Written by Dan Miller
(1944-1989) Woody Shaw possessed one of the most incredible tones in the history of the trumpet. Broad, rich, dark and burnished, Shaw's sound captivated the listener. Influenced initially by Freddie Hubbard, Shaw embraced the music of John Coltrane. Woody's improvisations explored new harmonic territory, incorporating Trane's influence and pushing the technical boundaries of the instrument.
Shaw's first major affiliation was with Eric Dolphy, with whom he recorded Iron Man. In 1964, Dolphy invited Shaw to join him in Paris, but by the time Woody arrived Eric Dolphy was dead.
Upon his return to the U.S., Woody assumed the trumpet chair in Horace Silver's band (replacing Carmell Jones). Horace's new front line introduced the tandem of Woody and saxophonist Joe Henderson. Woody and Joe were an explosive combination. Similarly influenced by the music of John Coltrane, both men were boiling with intensity and the desire to explore uncharted territories (it was a relationship that would continue until Woody's death). This edition of Horace's band made two excellent records: Cape Verdean Blues (with special guest J.J. Johnson--Listen: Nutville and African Queen) and The Jody Grind. Woody stayed with Horace from 1965-1966, touring extensively.
During the sixties Woody appeared on a number of excellent recordings by Larry Young (Unity--Listen: The Moontrane, Beyond All Limits and Zoltan), Chick Corea (Tones for Joan's Bones), McCoy Tyner (Expansions), Jackie McLean (Demon's Dance and 'Bout Soul) and Hank Mobley (Reach Out and Thinking of Home). He also worked with Max Roach's group during 1968-1969.
By 1970, Woody and Joe Henderson were co-leading an fresh, exciting group and recording for Milestone (In Pursuit of Blackness and If You're Not Part of the Problem). 1970 also marked the beginning of Woody's career as a leader (not including the Cassandranite sessions from 1966 that were un-issued until the eighties) with two dates for Contemporary: Blackstone Legacy (1970) and Song of Songs (1972).
In 1973, as a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, making beautiful contributions to three albums for Prestige: Child's Dance (Listen: I Can't Get Started), Anthenagin and Buhaina.
Throughout the seventies, Woody's solo recordings were among the most important of the era. His compositions and the incredible scope of his improvisations were staggering. He released a series of excellent sides for Muse and Columbia: The Moontrane (Listen: The Moontrane and Katrina Ballerina), Love Dance, Little Red's Fantasy (Listen: Tomorrow's Destiny and In Case You Haven't Heard), Rosewood, Stepping Stones, Woody III and United.
By the eighties, Woody had returned to the Muse label waxing some swinging records: Setting Standards, Imagination and Solid. He also participated in a two-trumpet group with Freddie Hubbard (Double Take and The Eternal Triangle) featuring the music of many of their peers and influences.
Various physical maladies dogged Woody throughout his later life. Shaw died of kidney failure due to complications from pneumonia in 1989.
© 2002 Dan Miller
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