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Friday, October 15, 2010

(…who? me?) Woody Shaw (Coda Magazine, 1976)

Woody Shaw Dialogues With Eugene Chadbourne

(Author's note: I was once eating dinner with Woody Shaw at a home in Edmonton, Alberta, when someone wisely or unwisely put on the album Iron Man by Eric Dolphy, Shaw's first recording date. Shaw nodded enthusiastically through Dolphy's only solo, but abruptly stood up and went to the bathroom when his own started. Shaw was 17 when the album was recorded. Now 30, he's gone through some heavy dues-paying and now may be going blind due to an incurable eye disease, retinitis pigmatosa. But he insists that followers of the music will be hearing more and more about him. "I'm the next cat", he says. When his Iron Man solo ended, Shaw came out of the bathroom and grunted, "well, that really wasn't as bad as I remembered it.")

I was talking to Cedar Walton one day and I said, hey, man, is it true that something is happening to us? And he said, yeah, I think so. Sure, it seems like when everything gets down, with recessions and depressions, they give us a chance. It's a drag that it has to get to that stage or level for anything to happen for us, but it's true. Jazz is flourishing now. At least I think so.

I recently left San Francisco, dissatisfied with the musicianship, and I went back to New York seeking a record contract, to get some records out, because I feel I am the trumpet player now. I have the confidence and what-not which I did not have before. When I left New York I hated it. New York: either you make it or you don't. When I left New York I ran away from New York, and I'm sure if you talk to a lot of musicians they'll tell you how New York is. This is the whole thing, survival—survival of the fittest. But I needed that, because San Francisco is just too laid back. There's a certain nostalgia about San Francisco I like—being around the water, going to different parts of the Bay area if I want to. It's a very nice city. But I'm from the east, and I needed to get back to that. I felt that I could bring back west that eastern thing: but I couldn't, and I felt myself dying. Losing the fire in me that I usually play with. So I found that. I went back to New York. I was sort of seeking something, a new level, and I found it, with this new record I did for Muse. Incidentally, the new record features Azar Lawrence, Steve Turre on trombone, Buster Williams on bass, Cecil McBee on bass, Onaje Allen Gumbs on piano, Tony Waters on congas and Guilherme Franco on miscellaneous percussion. This date I did for Muse, with whom I'm now exclusively signed, proved that I have achieved this new level. I got a chance to play with the cats, you know. I mean, New York is a very unique place, and if it stops the whole world stops. It's that kind of place. I went back to my roots. I did a lot of sitting in. The highest experience was with Sonny Rollins, I played one night with him at the Village Vanguard. He did his shit and I did my shit! He looks like Charles Atlas now, he's so big. I also sat in with Dizzy Gillespie, who had Jon Faddis with him, and that was really good for me. I felt I had achieved what I went to New York for. I also sat in with Elvin Jones. He was swinging so hard his eyes were crossed; but he doesn't like trumpet players. When I started playing he went to nutsville.

I only stayed about 3½ months, but it was good and I plan to go back. I periodically plan to go back to New York and replenish that fire, you know. I'm going to alternate between San Francisco and New York. I feel that it's necessary, it's time for me to move now.

I feel that I'm starting to hear trumpet players that play like Woody Shaw now. Which is quite amazing. You start out listening to your favorite artists, you emulate them but soon you get tired of emulating them and being told that you sound like so-and-so. Stylistically and conception-wise, you gotta come from somebody and somewhere, but I honestly feel now that I've acquired my own way of playing the trumpet, the way I hear it, and I've become a major innovator and influence on the instrument. And I've recently taken up the fluegelhorn, which has opened up even another dimension. I used to hate the fluegelhorn, but now I'm playing it and I'm trying to play it as a completely separate instrument from the trumpet, which it is. I'm developing a fluegelhorn concept which is different than my trumpet concept.

I want to do for the trumpet what John Coltrane did for the saxophone. So I'm starting to achieve that now, and I'm sure most people who listen to me would say "that's Woody Shaw!" now and not Freddie Hubbard…Freddie and I obviously came from the same source of inspiration, which is Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis. But we're two separate individuals. I find it impossible to sound exactly like someone. It's a matter of development. I'm just trying to perfect what I want to do, to be heard. I think it's starting to get to a level where I'm starting to…well, a lot of things are starting to happen for me now, because it's been told to me that I'm the next major innovator on the trumpet. Lee Morgan told me that one time. Now I can dig it. It has something to do with turning 30. I started playing very young, and I became professional at the age of 13 and 14. I had that prodigy tag around me. When a man or a woman starts out as a prodigy, you've got to outlive that and become an innovator or a creator in your own right. I think I'm arriving now. What's holding me back, I think, it's been me—mainly me. Not having the confidence in myself. Other people have a lot of confidence in me but I'm just starting to realize, hey, you do your thing, without any reservations.

When I go back to New York and meet young musicians they say, hey, you the cat ! And I say, who? Me? But it's true. Because I don't hear anybody else doing what I want to hear done on the trumpet. I don't hear anybody else doing it. I want to create something beautiful and moving. Color…I'm into harmony. And I like color. What I do on the trumpet is, I'll take a rule and break it, and resolve it, just to show I know what I'm doing. The rule in life is, if you go out and you fuck up, you gotta resolve it.

I think that any individual who strives for something has to be able to prove it. If you break a rule, prove why you broke that rule. Make it fit. Show why. I think I can do it now. If I make a mistake, I like my mistakes because I try to turn them into something. If I split a note I might hold it.

All trumpet players I hear play diatonically, like do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do. I don't want to play like that. So I've stopped listening to trumpeters. There are a few…one of the most intriguing trumpet players I can think of is Lester Bowie of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. We've been compared a lot, not that we play alike, but we take those chances. And he can play! He knows the instrument. The first thing I look for in a trumpet is the tone. Not the technique, but tone. I like Charles Tolliver, he's still searching. I like Charles Sullivan, Eddie Henderson, Oscar Brashear, who is an outgrowth of me; Terumasa Hino, who is an outgrowth of me. Don Cherry I can dig as a composer, but not as a trumpet player. It's difficult. A small few. The trumpet is a very difficult instrument to play. It takes years to develop a good sound on the trumpet. Everybody wants to play high when they get a trumpet. In reality, the beauty of the trumpet lies in the lower register; it's hard to get down there. The fingering is difficult. I try to play all over—the bottom to the top.

I think a lot of the young trumpet players should learn more about the basics. In respect to young saxophonists coming up and jumping on John Coltrane, they should learn where he came from. They don't realize he used to walk the bar. Rhythm and blues. Eddie Cleanhead Vinson. That's where he came from. That's where I came from. I didn't just start playing this music.

You gotta learn. When I hear the records I made when I was young…I feel very good about them, and I feel very bad about them. Because from my experience, every prodigy comes to a fast end. The individual has to grow naturally, he achieves the level that he is looking for. Overnight success is bad for you. The individual has to pay some dues, that's a very necessary process in life. You gotta pay some dues, you gotta get some experiences. To know what hate is, and vice-versa. In a way I regret I was a prodigy because when I turned 30 it really turned me around. WOW! I don't want to sound like a hypocrite, but then again, I don't really regret being a prodigy. I do and I don't. It's very contradictory. One enhances the other.

My experiences with Eric Dolphy were very valuable. I would like to credit him with forming my basic conception of where I want to go. When I met Eric I was playing bebop. I looked at his music, man, and it frightened me. But I could play it. Still, we never really got together like we wanted to. It was quite an experience to go to Paris and find that he wasn't there waiting on me…he was dead. So that was a very strong experience…coming back and playing with Horace Silver, that showed me a lot of basic things. You got to know what the basics are before you can venture out. Art Blakey, Max Roach—Max Roach! That was one' of the worst experiences in my life! I was replacing Freddie Hubbard. We started out the first night with Cherokee. Max sets it up…and…how fast is fast? He was playing so fast, man I was blowing into the trumpet and nothing was coming out.

McCoy Tyner, who I look to as my musical guru, he's proven very valuable to me. The man is so together—you can see the wisdom in his face. He's finally starting to be recognized for what he is and what he has contributed. I would like to become involved with McCoy again. We're going to get together, but McCoy just says, "We'll get together." Eventually I will get together with him. It's inevitable. There's not really any desperate search to get together, though, but we will. Because I can hear it. And what I'm doing on the trumpet fits best with him. Plus—I don't hear any trumpet players playing in that direction.

This new record will pretty much prove where I want to go in music. It's more "in" then the two records I made on Contemporary, but then again, it's just as "out". Those two records, overall I was satisfied, but I wasn't satisfied with my playing. I hadn't perfected what I was looking for. The musicians on the records were very inspiring to me. I put the music together, but they communicated what was there. I thought they did. As for myself, I think I went out a little too fast. I want to prove to the critics and to the public that I can play as in as anybody, as pretty as anybody and as funky as anybody. But at the same time, I want them to look at me and see what it is I want to say. Because I think I have something to say.

I think I eventually would like to play one way, one context. Now, though, I find my enjoyment comes from playing all kinds of music, including boogaloo or funk. But I don't see how a musician can deny his own freedom of expression. I can't buy that. Let me say this. If I could get $25,000 to record boogaloo, I'd do it. But when I went to perform, I'd play what I wanted to play. That's the element of surprise. Surprise is very important, I like to keep the audience elusive.

That's one of the things in the creative process, to never let them know where you're at. And I have a lot of respect for the audience, they're sitting there listening to you, so you have to communicate with them. But I don't believe in becoming subservient to the audience. You have to meet at a halfway point, it has to be coming both ways, you know, from me to them and from them to me. So as far as my audience now, they're starting to hear me. As McCoy used to tell me, you can't separate the music from the life, so I kind of thrive on it.

I try to vary my musical context, different instrumentations. That's where the joy of playing the music comes from. When I was younger and getting there, I used to never want to play one way. When you look at all the records I made, I've made it kind of rough for the critics—they can't tell what I want to do.

I think I was born to play music. That's my purpose. I've been able to make…maybe a little better then a sideman's money. I don't make a lot of money, but I don't mind it. I'm playing my own music. I'd rather make $20 playing music I love to play then make $1,000 playing something I don't like. Because I know how I am, I can get very evil if I'm playing with someone I don't like.

My parents are both still alive, I see them, not often, but at least once a year. My father is very involved in jazz…he wasn't that happy when I first got into it because I was supposed to be a classical trumpeter. But he listens to Trane, Eric Dolphy, McCoy. He's really into it. I'll get a letter from him and he'll let me know the latest things happening in New York. Sends me the latest articles. It's very beautiful. Both my parents are proud. They're just wishing I'd get more—more green. It's hard to explain to people that you really love what you're doing. Make money or not, I still love it.

I compose out of necessity. I can really compose under pressure. I like to com-pose under pressure. A record date, a particular affair or assignment. I produce then. I like pressure. I like competition. It's very good for a musician to stay around other musicians who are his equal or are better. That way you grow. When you become the best, you stop. Actually, I compose with a title first. And then I write the composition for the title. I compose for the title. I've seen record dates I've done where it's been Tune A, Tune B, and then when I get the record I don‘t know what's what. I believe a composition has to be inspired by something. So I find what it is that's inspiring me to write a composition and I dedicate it to that inspiration.

I feel today that a lot of musicians are ashamed to swing. That's the essence of jazz, swinging. I go see somebody who doesn't swing, I say, how much money are you making ? Are you really satisfied with that? The pulse, the swinging is like the heartbeat. But the hope for the jazz scene lies in the young musicians. When you pick up my records you will hear someone new, who you've never heard before. That's the hope of the music.

The young people today are very serious. They're coming out even younger then ever now, and I think the level of maturity is higher. What I see now is awareness. It didn't used to be like that. I don't regret having delved into drugs, because it did let me discover something about myself. Not only drugs, but women. You see somebody doing something and you think, hey, this cat's groovin'…but he ain't groovin'. So I don't know, it's just like you try it out of curiosity and before you know it you're hooked, you have no choice. I've always had this personality, being very hyper, always ready to hit…and I don't want to lay on the subject too long. Now it's changing.

I've found that I have the talent to groom young musicians. Miles Davis had that. Jackie McLean has that. John Coltrane had that—the way he groomed McCoy Tyner for his band. A lot of musicians call me up to play with me. All I can say is, okay, we will one day. Because I can hear a cat and groom him and make him play the way I want him to play. But if I hear somebody in particular where I think, hey, I hear something there, I'll show him everything I know. It's up to him to bring it out of himself. What I try to do is instill the confidence. The main thing I look for is openness, a sign that the person can grow. Because I can do the rest.

I have retinitis pigmatosa now. It's a hereditary disease of the eye that there is no cure for, and I've been to some of the top opthamologists in the country and they've told me the same thing, there's no cure, there's nothing they can do. And I say, wait a minute, this is the 20th century, man. They tell me there's a retinitis pigmatosa foundation.

Actually I'm one of the more lucky people because a lot of people have gone blind. I could eventually go blind. My vision now is impaired in the dark. It's night blindness. You become partially blind at night. But this has just enhanced my hearing. When you lose one, you gain another. Another sense is enhanced.

If I can get on stage with Roland Kirk…Rahsaan, man, is like a wizard. When I see people like that, it doesn't bother me. I take my glasses off when I play anyway, I shut my eyes. That makes me concentrate more. I can still feel sorry for myself sometimes, but…most of the time I'm cool. I'm starting to get older, I'm starting to accept it now. I'm not ashamed to ask somebody if they can help me around. I'll just put my hand on your shoulder. Never let anybody make fun of you. Never be ashamed. If I stumble over a chair I'll tell the chair, excuse me. People look at me like I'm crazy, but I can't expect them to understand. Because they don't think like I do.

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