Saturday, December 23, 2017

Class Reunion - The Bobby Shew Quintet

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

BOBBY SHEW was born in Albuquerque. NM in 1941. Bobby Shew started playing trumpet when he was a kid, and after leaving the service in 1964. he turned professional. He played with Tommy Dorsey, and with Woody Herman's Herd, and he got his first experience as a lead player on the road with Della Reese. He spent 7 years in Las Vegas, where he played with the Buddy Rich band as well as alf the top show bands, going out on the road as lead trumpeter with Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Tom Jones and many others.

In the tall of 1972 Bobby had had enough of Las Vegas, and so he packed his trumpet and flugelhorn and left. He was determined to crack big-time L.A., and eventually managed to make the wedding between the business of music and the art of music. As a studio musician. Shew was on call constantly.

From 1975 on, he recorded and played with groups led by jazz greats like Frank Strazzeri, Horace Silver, Don Menza, Bud Shank, and Carmen McRae, and with the big bands of Louis Bellson, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Juggernaut, Buddy Rich, Gerald Wilson, Woody Herman, and Maynard Ferguson band.
After enjoying success as a sideman, in 1978 Shew started a prolific career as leader with all kinds of albums, from small groups to large orchestra, while also leading his own highly successful combo for many years.                                                     

Recognition has come to him in the form of acclaims and accolades, but maybe Dizzy Gillespie's praise sums it up best: "The only guy who could play flugelhorn in the high register and make it sound good is Bobby Shew."

I’ve always considered Jordi Pujol, the owner and proprietor of Fresh Sound Records, a latter-day Norman Granz sans the personal management dimension [Norman managed such notables as Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson and was the impresario for the Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts both at home and abroad].

And like Norman, who made possible a treasure trove of recorded Jazz on various labels for which Jazz fans everywhere will forever be in his debt, Jordi has brought to the digital world an immense catalogue of Jazz that was initially released on small, independent labels, many of whom became extinct after a few, short years in the business.

As a case in point, Jordi recently sent along three CDs which he has released on his Fresh Sound label featuring the music of Bobby Shew, Sal Nistico and Martial Solal all of which he has rescued from obscurity and given new life in a digital format.

The first of these recent digital reissues is Class Reunion - The Bobby Shew Quintet [Fresh Sound Records FSR CD 946] which came out in 1980 on Sutra Records [LP SUS 1002].

In addition to Bobby on trumpet and flugelhorn, the band consists of Gordon Brisker on tenor sax and flute, Bill Mays on piano and Fender Rhodes, Bob Magnusson on bass and Steve Schaeffer on drums.

As one of my Jazz buddies recently remarked to me via email:

“Bobby has long been a favorite of mine and sorely under-appreciated by the general public - as a straight-shooting teacher, clinician, musician and generally very funny guy.”

Bobby is one of the few Jazz trumpeters who can meet the exacting requirements of playing in the lead trumpet chair as well as taking on the Jazz or solo trumpet assignments.


Born in the picturesque musical wasteland of Albuquerque, New Mexico, on March 4, 1941 Bobby Shew started guitar at age eight but switched to trumpet at age ten. There was no history of music in his family. His stepfather, however, kept a borrowed trumpet in the closet, which he brought out when Bobby was around 8 or 9 years old. "He played Red River Valley for me," Bobby fondly recalls, "which was all he could remember. I thought, 'Gee, that's beautiful. That's really a hip toy."'

Because the trumpet was left in a closet, he couldn't play it, "But when they used to leave me with a baby sitter, I could hardly wait for them to get out the door so I could sneak in the closet and get that trumpet out." When he was eight, he tried country and western guitar picking. The strings were "four miles above the board, of course, which bloodied up my fingers and destroyed my left hand and my initiative — plus the fact I couldn't stand to hear another song about a guy falling in love with his horse." In the fifth grade, Shew talked his stepfather into letting him use the closet trumpet to try out for the school band. Bobby bought a trumpet book, sat down with his stepfather for two hours, and learned how to read music and blow and finger the horn.

"That night I could play everything in the book. I always had a natural cosmic vibration with music. It just lit my body up. Behind music, my whole being came to life." With that one lesson behind him, he won second chair in the 36-piece horn section the very next day. "I was so unexposed to music that I had not had anyone tell me how difficult it was to do. It was just music. It was so simple, before anyone could get their hands on me and convince me how hard it was going to be to play trumpet, I already had it going."

When he was 12, he was asked to play in a dance band, "but I said no, because I didn't know how to dance. I didn't realize that a dance band wasn't a bunch of guys who played and danced." After he was properly informed, he began playing local casuals, weddings, and dances, becoming exposed to improvisation — which opened a new world for him. The love affair with jazz started there and became the driving force in Bobby's life.

"During a rehearsal break one time, I jumped in and started playing on a blues jam, making the music up in my head. The whole place stopped and listened. Boom! Everything came out. It was a completely natural thing. I've never had to study, and I still haven't studied privately to this day. It was a revelation for me when, many years later, I realized what I had accomplished." Jazz influences were hard to come by in Albuquerque, because "there just was not a great deal of black music available. The record stores in that town were places that sold pianos, accordions, trumpets, trombones, violins, and maybe back in the corner they had a few records. I mean, they didn't exactly say, 'We gotta make sure we get all the Blue Note stuff in!'"

So he spent summers after high school in New York City listening to the great jazz masters, and attended the first two years of Stan Kenton's Summer Jazz Clinics in Bloomington, IN. In 1959 and 1960, he got a chance to study under jazz greats Don Jacoby, Conte Candoli, Johnny Richards, Sam Donahue, John LaPorta, Shelly Manne, etc.

Life went on, and after that Bobby attended UNM for two years, studying Architecture and Commercial Art. He was drafted into the Army, and assigned as jazz soloist to NORAD BAND in Colorado Springs, where he recorded and toured extensively, playing with people like Phil Wilson and Paul Fontaine. "I'd never heard guys play like that except on records. Being in that band was probably the turning point forme. I went in there pretty naive yet confident at my level, but that band showed me guys who could really play."

Leaving the service in 1964, Bobby Shew turned, professional. He joined Tommy Dorsey, and in spring 1965 he replaced Larry Ford in Woody Herman's Herd, travelling in July to France, to appear at the Festival de Jazz d'Antibes. About his time with Herman, Bobby, wrinkling his brow recalled: "That was traumatic for me. I thought Woody's band was the greatest band ever, but when I got there, I ended up on the wrong chair. It was the third chair. Bill Chase was playing lead, and Jerry Lamy was splitting it with him. Dusko Gojkovic and Don Rader were doing the jazz. I was stuck with nothing to do for a year, and it drove me crazy. I wasn't mature enough to know how to deal with it."

So he left on the road with Della Reese and began getting experience as a lead player. He settled in Las Vegas for 7 years. He played with the newly-formed Buddy Rich band for a year and a half, originally joining Buddy as a jazz player, then shifting to lead. "It was easy for me to play with Buddy, because he plays drums like a lead trumpet player, and when I play trumpet in a big band I approach it like a set of drums, really whipping and bashing, working tight with the drummer. Buddy and I worked together great. It was like having two drummers in the band."

After leaving Buddy, Shew played Las Vegas top show bands, sometimes going out on the road as lead trumpeter with Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Steve Allen, Paul Anka, Connie Stevens, Tom Jones, Terry Gibbs, Robert Goulet and Vikki Carr. He then took a year off, because, "My chops were cut to shreds. I got to the place where I couldn't stand Vegas any more. They can sit in those house bands making $325 a week and just die. There's no incentive to do anything."

In the fall of 1972, Bobby packed his trumpet and flugelhorn and, with his wife, left Las Vegas on a shoestring. He had had it with Vegas stagnation. He was willing to scuffle if he had to, but he was determined to crack big-time L. A.

"I had been in and around Vegas for nine years, and my frustration level had risen til my eyes were turning red. I just couldn't take it anymore. I just came home to my wife in 1972 and said, 'Let's pack up and get out.' We left town in four days and came here to L.A.

"When you go to Vegas, you see, the music is just hard, high, pounding, hammer as hard as you can for hours. It's just like breaking rocks. There's never any light taps. It becomes a thing of brute force. Never a delicate, musical, sensitive, colored thing. As far as jazz playing goes, there's about five guys there holding on to a thin thread for dear life. They have to do it in the garage. I didn't even get to play eight bars of sensible music for six or seven years. "When I came down here, my chops were hard and stiff, so I had to once again learn how to play with some delicacy and sensitivity to be able to walk in a studio and play a movie or a Dixieland feel.

"That's where the versatility of studio work comes in, and you need that versatility to play in this town. You might walk in an nine o'clock in the morning and have to play Stravinsky, then a rock date for Motown with those merciless high F's and G's and endless vamps, then go play with Bud Shank's quintet later that night. You have to be able to do the whole thing. And since I never had classical lessons, I was ill-prepared to play some of the tricky classical-like things that showed up, especially double and triple tonguing which I never learned."

Shew managed to make the wedding between the business of music and the art of music. When he was a child, he loved the aesthetics of music. But as he learned the professional ropes, he learned to play to make a living. "If you're lucky," he said, "the two can dovetail together." As a studio musician, Shew was on call constantly.

As an artist, he played regularly with Louie Bellson's big band. "And I played with Art Pepper's quintet for half a year; I play with Bud Shank occasionally; at one point I put a seven-piece band together of my own; and I just recently did an album with piano player, Frank Strazzeri: a giant, a monster, an incredibly underrated player, a complete genius." Bobby also enjoyed the thrill of playing both lead and jazz with Toshiko's big band, "because the chops and the studio versatility all come together from an artist's point of view, not a business point of view."

As a teacher, Shew has taught numerous clinics over the years. He was also Chairman of the International Association for Jazz Education for sixteen years,associate Professor of Trumpet at USC for eleven, worked at California State Northridge for eighteen, and at the California Institute of the Arts for three. "I love it. Part of being an artist is just doing things creatively, and I don't think anything can be more creative or more challenging than sitting down with 5 or 500 kids who say, 'How do I play jazz?' or 'How do I play high notes?’ The kids are so alive and enthusiastic that they're an inspiration to me. I learn a lot about playing by teaching.”

"I just love music. I've had a love affair with music for my whole life. Music is my wife, my mistress, my food and my drink. My wife Lisa understands me and music, too. She wakes up in the middle of the night, and I'm lying there sleeping, but I've got my hand on her arm and I'm fingering scales and solos. Ninety-nine percent of the dreams I have are working, practicing, figuring out lines. It's a total way of life for me.

"Music is my religion, a spiritual thing. Even though you're doing studio calls, you're still thinking creatively. You're still trying to take what may be a dumb thing and make it something beautiful, still trying to put some icing on a fallen cake, you know? The constancy of the creative and spiritual feelings which come out of it are definitely religious in kind and quality."

Recognition has come for him in different forms and shapes through the years. Dizzy Gillespie himself said that the only guy who can play flugelhorn in the high register and make it sound good was Bobby Shew. "Dizzy seemed to dig my playing a lot."

From 1975, he recorded as sideman and played with such groups lead by Frank Strazzeri, Horace Silver, Don Menza, Bud Shank, Carmen McRae, among others, and with the big bands of Louis Bellson, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Juggernaut, Buddy Rich, Gerald Wilson, Woody Herman, and Maynard Ferguson band. And from 1978, Bobby started an active and prolific career as leader, with all kinds of albums, from small groups to large orchestra, and leading his own highly successful combo for many years.

Among his studio work he played in such shows as Mary Tyler Moore, Bob
Newhart, Mork and Mindy, Love Boat, Hawaii 5-0, Streets of San Francisco, plus countless movies scores and pop recordings with everyone, from Neil Diamond to George Harrison to Sarah Vaughan to Willie Nelson. He then retired from studio work to concentrate on doing strictly jazz music and teaching at numerous Universities, Colleges, in addition to a great many Music Conservatories throughout Europe, Canada, South Africa, Asia, South America, Australia and New Zealand.

He was elected into the New Mexico Music Hall of Fame, and has received three Grammy nominations. In 1982, he earned the Jazz Album of the Year award from RIANZ (New Zealand), and in 2014 he was chosen for the Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance and Education from the International Trumpet Guild, as well as the Lifetime Achievement Award for Jazz Education by the JEN group. More recently, he received an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Elmhurst College in Illinois.”

Notes compiled by Jordi Pujol


“There's a bit of a brief story behind this Class Reunion recording. I had been playing with several different groups in the LA area, i.e., Horace Silver quintet, Art Pepper and Bud Shank's quintets, Frank Strazzeri’s quintet and Frank Rosolino's group but suddenly they weren't very active and I felt that empty need to play. I was doing a film session that also included pianist Bill Mays with whom I had played many times especially in Shank's band. I mentioned my emptiness to him and he said, "Why don't you put together your own group?" My reply was, "Who would play with ME?" He said, "I WOULD!" That simple statement was the incentive to form the group. We had been rehearsing a bit and played a couple of gigs and one day I got a call from trumpeter-engineer Jim Mooney who said he had bought a new board for his Sage and Sound Studios and would we mind rehearsing in his studio so he could check out the new equipment. And we DID. AND... he recorded our rehearsed tunes.

After we started listening, we realized they sounded good enough to release. After mixing, I mentioned it to producer Dave Pell who then contacted another producer in New York named Jack Kreisberg who was looking for product for SUTRA Records. End of story. It was a strange but fruitful beginning of the group that stayed together for many years and recorded many albums that we were all pleased with to include our first Grammy nomination.

I was very surprised but very pleased that Jordi Pujol had interest in re-issuing this recording. It was around 40 years ago and we have all grown but it still sounds good! I hope you enjoy it. And thank you, Bill Mays!
Of the tunes recorded on Class Reunion, three were written by our great tenor sax player, Gordon Brisker. They are the title tune Class Reunion, She's Gone Again, and Run Away. We included the great standard A Child Is Born written by Roland Hanna & Thad Jones. The final 2 tunes were my compositions. The first is Kachina. A Kachina is a Native American spiritual doll that is kept in the homes for various spiritual reasons. My home is cluttered with them! And Navarro Flats is an obvious tribute to the great trumpeter Fats Navarro, from whom I gained great inspiration in my early years and still do.”                                       

—Bobby Shew (September 2017)

For order information or to view the current Fresh Sound catalogue please click this link.

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