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Catchgroove’s Hall of Fame: Woody Shaw – Rosewood

January 29, 2017


Rosewood is one of my first jazz crushes.  Woody was on Dexter Gordon’s 1976 Homecoming: Live at the Village Vanguard and 1977 Sophisticated Giant.  Sophisticated Giant  and Homecoming would make my top-10 jazz albums.  On both albums Woody’s horn playing really stood out.  Each album had a Shaw composition too.  When Rosewood came out the next year I was ready to check out Dexter’s gifted sideman.  It was Shaw’s major label debut (Columbia) and it featured three of his compositions.

The late 70s was a good time for straight jazz. A major label, like Columbia, was so rich it could afford prestige artists like Dexter Gordon and Woody Shaw.  The fusion era had created major successes like Weather Report.  Jazz artists like George Benson where commercializing their sound and making hits.  Artist like Gordon and Shaw where moderately successful – major successes by jazz standards – creating an environment where a major label like Columbia was comfortable making a major investment in straight ahead jazz.  I am convinced this created a vibe where Columbia was brave enough to invest in the Young Lion movement led by Wynton Marsalis.

An album like Rosewood was actually promoted by Columbia.  In hindsight this is pretty amazing because Rosewood is straight ahead neo-bop.  This is not diluted cross over jazz.  It is real jazz, yet accessible.  This kind of jazz had kind of fallen off the face of the earth – but not really – it was alive and well in Europe.  Gordon’s 1976 New York “homecoming” created a buzz and interest in bop that he and others had kept alive in Europe while they had fallen off the radar in the United States.  Rosewood was part of this neo-bop buzz.  I had the good fortune of busting my jazz cherry on albums like Homecoming: Live at the Village Vanguard, Sophisticated Giant and Rosewood.  

Woody Shaw toured on Rosewood and I got to see the Shaw quintet live at the University of Minnesota’s  Whole Coffeehouse in 1978 (a perfect venue for acoustic music).  That tour was documented on Stepping Stones – Live at the Village Vanguard.

What I love about this album is:

  • Woody – his trumpet has great tone and his soloing is muscular and sophisticated.  It is technical, yet musical.
  • Compositions – there are great jazz songs.  Memorable melodies and great foundations for the soloists.
  • Arrangements – the album presents both Woody’s working quintet and his concert ensemble.  The concert ensemble arrangements are gorgeous and the quintet is dexterous.
  • Listenable – I have listened to this album hundreds of times and I have never tired of it and I never stop discovering additional nuances on each listen.

The titular piece “Rosewood” opens the album. The Shaw composed piece was written for Shaw’s parents. The song exploits the concert ensemble.  It sounds like a jazz orchestra. The song has a hummable melody.  The arrangement is stunning and complex, yet it allows ample space for the soloists.

“Every Time I See You” is another ensemble piece.  The song was composed by the band’s pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs. It reveals all the musical glory of the ensemble and it allows Woody to tear off a bad ass solo. Woody is quoted on the linar notes regarding this song: “It’s hard to play simply and still make it work.”

“The Legend of Cheops” is yet another composition by one Of Woody’s sideman, this time drummer Victor Lewis.  Again this is a tune that highlights the ensemble strengths: elaborate musical arrangements and brilliant soloing.

“Rahsaan’s Run” starts side two. This song features the quintet. This Shaw composed number is a tribute to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who at the time of this recording had recently passed.  Shaw had worked extensively with Kirk. The song is not a dirge, but a joyful expression of the man.

“Sunshowers” uses the ensemble and is a tune by Woody’s bassist Clint Houston. The song offers a great opportunity for the horns and piano to solo unbridled.  It is beautiful noise.

“Theme For Maxine” is for Woody’s wife and manager Maxine Gregg.  This is, as you might guess, a beautiful ballad.  The song featuring the quintet, replaces regular sax man Carter Jefferson with Joe Henderson (who has a history with Woody as they played together with Horace Silver in the mid 60s). Woody and Joe each solo brilliantly, but the real thrill is when they play together in tandem.  Their two horns together is like hearing a whole orchestra or choir. It is truly a 1+1>2 equation.

The CD reissue includes three additional tracks: “Isabel, the Liberator,””Joshua C.” and “Why?”

This album is one of a handful that lured me into a life long love of jazz.   No matter how complex jazz gets, it ultimately must have a deep groove to capture my heart. This album grooves deeply.

A final note: this album is finely recorded and is one of my reference recordings.


  1. Great selection! Rosewood is his best studio album in my opinion, and his live album Stepping Stones is another essential Woody Shaw release. A jazz great from the start, his work on Larry Young’s ‘Unity’ and Horace Silver’s ‘Cape Verdean Blues’ both from ’65 show what a major talent he was at a young age.

  2. You are giving me some new listening.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Catchgroove’s Hall of Fame: Dexter Gordon – Sophisticated Giant | Axl's Catch Groove

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