Woody Shaw, Jr. was born at 519 Caldonia Road in Laurinburg, North Carolina on December 24th 1944. Woody’s father, Woody Shaw, Sr., originally from Whiteville, North Carolina, was a vocalist with the historic gospel quintet known as the Diamond Jubilee Singers (1940s) and was a student at the famed Laurinburg Institute along with trumpet legend Dizzy Gillespie. Woody’s mother, Rosalie Pegues Shaw, is originally from Cheraw, South Carolina.
At the age of one year old, Woody’s parents moved to Newark, NJ where he spent most of his childhood. Woody attended Cleveland Junior High School and joined the Junior Elks, Junior Mason, and George Washington Carver Drum and Bugle Corps where he picked up the bugle at an early age. At Cleveland Junior High School, he met an accomplished trumpet teacher, Mr. Jerome Ziering, and during this time, at age 11, he began studying classical trumpet while listening to Louis Armstrong, Harry James, and later, people like Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, and Booker Little. Mr. Ziering wanted Woody to attend The Juilliard School of Music to become a classical trumpeter so he trained young Shaw to become a virtuoso on his instrument. Although he never reached Juilliard, Woody attended the famed Arts High in Newark, which was attended by many legendary jazz artists, such as Wayne Shorter, Sarah Vaughan, organist Larry Young, and many others. Woody began working professionally at age 14.
Woody sat in with countless musicians as a teenager, including Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, Lou Donaldson and others in Newark. Along with playing in the local youth bands, this gave him a solid basis in the jazz and African American musical tradition. After playing with famed Latin percussionist Willie Bobo in a band with Chick Corea and saxophonist Joe Farrell, Woody joined the band of legendary saxophonist Eric Dolphy in 1963. It was under the tutelage of Dolphy that Woody would be encouraged to pursue his own musical voice. Dolphy’s complex compositions provided Shaw with a new harmonic concept and different way of looking at music which would shape his approach to the trumpet for years to come. In May of 1963, Woody made his first recorded debut on Eric Dolphy’s Iron Man.
In 1964, at age 19, Woody moved to Paris to work with Dolphy’s band, but Dolphy had passed away, so he wound up living there for a year and half while working with people like Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, Johnny Griffin, Dexter Gordon, Nathan Davis, Donald Byrd, and other expatriates in Europe. While in Paris, Woody received an invitation to return to the U.S. to join the Horace Silver Quintet, and, in 1965, Woody made his first album for Blue Note Records on Horace Silver’s classic – Cape Verdean Blues. Later that year Woody made what would be his first major recording as a composer and trumpeter on organist Larry Young’s cult classic, Unity, which featured Joe Henderson on tenor sax and Elvin Jones on drums. Woody wrote three of the six tunes on Unity, entitled Zoltan, Beyond All Limits, and The Moontrane, all of which have become standards. The years following would see Woody working as a sideman for Blue Note and touring with such legends as Jackie McLean, Booker Ervin, Hank Mobley, Art Blakey, Max Roach, Andrew Hill, Joe Henderson, Joe Zawinul, Bobby Hutcherson, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, and many others (see official discography).
In the 1970s, Woody made his first album as a leader entitled Blackstone Legacy (Contemporary), which featured Gary Bartz, Bennie Maupin, Ron Carter, and Lenny White. Shortly thereafter, Woody signed with Muse Records (now High Note) and recorded several albums such as The Moontrane, Love Dance, Live at the Berliner Jazztage, and Iron Men (a tribute to Eric Dolphy and Andrew Hill featuring Arther Blythe, Muhal Richard Abrams and Anthony Braxton). In 1976, Woody recorded several albums with Dexter Gordon for Columbia Records: Homecoming, Sophisticated Giant, and Gotham City. In 1977, Woody Shaw was signed to Columbia Records and recorded five historic albums of his own: Rosewood, Stepping Stones, Woody III, For Sure and United. The recent Complete Columbia Albums Collection of Woody Shaw (co-produced and project-directed by his son, Woody Shaw III) showcases all of Woody’s work from this period including additional unissued material. Musicians included on Woody’s Columbia recordings include Victor Lewis, Carter Jefferson, Onaje Allan Gumbs, Clint Houston, Stafford James, Joe Henderson, Rene McLean, Mulgrew Miller, Tony Reedus, Gary Bartz, and numerous others. During the 1980s, Woody led several bands with the likes of Steve Turre, Terri Lyne Carrington, Larry Willis, Kenny Garrett, and recorded a series of albums for Blue Note with his close friend and fellow trumpet legend Freddie Hubbard.
Woody Shaw died of kidney failure on May 10th, 1989 at the age of 44. Yet despite a fairly short and challenging life with many hardships, the brilliance of his legacy and the beauty of his music continues to inspire countless musicians and fans all over the world. Woody Shaw lives on through his family, friends, and thousands of students and musicians who discover, listen to, and explore his music everyday. And, within the same spirit of loyalty, honor, and dedication that Woody lived his life as an artist, his legacy lives on through the careful work of his only son and namesake Woody Louis Armstrong Shaw III.
Woody Shaw is considered to be the last major innovator in the lineage of modern jazz trumpet that began with Joe “King” Oliver, Jabbo Smith, and Louis Armstrong through Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Booker Little, and Freddie Hubbard. Inspired by John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, and McCoy Tyner, as well as various world musics and the works of countless other jazz and European classical composers, Woody Shaw revolutionized the harmonic, technical, and melodic vocabulary of the instrument. Trumpeters and musicians whose lives and careers have been greatly influenced by Woody Shaw (through interaction, exposure, or direct instruction), include such notables as Wallace Roney, Randy Brecker, Tom Harrell, Dave Douglas, and Terence Blanchard, as well as Wynton Marsalis, Chris Botti, Ingrid Monson, the latter three of whom received grants from the National Endowment of the Arts to study closely with Woody Shaw during the 1980s.