Bobby Shew Quartet At Tula’s

Bobby Shew played a one-nighter Saturday evening in his brief tour of the Pacific Northwest. The gig at Tula’s in Seattle launched in slight confusion over the introduction the rhythm section played to the first tune, Victor Young’s “Beautiful Love.” It did not match what Shew had in mind. He halted the proceedings and offered the packed house a wry explanation, “This is jazz. You don’t have to know what you’re doing.”

There was a brief conference that consisted mainly of head nods. Pianist Bill Anschell, bassist Phil Sparks and drummer Matt Jorgensen started over. Nationally known members of Seattle’s jazz community, they and Shew set about belying his claim about the unimportance of expertise. Playing flugelhorn, Shew and his accompanists locked up in a close relationship that continued through three sets. When “Beautiful Love”ended, Shew said, “Nice rhythm section, huh?” In support and in solo, all three were in splendid form all night long.

Among the highlights:

• Shew’s dancing trumpet solo on “Fungi Mamma,” a sunny Caribbean piece by his late friend and frequent big band section mate Blue Mitchell.

• His interval leaps and depth of tone in a passionate treatment of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life.” Shew spoke about his love for ballads. “People think it must be easy to play them because they’re slower,” he said. “No, you just get in deeper trouble.” If there was trouble, it wasn’t audible.

• Intriguing playing by all hands on Randy Aldcroft’s multifarious “Breakfast Wine,” a piece Shew told the audience he has played hundreds of times. “I keep finding surprises in it.” It was the title tune of a 1985 Shew album that is in serious need of reissuing.

• “Darn That Dream” as a medium-fast bossa nova nudged along by the subtleties of Jorgensen’s canny Brazilianisms.

• Trumpeter Thomas Marriott sitting in for three tunes. On “Just Friends” Shew’s exchanges of four-bar phrases with his former student morphed into a chorus of simultaneous improvisation so logical that it sounded like written counterpoint.

Around midnight, most of the audience had drifted away. A handful of Seattle musicians lingered at the bar. Shew took “Body and Soul” at a medium clip and the flugel far, far above the staff with lyricism and no sense of strain or sacrifice of tone. Finally he brought Marriott back to the stand to end the evening transacting serious blues business; several choruses of “Walkin’” with passionate solos by all hands. When it ended, the band stood grinning at one another as if they had achieved something.

They had.

No video or audio is available from Shew’s evening at Tula’s, so we’ll settle—gladly— for “Breakfast Wine” from that 28-year-old out-of-print LP.

(Photos of the rhythm section and Marriott from

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  1. says

    I wonder if Bobby Shew made his ‘preamble’ speech about applause. When playing at the LA Jazz Institute events he always says “We want you people to enjoy what we’re doing – we surely will. One part of that is having you not feel guilty about whether to applaud solos or not. We are experienced musicians , confident in our own capabilities. We welcome your applause, but why not save it up until the end of each number. Just sit back and enjoy the music.”

    Usually many attendees applaud the speech!

    Concert attendees then spend the set hesitating about whether to applaud solos and look around or start applauding and stop – apologising to those around them. Even greater confusion reigns if the next set has different players and the leader points to someone after a solo—encouraging applause.

    I must confess to wanting to applaud everything that Bobby does!

  2. says

    Shew’s playing has so much of his own personality that no one sounds quite like him. There is such a relaxed elegance to the way he hits so many pitches a bit off-center and then slides them into position. And he correlates it perfectly with his wide variation of articulation and the easy, blithe quality of his sense of swing. He creates a kind of smooth jazz, but without the superficiality that plagues the genre. His easy-going repose makes him look like a guy just doing his job, which belies the extreme refinement of his style. He has also done some very innovative work, which is what really interests me. One example is his double-belled Shew-Horn which expands the expressive qualities of the trumpet. Here is a video of Shew playing his Shew-Horn. This is a simple piece, but I think much more could be done with the instrument, especially with more complex forms of hocketting (a quicker alteration of notes between the two bells):

  3. says

    Thank you, Bobby Shew! Jazz’s dumbest performance ritual is the mindless applause for every solo–so conditioned and obligatory that it’s meaningless. (I’ve even seen books that tell listeners that if they don’t applaud for each solo, the players will be offended or hurt. Gimme a break!) In addition, it prevents listeners from hearing the opening of the next solo; often, that beginning motif is the key to where the player’s mind is going.

    Applaud if something genuinely moves you. Otherwise, save it for the end of the piece. We the musicians won’t be offended–really!

  4. Jim Brown says

    I have the same things to say about the standing ovations that seem to have become obligatory for even the most ordinary sets. Standing ovations are for a set by Barry Harris, and for when Prez comes back. The only time in my memory I’ve been moved to a standing ovation was for a Mark Murphy performance at Yoshi’s in Oakland last fall. The time before that was Sarah singing a completely improvised set with Basie, c.a. 1978, filling in for Della Reese. I was close with a set by Benny Green and his Washington rhythm section.

  5. says

    I will always remember Bobby’s workshop in the Kölner Musikhochschule in the late 1980’s. It was the very first time in my life I heard something about Yoga breathing… and about Don Fagerquist, who is one of Bobby’s heroes.

    We learned a lot about warming-up before the gig, about breath-attack, and other technical practices which would help you to keep your chops in shape.

    That speech sounds like a mild version of Mingus’ intimidating rant before his legendary quartet version of “All The Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother” on Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus.

    Interrupting jazz performances with applause has become the so-called “connoisseur’s” ritual, and can be sometimes very annoying indeed, especially after quiet solos; on the other hand: The permanent rhythmical clapping on the counts of one and three, executed by elderly German “Volksmusik” fans (mostly on TV) is much worse.

    Long live master Bobby Shew!