Top 50 JAzz Blog

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Charlie Shavers: Decided. by Steve Provizer

[I first wrote about Charlie Shavers a couple of years ago and since then, have noticed signs that increased attention is being paid to this great trumpet player (pure coincidence, I'm sure). I have expanded that piece, added new links and new commentary]

I first heard Shavers many years ago playing on Billie Holliday''s Verve LP "Solitude"- my favorite Lady Day record. Charlie's playing, both open and muted, was beautiful. I don't know why I didn't pursue his discography at that point; it just kind of spun out over time and I have grown to increasingly dig Shaver's facility, creativity and tone.

The only other swing trumpet players who could give Charlie Shavers a run for his money as both soloist and lead player were Roy EldridgeHarry Edison and Buck Clayton. If you happened to like the particularities of their sounds, you might say Harry James, Cootie Williams, Bunny Berigan or Red Allen were in his league. Shavers' tone was basically 'poppin', but rounder, slightly less edged and with a touch more vibrato than the others. His range was unsurpassed, except by Eldridge. He used mutes to great effect throughout his career.

Shavers was an alumnus of the Tiny Bradshaw, Lucky Millinder and John Kirby, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman bands and Jazz at the Philharmonic. He recorded and sounded perfectly at home in many styles-blues, traditional, swing, semi-bop.

There's a dearth of info out there about the man. There is one very cool interview with him here, and what he says about the trumpet will surprise you. In this interview with Bobby Shew, there is a reference to Charlie's having what seems to be narcolepsy.

Whether or not he had that kind of medical condition or not he seems to have been an extremely laid back possibly even passive, guy. It's interesting to speculate on how his personality interacted with his career-especially his recording career-as many of the recordings he made in mid-to-late career (he died at age 50) were not very good. Producers put him in settings they thought would make him appeal to a bigger audience. On some of these, he is simply a high note guy and on some, a "beautiful music" guy. He probably had neither the clout nor the personality that would have made him push back against any of these musical follies.

Here's Charlie with Johnny Dodds in 1938 playing the mistitled tune "Melancholy."

This is the Charlie Shavers Quintet in 1947 doing "Dizzy's Dilemna."

Here's Charlie and Lady Day, 1952, on "Moonglow."

Here he is in 1952 with Eldridge in one of the classic JATP "battles."

One of the few clips of Charlie has him here in another fantastic "battle" with Buck Clayton:

Here he is holding down the solo and first chair at the same time for the Dorseys:

Here he is with his first major gig-John Kirby. Sid Catlett is fantastic:

And finally, here he is not long before his death. Dig the violinist Svend Asmussen. You might also recognize the bass player and the tenor player:


Unknown said...
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Matt Lavelle said...


I have a JATP cassette called "The Trumpet Battle",.and Shavers pretty much edges King Roy E.

The Diz-Roy recordings are great.Why Shavers is often not included as one of the kings is beyond me.Maybe Jazz writers? (heh)

I wish Miles did records with other trumpet players like Lee and Woody S.I'm in a group called NY Trumpet Nemesis myself.

Shavers,.like Clifford,.I wish I could hear him play free.People on his level are free to me.

Steve,.as a trumpet player like me,.you know Shavers owned it man.He kicked the trumpet's ass and then some,.all with that quirky original sound.I'll bet he could have rolled with Eric Dolphy.

Steve Provizer said...

You must know "Night of the Cookers"-Freddie and Lee.

Don't you agree that Clark Terry has similar traits-tone wise and facility? But I never liked Clark nearly as much; never thought he dig as deeply as Charlie.