris Reunion Band. That group, which featured Cannonball Adderly, Walter Bishop Jr., Idris Muhammad, Joe Henderson, and Curtis Fuller, convened in tribute to the American jazzmen who sought artistic freedom in Paris during the 1950s and '60s. A live video recording of the Berlin concert was released in 1989, within weeks of Shaw's death. The group also released an earlier album, French Cooking,in 1987. Many of Shaw's recordings appeared in re-issue after his death, including Two More Pieces of the Puzzle,the live track of the Woody Shaw Concert Ensemble performance at the Berliner Jazztagge in 1976.

In a 1983 interview with Linda Reitman of Down Beat Shaw said that "the trumpet is the prince of horns" and that "takes a strong constitution ... both mental and physical prowess to play this instrument." He reiterated to Reitman the unusual difficulties involved in playing the trumpet, contrasting the piano's elaborate 88-key design and the 22 keys on the saxophone against the simple three valves of the trumpet. In an effort to improve his concentration Shaw studied the ancient Oriental dance art of Tai Chi during the early 1980s and affirmed that the discipline was extremely helpful to him as a musician and especially as a trumpeter.

According to critic Ron Wynn, Shaw was, "on the verge of stardom" when he met with an untimely death from heart failure at age 44. He was a highly creative musician who struggled to maintain the purity of hard bop. The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guidediscussed Shaw's works as, "rewarding examples of the best postbop, analogous to the work of Dexter Gordon and McCoy Tyner during the same period," and unlike many of his peers Shaw adeptly created musical narratives rather than spotlighting the techniques of "jamming soloists." Shaw's music, in fact, required some rehearsal, atypical of many jazz artists before and afterward. He remained determined throughout his lifetime to never compromise his purist styles in return for commercialized adaptations of his music.

Shaw by 1989 was legally blind from retinitis pigmentosa. Early that year he lost an arm in a tragic fall from a subway platform in New York City. He died not long afterward, on May 9, 1989. Shaw made his home in New York City. He was married to Maxine Gree and had one son, Woody Louis Armstrong.


After Shaw's death, much of his work was re-issued during the 1990s. He recordings involved a wide range of his contemporaries including other trumpeters such as Joe Henderson, as well as pianists Chick Corea, George Cables, and Mulgrew Miller, tenor saxophone player Bobby Hutcherson, bassist Cecil McBee, and drummer Joe Chambers. Additionally Shaw worked with Michael Cuscuna, Rudy Van Gelder, Cedar Walton, Tony Waters, Alfred Lion, James Spaulding, Horace Silver, and Carter Jefferson. Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard greatly influenced Shaw, although Shaw was more advanced harmonically according to Scott Yarrow of All Music Guide. The two collaborated on a number of recordings, including Time Speaksand Double Takein 1985, and The Eternal Triangle,which was re-released as part of an anthology by Blue Note in 1995.

Shaw is remembered most frequently as the "forgotten" hard bop trumpet player who failed to receive due homage during his lifetime. In 1994 jazz saxophonist Antonio Hart recorded a tribute album, For Cannonball and Woody, including such memorable Woody Shaw classics as "Woody I," "Rosewood," and "Organ Grinder," reworked with Hart's own arrangements. Woody Shaw's cohort, trombonist Steve Turre, contributed to the album.

by Gloria Cooksey

Woody Shaw's Career

Post-bop and hard bop jazz trumpeter and coronet player with Horace Silver, 1965-66; played with Max Roach, 1968-69; played with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, 1973; assembled bands including the Woody Shaw Concert Ensemble, Woody Shaw Quintet, and the Paris Reunion Band; added flügelhorn to his repertoire during the late 1970s and 1980s; recorded for Muse, Columbia, Elektra, Contemporary, Red, Enja, Timeless, and Blue Note; posthumous reissues available on 32 Jazz.

Woody Shaw's Awards

Grantee, National Endowment for the Arts, 1977; Number One Jazz Trumpeter, Down BeatReaders Poll, 1978; New York Jazz Award, 1979; Number One Jazz Album (Rosewood), Down BeatReaders Poll, 1978; inducted into Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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