Woody Shaw Biography

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Herman Shaw II, 24 December 1944, Laurinburg, North Carolina, USA, d. 11 May 1989, New York City, New York, USA. Shaw was raised in Newark, New Jersey, where his father sang in a gospel group. Taking up the trumpet at the age of 11, he quickly attained a level of proficiency that allowed him to sit in with visiting jazzmen. He left school when he was 16 years old to work in New York with Willie Bobo in whose band he played alongside Chick Corea and Joe Farrell. He also met Eric Dolphy, recording with him on 1963’s Iron Man. The following year Dolphy invited Shaw to join his European tour, but died before the trumpeter had arrived. Shaw decided to go to Europe anyway, and stayed for a while in France, playing with Kenny Clarke, Bud Powell and others. Back in the USA in the mid-60s he joined Horace Silver, recordingThe Cape Verdean Blues (1965) and The Jody Grind (1966) and also worked with McCoy Tyner and Art Blakey. In the late 60s and early 70s he was busy as a studio musician and to some extent his jazz reputation suffered through his absence from the scene. He began recording for the Muse label in 1974 and this heralded a revival of interest in his work. He again played with Corea and Blakey and his group backed Dexter Gordon on his return to the USA, recordingThe Homecoming (1976).

In the early 80s Shaw’s band was in constant flux and among the musicians he used were Terri Lyne Carrington and Larry Willis. In 1984 he was featured with the Paris Reunion Band, appearing on two fine albums, French Cooking and For Klook. Shaw suffered periods of severe illness, mostly induced through problems of drug addiction. He was going blind when, early in 1989, he visited the Village Vanguard to hear Max Roach. On the way home, he appeared to stumble down the steps at a New York subway station and fell under an approaching train, severing an arm. Though rushed to hospital, he remained in a coma and died three months later. Shaw’s playing was filled with the crackling brilliance of a post- Dizzy Gillespie trumpeter and yet he had the warmth that characterized musicians such as Clifford Brown and Freddie Hubbard, in whose shadow he laboured. Given a slight shift in time, and a major change in his personal habits, Shaw could well have been one of the great names of contemporary jazz.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.