Nearly 40 years ago, trumpeter-composer Woody Shaw and a number of other leading jazz musicians were signed to Columbia Records (1977) by then label President Bruce Lundvall. This new roster of artists signed to the label at the time suggested new hope for the genre and the possibility of broadening its reception through heightened record sales, wider publicity, international tours, increased airplay, and through critical recognition (validation) of jazz as a commercially viable genre.
It was during his tenure with Columbia that Woody released his most musically ambitious and commercially successful recordings, working with larger instrumentation and bringing to life many of his broader visions for his music. Albums such as Rosewood (1978), Stepping Stones (1978), Woody III (1979), For Sure (1980), and United (1981) became, and have since become, staples of devoted listening and advanced study among fans, enthusiasts, and students of jazz and of the trumpet all over the globe.
However, this was a time in which the broader eco-system and infrastructure of jazz as a whole was in one of its steepest periods of decline. And with the exception of publicly funded radio and college programming - disco, fusion, and pop predominated the urban airwaves. Meanwhile, the majority of musicians not prepared to acquiesce to the dual pressures of economic scarcity and artistic conformity found themselves without work, publicity, management, and with fewer and fewer resources and outlets to showcase the music they had spent most of their lives struggling, fighting, and in some cases even dying for.
Woody Shaw had himself endured many years void of proper recognition due to these conditions, and to his unwillingness to forfeit his own musical convictions. As such, the signing of Woody Shaw and others to Columbia Records represented a mild victory not only for jazz, but for the individual artists who had endured their fare share of rejection and criticism for their unwillingness to conform (a "victory" that quite literally set the stage for Columbia Records' subsequent renovation of their historic jazz roster in favor of their "Young Lions" campaign of the 1980s). Woody's debut album on Columbia, Rosewood, received two Grammy nominations (Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Soloist: Rosewood and Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Group: Woody Shaw Concert Ensemble, Rosewood) in 1978.
The United States was also recovering from a recession (1973-1976) at the time, most major cities were wrought by urban decay. The NYC fiscal crisis, which nearly resulted in the city's bankruptcy, led to budget cuts that depleted cultural funding, artistic programming, public transportation, and the public education system. Police corruption was rampant, violent crime had increased by 51% over the previous decade (from 1967), the Vietnam War had ended only two years prior in 1975 leaving the country in a $54 billion dollar deficit ($238 billion inflation-adjusted).
Organized crime, drug distribution and mass addiction had reached epic proportions throughout the inner city (i.e. particularly in East Harlem and the South Bronx in NYC). The summer of 1977 was also the time of the legendary NYC blackout, which unfortunately coincided with the emergence of an infamous figure known as the "Son of Sam." And all the while, the United States had just inaugurated its 39th President, Jimmy Carter.
Yet in spite of this thick cloud of existential uncertainty and moral degradation that hovered over and across much of the country, there remained a few glimmers of hope. As it turned out, those who possessed the intestinal fortitude to thwart conformity and forfeiture by maintaining their loyalty to the promise of creative music would soon help reinvigorate the entire jazz scene.
One of the more intellectually aggressive, outspoken, and articulate representatives of this constituency was a 33 year-old trumpet master and composer from Newark, New Jersey named Woody Shaw. Woody's music was unique in its ability to deliberately convey the necessity of artists to confront and reconcile with conditions that remained hostile to their creative existence — and particularly to those among them not willing to accept the dominant cultural and political narratives of their time.
40 years after his first emergence into wider public recognition, it is evident that the critical messages of artistic freedom, integrity, truth, and self-determination expressed within his music were as reflective of the conditions that he and his contemporaries faced then, as they are relevant to the very conditions that we face right now.
[Written on 10/31/16 - one week before the 2016 election, two months from the 2017 inauguration of the 45th POTUS, and nearly 40 years after Woody Shaw signed to Columbia Records and his first Grammy-nominated album, Rosewood, was recorded.]
Three Woody Shaw Projects Submitted for Grammy® Nominations (2016)
As it turns out, three Woody Shaw-related projects have been submitted for Grammy® Nominations this year. To be honest, this is not something I normally pay particular attention to, but since it is a rather rare occasion to see even ONE project of Woody Shaw's submitted for consideration, I thought I would mention it.
So here they are:
1. Larry Young in Paris: The ORTF Recordings (1964-65) (2-CD set)
Woody Shaw III
Associate Producer and Author of Liner Notes
Grammy® Nomination Submission: Best Album Notes (Category 67)
I was very honored to have had the pleasure of participating in the production of this illustrious 2-CD boxset as Associate Producer and Author of CD booklet notes.
Larry was an elder mentor and contemporary of my father's. They both grew up together in Newark, New Jersey and it was to Larry that my father attributed the basis of his style on the trumpet. Because of their association, I have always been very mystified by Larry and have always admired what he accomplished in music. In many ways, like Woody's, Larry's legacy has not been given the true respect and recognition that it justly deserves. There is no dispute that - again, like Woody - he was a creative genius, an innovator, and an absolute visionary of a musician.
Thanks to Resonance Records, however, more people will now be able to learn about Larry's early explorations with Woody Shaw (and Nathan Davis and Billy Brooks) during their residence in Paris, France in the mid-1960s. This was a period in which many of the stylistic traits that both Woody and Larry would later develop - took shape, and as such this CD set is also the veritable precursor to Larry's 1965 Blue Note album, Unity, with Elvin Jones and Joe Henderson.
Woody Shaw's 1964-65 journey to Paris, France at age 19 (and his subsequent invitation to Larry Young and drummer Billy Brooks to join him) was actually the subject of my research colloquium as a W. E. B. Du Bois Fellow at Harvard University in 2015.
If you enjoy the essay and are a member of NARAS (Grammies®), please feel free to vote!
2. Woody Shaw & Louis Hayes: The Tour (Vol. 1)
Woody Shaw III
Producer and Author of Liner Notes
Grammy® Nomination Submission: Best Historical Album (Category 68)
High Note Records
“One of the most electrifying acoustic jazz albums of the 1970s.”
—Marc Myers, JazzWax
Another project that I am glad has seen the light of day is this 1976 recording of the Louis Hayes—Woody Shaw Quintet entitled The Tour (Vol. 1).
This recording predates my father's signing with Columbia Records and, to me, it captures him at the cusp of an important transition in his musical development prior to becoming a bandleader and focusing on his own music.
The band features Louis Hayes on drums, tenor legend Junior Cook, Stafford James on bass, and Ronnie Matthews on piano. Hayes, Cook, and Woody all played with Horace Silver and shared common bonds through affiliations with many of the same bands and musicians.
The CD documents a certain attitude that Louis Hayes and Woody Shaw shared about the state of jazz during the mid-1970s that helped spawn the creation of the group. Woody discusses it in this interview.
High Note Records, owned by Joe Fields, also happens to be the modern incarnation of the once legendary Muse Records of the 1970s, where Woody recorded many of his classic albums such as The Moontrane (1975), Love Dance (1975), Little Red's Fantasy (1976), Live at the Berliner Jazztage (1976), and Iron Men (1977).
Wall Street Journal writer and jazz blogger Marc Myers has written a great review of the recording on his blog JazzWax, which helps clarify and contextualize its importance for listeners.
One Shaw enthusiast on Facebook even remarked that the CD is "one of the best Woody Shaw recordings I've ever heard."
3. Brian Lynch presents, Madera Latino ('Latin Wood'): A Latin Jazz Interpretation on the Music of Woody Shaw (2-CD set)
Woody Shaw III, Associate Producer
Grammy® Nomination Submission: Best Latin Jazz Album (Category 35)
Last but not least, after 5 years since it was first recorded, trumpeter-composer Brian Lynch has finally released this ambitious passion-project dedicated to one of his major trumpet heroes. The project is a 2-CD set that includes a wide selection of Woody Shaw's original compositions arranged for large latin jazz ensemble. Brian orchestrated some of Woody's most notable compositions for groups of trumpets, along with latin percussion and jazz rhythm section.
While I admittedly did little more than co-sign the project and discuss its trajectory with Brian over the years since its inception, this project has a certain sentimental value that is often lacking when it comes to musical tributes and which thus warrants its validation from the Shaw family. If you know Brian Lynch, you know the depth of his reverence for all the great musicians, and especially historic trumpet players, who have preceded and inspired him. He has always shown a great deal of respect to the predecessors that set the stage for subsequent generations of jazz trumpet players, so as far as I'm concerned, this project should be recognized for its respect alone - but also for the discipline, effort, and labor invested into the commemoration of one of the trumpet's last true innovators — by no means a simple task.
Plus, from what I have seen, few other musicians as of late have taken the liberty of adapting Woody Shaw's music into a whole new style or new instrumentation. Until someone else steps up to the plate, Madera Latino holds that torch.
Musicians on the recording include:
Brian Lynch, trumpet
Sean Jones, trumpet
Dave Douglas, trumpet
Michael Rodriguez, trumpet
Etienne Charles, trumpet
Diego Urcola, trumpet
Josh Evans, trumpet
Philip Dizack, trumpet
Bryan Davis, trumpet
Zaccai Curtis, piano
Luques Curtis, bass
Obed Calvaire, drums
Pedrito Martinez, timbales, congas
Little Johnny Rivero, congas, percussion
Anthony Carrilo, bongo, campana
Produced by Brian Lynch
All music arranged by Brian Lynch
Associate Producer: Woody Shaw III
Woody Louis Armstrong Shaw, III is owner and creative director of Woody Shaw Legacy LLC and founder of the Moontrane Media Group, LLC.
He is a Du Bois Fellow at the W. E. B. Du Bois Research Institute at Harvard University and holds an M.A in Arts Administration from Columbia University.
He is currently authoring and producing the dual biography and documentary film project entitled Trumpet of Fire: The Life and Music of Woody Shaw (1944-1989).
Email: email@example.com -or- firstname.lastname@example.org.