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Friday, October 15, 2010

Woody Shaw obituary (UPI, 5/11/1989)

Jazz Trumpeter, Composer Woody Shaw Dead At 44

UPI - Thursday, May 11, 1989 (New York).

Woody Shaw, the imaginitive "post-bop" jazz trumpeter and composer whose left arm was severed in February in a mysterious subway accident, died of kidney failure Wednesday after a long illness. He was 44.

Shaw, whose eyesight had been declining for a decade, tumbled down a stairway Feb. 27 onto the tracks at Brooklyn's Dekalb Avenue subway station where a train struck him, severing his arm. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where his condition deteriorated and he was stricken by pneumonia. Although his pneumonia abated, he continued to suffer kidney pain and died of kidney failure, said his father, Woody Shaw Sr.

Shaw's longtime musical colleagues said the trumpeter had worked hard to overcome his ever-mounting health problems and said his death is an enormous loss to the jazz world.

"It's overwhelming," said Bobby Hutcherson, the vibraphonist who as young player in New York befriended the already successful trumpeter in 1962. "Woody and I made a lot of albums together. We were very good friends, like brothers."

Shaw steadfastly resisted the 1970s trend toward jazz-rock "fusion," instead continuing to refine the acoustic traditions begun in the bop era. "He stayed very loyal to the music scene he believed in and grew up in," Hutcherson said. "He was very strong about acoustic instruments and played in a very straightforward way."

As leader of the Woody Shaw Quintet, Shaw was rated the top jazz trumpet player of 1978 in the prestigious Downbeat Magazine poll and his record, "Rosewood," was the No. 1 jazz album in the same poll.

"He was truly one of the greatest," said drummer and bandleader Max Roach. "I first had occasion to work with Woody on a trip to Iran, oddly enough, back about 19 years ago before the Ayatollah. "One of the most amazing things was his uncanny memory. I was just flabbergasted. After one look he knew all of the charts, no matter how complex they were."

Pianist Mulgrew Miller, who played and recorded with Shaw in the 1980s, said Shaw was devoted to the complex improvisational music of John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner. "Woody was in a great tradition of mainstream, post-bop trumpeters, but he also was tailgating on Coltrane and Tyner and their whole movement in the '60s---the harmonic and rhythmic innovations of that time," Miller said. "He was a great bandleader. We lost a great presence in this music."

Jazz producer George Wein said Shaw led a hard life and said he felt some sense of relief that Shaw's troubles were over. "That's a blessing," Wein said after Shaw's death. "The poor man was blind, the poor man was a narcotics addict, the poor man lost his arm, he had more tough luck than any human being I've ever known."

Mystery still surrounds the subway accident in which Shaw's left arm was severed. Shaw's father said the musician was "delighted" when Roach invited him to the Village Vanguard to hear his band on Feb. 26, but that Shaw disappeared from the club during without saying goodnight, even though arrangements had been made for his transporation back to his parents' home in Newark, N.J.

Police found Shaw the following morning on subway tracks after he was hit by a train in Brooklyn, which lies in the opposite direction from New Jersey.

"We still don't know where my son went," Woody Shaw Sr. said. "We don't know if he was trying to find his way back to Newark or if he just got lost."

Shaw played with many of the giants of modern jazz, including Eric Dolphy, Horace Silver, Dexter Gordon, Archie Shepp, Lionel Hampton, Jackie McLean, Hank Mobley and Booker Ervin. The Shaw discography includes more than a dozen albums.

Before falling ill last year, Shaw had been living in Bern, Switzerland, and in Amsterdam, teaching at several jazz schools and touring with various jazz bands in Europe, most recently the Paris Reunion Band last summer.

Woody Herman Shaw was born on Christmas Eve, 1944, in Laurinburg, N.C. He is survived by father, his mother, Rosalie, a 10-year-old son, Woody Louis Armstrong Shaw, 10, two brothers, Pete and Cedric, and a sister, Toni.

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