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.
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 eyeshotjazz.com)