Bobby Shew’s Breakfast Wine is so rare that it does not appear in the Shew discography on the trumpeter’s own web site. Nonetheless, the PAUSA long-playing vinyl album released in 1985 is a highlight not only of Shew’s recording career but also of all jazz releases in the last two decades of the twentieth century. I lost my copy of Breakfast Wine in a move, so when I was rummaging through the used LP bin in a Seattle store the other day and came across a pristine copy, I gave a whoop. That prompted another customer to amble over and see what the fuss was about. I showed him the cover. He stared at it blankly and went back to the rock section. Good. I didn’t want to have to fight him for the LP.
Shew’s rhythm section on the record included the stalwart drummer Sherman Ferguson, pianist Makoto Ozone and bassist John Patitucci. Ozone and Patitucci were in their early twenties, at the launch points of their substantial careers. They shared with Shew the enthusiasm he had rekindled after deciding to walk away from his career of lead trumpet work with Woody Herman, Buddy Rich and other big bands, and from the Hollywood studios in which he had spent hundreds of lucrative hours.
“After all the Woodys and Mork and Mindys,” he told the liner note writer (full disclosure: I was the liner note writer), “I realized I wasn’t doing what makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. So I threw it all over, and now I’m playing jazz in clubs and doing clinics for student musicians about 200 days a year. I don’t make the kind of money I used to as a studio musician. But I love everything I do. It’s a self-inflicted eccentricity. And I’ve discovered it works not only in an artistic sense, but in a business sense too. I’m doing what I love and life is good.”
And that, essentially, is what Shew has been doing for a quarter of a century. He has recorded more than two dozen albums as a leader since, but Breakfast Wine has a special place in his output because of the sense of discovery in his playing, the freshness of the emerging Ozone and Patitucci and, not least, because of the title tune. Randy Aldcroft’s intriguing “Breakfast Wine” has made its way into the repertoires of many musicians and into fake books. The recording that introduced it should make its way back into general circulation as a CD reissue.
In the meantime, if you get lucky, as I did, you may find the LP. This web site lists several copies ranging in price from expensive to ridiculous. They include an offer from an outfit in France that will sell you the LP and a CD-R transfer for a mere $78.84 US.