Woody Herman Shaw Jr. (December 24, 1944 – May 10, 1989)[1] was an American jazz trumpeter, flugelhornist, cornetist, composer, arranger, band leader, and educator. Shaw is widely known as one of the most important and influential jazz trumpeters and composers of the twentieth century. He is often credited with revolutionizing the technical and harmonic language of modern jazz trumpet playing, and to this day is regarded by many as one of the major innovators of the instrument. He was an acclaimed virtuoso, mentor, and spokesperson for jazz and worked and recorded alongside many of the leading musicians of his time.[2][3]

Woody Shaw
Woody Shaw.jpg
Background information
Birth nameWoody Herman Shaw Jr.
Born(1944-12-24)December 24, 1944
Laurinburg, North Carolina, United States
OriginNewark, New Jersey, United States
DiedMay 10, 1989(1989-05-10) (aged 44)
Manhattan, New York City, United States
GenresJazz, bebop, hard bop, post-bop, modal jazz, avant-garde jazz
Occupation(s)Musician, bandleader, composer, educator
Instrument(s)Trumpet, flugelhorn, cornet
Years active1963–1989
LabelsColumbia, Muse, Elektra, Blue Note, Fantasy, Contemporary, Concord Music Group


Woody Shaw (1979)

Early life and backgroundEdit

Woody Shaw was born in Laurinburg, North Carolina, United States.[4] He was taken to Newark, New Jersey,[4] by his parents, Rosalie Pegues and Woody Shaw Sr., when he was one year old. Shaw's father was a member of the African American gospel group known as the "Diamond Jubilee Singers" and both his parents attended the same secondary private school as Dizzy Gillespie: Laurinburg Institute.[1] Shaw's mother was from the same town as Gillespie: Cheraw, South Carolina.

Shaw began playing the bugle at age nine and performed in the Junior Elks, Junior Mason, and Washington Carver Drum and Bugle Corps in Newark. Though not his first choice of instrument, he began studying classical trumpet with Jerome Ziering at Cleveland Junior High School at the age of 11. In a 1978 interview, Shaw explained:

The trumpet was not my first choice for an instrument. In fact, I ended up playing it by default. When we were asked what we wanted to play in the Eighteenth Avenue School Band, I chose the violin, but I was too late since all the violins were taken. My second choice was the saxophone or the trombone but they were also all spoken for. The only instrument that was left was the trumpet, and I felt why did I have to get stuck with this "tinny" sounding thing.

When I complained to my music teacher that I didn't think it was fair that all the other kids got to play the instruments they wanted, he told me to just be patient. He said he had a good feeling about me and the trumpet, and he assured me I'd grow to love it. Of course my teacher was right, and it didn't take long for me to fall in love with the trumpet. In retrospect, I believe there was some mystical force that brought us together.[5]

Ziering encouraged him to continue his study of classical trumpet playing and pursue an education at the Juilliard School of music with trumpet instructor William Vacchiano, but Shaw had a deep interest in jazz. His first influences were Louis Armstrong and Harry James. After skipping two grades,[citation needed] he began attending Newark Arts High School (alma mater of Wayne Shorter, Sarah Vaughan, Melba Moore, Savion Glover, Larry Young, and many others), from which he graduated.[6]

As a teenager, Shaw worked professionally at weddings, dances, and night clubs. He eventually left school but continued his study of the trumpet under the influence of Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, Booker Little, Lee Morgan, and Freddie Hubbard.[1] He later discovered that he had picked up the trumpet during the same month and year that Brown died: June 1956.

Paris and Eric Dolphy (early 1960s)Edit

In 1963, after many local professional jobs, Shaw worked for Willie Bobo (with Chick Corea and Joe Farrell), and performed and recorded as a sideman with Eric Dolphy, with whom he made his recorded debut, Iron Man.[4] Dolphy, who was living in Paris, unexpectedly died in June 1964.[4] Shaw was nonetheless invited to Paris to join Dolphy's colleague, Nathan Davis, and the two men found steady work all over Europe. While living in Paris, they frequented the club Le Chat Qui Peche, and Shaw crossed paths with musicians such as Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, Johnny Griffin,[1] Dexter Gordon, Art Taylor, other lesser known musicians such as John Bodwin, and French musicians like Jean-Louis Chautemps, Rene Urtreger, Jacques Thollot and Jef Gilson. After some time, Shaw demanded that two of his contemporaries, organist Larry Young and drummer Billy Brooks, be relocated to Paris.[1] The four young musicians – Davis, Shaw, Young, and Brooks – continued living and performing in France, intermittently touring cities in Europe, including Berlin, Germany.

Blue Note Records (mid-to-late 1960s)Edit

By the mid-1960s, Shaw had successfully absorbed the concepts and influence of his mentor and friend, saxophonist Dolphy, and was meanwhile exploring the harmonic innovations of saxophonist John Coltrane and pianist McCoy Tyner. Both musicians contributed greatly to the development of Shaw's style as a trumpeter and composer.

Shaw returned to the U.S. from Paris in 1965, and began his career as one of the Blue Note labels regular trumpet players, working steadily with their roster of artists. He replaced Carmell Jones in the Horace Silver quintet (1965–1966), and made his Blue Note debut on Silver's The Cape Verdean Blues,[4] followed by Larry Young's Unity (1965);[1] the album with Young featured three of his compositions ("Zoltan", "Moontrane", and "Beyond All Limits"). "Moontrane", dedicated to Coltrane, was written when Shaw was 18 years old and was his earliest composition.

Shaw also collaborated frequently and recorded with Corea (1966–67, 1969), Jackie McLean (1967), Booker Ervin (1968), Tyner (1968), Andrew Hill (1969), Herbie Hancock, and Bobby Hutcherson.[1] In 1968–69, he worked intermittently with Max Roach, touring with him in Iran. Shaw also worked as a studio musician, and worked in pit orchestras and on Broadway musicals.

Contemporary and Muse (early-to-mid 1970s)Edit

In 1970, Shaw recorded his first album as a leader, Blackstone Legacy, for Contemporary Records.[1] Blackstone Legacy featured Bennie Maupin, Ron Carter, George Cables, Gary Bartz, Clint Houston, and Lenny White. This was followed by a second release under Shaw's name, entitled Song of Songs. During this time, Shaw moved to San Francisco to explore new opportunities and became closely associated with musicians on the West Coast such as Bobby Hutcherson, Eddie Moore, Eddie Marshall, and Henry Franklin.

In 1974, Shaw returned from California to New York, beginning an association with Muse Records,[4] recording the albums – The Moontrane, Love Dance, Little Red's Fantasy and Iron Men, with musicians from the mid-western creative black arts scene such as Anthony Braxton, Arthur Blythe and Muhal Richard Abrams.

Columbia Records (late-1970s)Edit

After working frequently with Hutcherson, Art Blakey, Tyner and others, Shaw emerged as a band leader during the early 1970s, which was a time when many jazz artists began to explore jazz-rock. A younger statesman among his elders, Shaw saw himself as an heir to the musical legacy of trumpeters such as Gillespie, Navarro, and Brown, and, being an alumnus of Blakey's Jazz Messengers, felt responsible for upholding the integrity and appreciation of the tradition.

After releasing several albums for the Muse label, Shaw signed to Columbia Records in 1977 following an endorsement from Miles Davis.[7] He then recorded the albums Rosewood, Stepping Stones: Live at the Village Vanguard, Woody III, For Sure!, and United.[1]

Rosewood was nominated for two Grammys and was voted Best Jazz Album of 1978 in the DownBeat Readers' Poll, which also voted Shaw Best Jazz Trumpeter of the Year,[1] and No. 4 Jazz Musician of the Year.


Throughout the 1980s, Shaw continued performing and recording as a leader with sidemen such as pianists Onaje Allan Gumbs, Mulgrew Miller, and Larry Willis,[4] bassist David Williams, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington,[4] and trombonist Steve Turre, recording a number of more "traditional" but highly lyrical albums (Solid, Setting Standards, In My Own Sweet Way) consisting predominantly of standards and tunes from the hard bop repertoire. During this time he also worked on projects with saxophonists Benny Golson, Kenny Garrett and Dexter Gordon, as well as fellow trumpeter Freddie Hubbard on three albums (Double Take, and The Eternal Triangle, reissued on Blue Note as The Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw Sessions) and Golson's Time Speaks.[1]

Health issues and deathEdit

By the late 1980s, Shaw was nearly blind from retinitis pigmentosa, an incurable degenerative eye disease. A user of heroin throughout his adult life, Shaw was in poor health when he returned to the U.S. in early 1989 from a lengthy stay in Europe—he needed a wheelchair at the airport.[8] On the morning of February 27, 1989, Shaw was struck by a subway car in Brooklyn, New York, which mangled his left arm and caused other injuries including head trauma; doctors were forced to amputate his arm.[9][10] The night before the accident, Max Roach sent a limousine to Newark where Shaw was staying, to take Shaw to the Village Vanguard to listen to Roach play. After the set, Roach put Shaw into a taxicab at around midnight with enough money to get back to Newark. Shaw did not go to Newark; it is unclear what led to the accident later that morning. During his hospital stay at Bellevue, Shaw suffered kidney failure, was put on a respirator and lost consciousness for more than a month. He died from kidney failure on May 10, 1989 at the age of 44.[8][7][11][1][12]


  • Talent Deserving Wider Recognition, Downbeat International Jazz Critics Poll (1977)
  • Jazz Album of the Year, Downbeat Readers Poll: Rosewood (Columbia 1978)
  • Best Trumpeter, Downbeat Readers Poll (1978)
  • Grammy Nomination – Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Soloist: Rosewood (1979)
  • Grammy Nomination – Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Group: Woody Shaw Concert Ensemble, Rosewood (1979)
  • Best Trumpeter, Downbeat Readers Poll (1980)
  • Downbeat Hall of Fame (1989)

Legacy revivalEdit

The years between 2003 and 2013 saw a resurgence of interest in, and recognition of, Shaw's music. In 2003, Shaw's son, Woody Louis Armstrong Shaw III, launched The Official Woody Shaw Website, which helped to bolster appreciation for Shaw's contribution to music. Since then, many of Shaw's long-out-of-print recordings have been reissued, remastered and repackaged, under the curatorial oversight of Shaw's son and long-time producer Michael Cuscuna.

In 2012, PopMarket, a division of Sony Legacy, released Woody Shaw: The Complete Columbia Albums Collection, and in 2013, Mosaic Records released Woody Shaw: The Complete Muse Sessions, for which NPR described Shaw as "the last great trumpet innovator".[13]

Shaw III, the primary inspiration for Shaw's third Columbia album, Woody III (dedicated to Shaw's father and newborn son), is the sole heir to the Shaw family legacy. Today, Shaw III preserves the Shaw legacy through the production, management, archiving and preservation of his father's life's work. As of 2013, he is stated to be authoring the first official biography on his father's life and music. Shaw's legacy is kept active and relevant through the use of social media and the official website. The Shaw name and legacy are administered by Woody Shaw Legacy LLC.


Shaw was noted for his mastery and innovative use of "wide" intervals, often fourths and fifths, which are considered relatively unnatural to the trumpet and difficult to employ skillfully due to (a) the technical facility required to do so, (b) the architecture of the instrument, (c) the trumpet's inherent harmonic tendencies based on the overtone series, and (d) its traditional association with intervals based more commonly on thirds and diatonic relationships.

In both his improvisations and his compositions, Shaw frequently used polytonality, the combination of two or more tonalities or keys (i.e. multiple chords or harmonic structures) at once. In his solos, he often superimposed highly complex permutations of the pentatonic scale and sequences of intervals that modulated unpredictably through numerous key centers. He was a master of modality and used a wide range of harmonic color, generating unusual contrasts, using tension and resolution, dissonance, odd rhythmic groupings, and "over the barline" phrases, yet always resolving his ideas according to the form and harmonic structure of a given composition while adhering to the conventions of jazz improvisation and simultaneously creating new ones.

His "attack" was remarkably clean and precise, regardless of tempo (Shaw often played extremely fast passages). He had a rich, dark tone that was distinctive with a near-vocal quality to it; his intonation and articulation were highly developed, and he greatly utilized the effects of the lower register, usually employing a deep, extended vibrato at the end of his phrases. Shaw also often incorporated the chromatic scale, which gave his melodic lines a subtle fluidity that seemed to allow him to weave "in and out" of chords seamlessly from all "angles".

Shaw was also born with an extraordinary memory[14] and perfect pitch.[15] Max Roach once stated: "He was truly one of the greatest. I first had occasion to work with Woody on a trip to Iran. 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."[16]

Shaw's improvisational and composing style bears the influences of his idols Dolphy, Coltrane and Tyner, as well as many European modern classical and 20th-century composers, such as Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Erik Satie, Alexander Scriabin, Carlos Chavez, Ernest Bloch, Olivier Messiaen, Paul Hindemith, Charles Ives, Edgar Varese, Igor Stravinsky, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Colin McPhee.[14] Shaw also listened closely to traditional Japanese music, Indonesian Gamelan, Indian classical music, Brazilian music, and various other musics of the world.[14]


Throughout his career, Shaw gave countless clinics, master classes and private lessons to students around the world.

During the 1970s, he and Joe Henderson were faculty members in Jamey Aebersold's jazz camp.

NEA Grant-recipients who studied with Shaw include Wynton Marsalis (musical director of Jazz at Lincoln Center), and Ingrid Monson (Quincy Jones Professor of African American Music, Harvard University).

Other students and apprentices included Chris Botti, Wallace Roney, and Terence Blanchard.

Admiration among musiciansEdit

As a musician and trumpeter, Shaw was held in high esteem by his colleagues and is today seen as one of the most technically and harmonically advanced trumpet players in the history of jazz and of the instrument itself. Miles Davis, a notoriously harsh critic of fellow musicians, once said of Shaw: "Now there's a great trumpet player. He can play different from all of them."[17] Trumpeter Dave Douglas stated: "It's not only the brilliant imagination that captivates with Woody Shaw – it's how natural those fiendishly difficult lines feel... Woody Shaw is now one of the most revered figures for trumpeters today."[18] Shaw is credited with having extended the harmonic and technical vocabulary of the trumpet. Upon hearing of Shaw's death in 1989, Wynton Marsalis stated: "Woody added to the vocabulary of the trumpet. His whole approach influenced me tremendously."[5]

Multi-genre producer, instrumentalist and rapper, Madlib, also cites Shaw as an inspiration for his music. In an interview with Red Bull Music Academy, Madlib listed Shaw as his favorite trumpet player, saying of his music: "It’s electric and acoustic, traditional and non-traditional — that’s what I’m all about."[19]


Throughout his life, Shaw travelled all over Europe. He first moved to France at 19. As a sideman with Roach, he traveled to Iran in 1969. He also toured such places as Japan, Great Britain, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, and Czechoslovakia.

During a 1980s tour for the United States Information Service, Shaw ventured to such countries as Egypt, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates. Recently, it has been discovered that Shaw spent significant time performing and giving clinics in India, working in cities such as New Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore, and Calcutta. When asked by film producer Chuck France in an interview whether he thought traveling was important, Shaw responded: "Most definitely. I think every great artist should share his music with the world."[20]


As leader/co-leaderEdit


As sidemanEdit

With Art Blakey

With Roy Brooks

With Chick Corea

With Nathan Davis

  • Peace Treaty (1965)
  • Happy Girl (1965)

With Eric Dolphy

With Dexter Gordon

With George Gruntz

  • For Flying Out Proud (1977)
  • GG-CJB (1978)

With Louis Hayes

With Joe Henderson

With Andrew Hill

With Bobby Hutcherson

With Jackie McLean

With Hank Mobley

With Horace Silver

With Buddy Terry

With Mal Waldron

With others


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Woody Shaw | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved August 1, 2021.
  2. ^ Ramsey, Doug. "Recent Listening: Woody Shaw". Retrieved August 20, 2013. Shaw reached a level of expressiveness, headlong linear development and freedom from post-bop conventions that was not only ahead of his time; this music from three and four decades ago is ahead of much of the rote, formulaic jazz of our time. The Mosaic box set makes it clear to what an extent Shaw was at once a liberator of the music and a preserver of tradition.
  3. ^ West, Michael (August 14, 2013). "Woody Shaw: The Last Great Trumpet Innovator". NPR. Retrieved August 20, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Who's Who of Jazz (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. pp. 358/9. ISBN 0-85112-580-8.
  5. ^ a b Gibert, Lois. "Interview with Woody Shaw, WRVR, 1978" (PDF). Retrieved March 5, 2010.
  6. ^ "A Brief History of Arts High" Archived October 29, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, Arts High School. Accessed October 24, 2013.
  7. ^ a b Collar, Matt. "Woody Shaw Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved March 5, 2010.
  8. ^ a b Spencer, Frederick J. (2002). Jazz and Death: Medical Profiles of Jazz Greats. University of Mississippi Press. pp. 55–57. ISBN 9781578064533.
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Associated Press. Archived from the original on January 30, 2021. Retrieved April 7, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ Spiegelman, Arthur (March 2, 1989). "Shaw Injury Stuns Eldridge Service". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 16, 2022.
  11. ^ Obituary on the L.A. Times
  12. ^ Official Woody Shaw Website [1]
  13. ^ West, Michael J. (August 14, 2013) "Woody Shaw: The Last Great Trumpet Innovator". npr.org. Retrieved October 24, 2013.
  14. ^ a b c Shaw III, Woody. "The Official Woody Shaw Website: Biography". Archived from the original on March 23, 2010. Retrieved March 5, 2010.
  15. ^ Berg, Chuck. "Woody Shaw: Trumpet In Bloom". Retrieved March 5, 2010.
  16. ^ Parker, Jeffrey. "Woody Shaw Obituary". Retrieved March 5, 2010.
  17. ^ Feather, Leonard (December 1982), "Miles Davis' Miraculous Recovery From Stroke", Ebony, Johnson, p. 64, retrieved March 4, 2010
  18. ^ Douglas, Dave (September 19, 2008). "Woody Shaw, 1979". The Greenleaf Music Blog. Greenleaf Music. Retrieved March 17, 2012.
  19. ^ Sharp, Elliot (March 27, 2017). "Madlib Reveals His Ultimate Jazz Supergroup". Redbull.com. Retrieved July 30, 2019.
  20. ^ France, Chuck. "Jazz in Exile". Movies.yahoo.com. Retrieved March 5, 2010.
  21. ^ Chick Corea - Is, retrieved December 27, 2022

External linksEdit