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Decidedly Charlie Shavers: His 46 Finest 1936-1960



Tommy Dorsey once dubbed Charlie Shavers “the greatest trumpeter of them all”, a view that this generous survey of his remarkable career does much to endorse. The 46 tracks display the sheer range of his abilities. His earliest, often muted, playing with the bands of such as Jimmie Noone, Johnny Dodds and his breakthrough with John Kirby’s sextet at a surprisingly young age (also composing and arranging) are well represented – including of course his classic Undecided. He then spent years adding a spectacular element to Tommy Dorsey’s Orchestra (singing too!), as well as testing his abilities in many other settings such as the famous Jazz At The Philharmonic concerts. From the mid-50s he mostly recorded under his own leadership, and disc 2 offers plentiful examples of his 1954 Sextet (including his extraordinary impersonations of other jazz trumpeters in Story Of The Jazz Trumpet), the beautiful 1955 sessions with Sy Oliver’s orchestra – his personal favourite of all his output – and 10 tracks with his 1959/60 Quartet alongside pianist Ray Bryant that present a comprehensive display of a technique unsurpassed in all jazz.

Decidedly Charlie Shavers: His 46 Finest 1936-1960


As Digby Fairweather points out in his typically erudite liner notes, Tommy Dorsey regarded Shavers as 'the greatest trumpeter of them all', which is some accolade, bearing in mind that a certain Louis Armstrong was around when the comment was made. Such comparisons are invidious and it is far better to just sit back and enjoy the 46 tracks on offer here. Shavers is heard in a wide variety of settings, and as usual with these compilations, the cast list reads like a who's who of jazz of the period. He led his own small groups, featured with Sidney Bechet, John Kirby, Jimmy Noone, Johnny Dodds, Lionel Hampton and of course Dorsey. Disc one takes us through his early years to 1952 in chronological order (apart from the opening remake of UNDECIDED which dates from 1960). The second disc is notable for the inclusion of STORY OF THE JAZZ TRUMPET from his Bethlehem LP 'Horn O' Plenty' (in which he impersonates several of his fellow trumpeters) but most of all for the tracks from his two late albums for Everest in 1959/1960 with a quartet co-led by pianist Ray Bryant which show the full range of his talents.The usual excellent production values associated with Retrospective are present here of course which adds to the enjoyment of a highly recommendable set. In Tune

This 46-track selection truly represents the huge talent that was trumpeter Charlie Shavers, a musician whose presence lit up numerous ensembles before his untimely death from throat cancer in 1971. He had an awesome technique (equally that of fellow swing-era giant Harry James), hitting those high ones with alacrity whenever the occasion demanded, and deserved to have a celebrity outside of the jazz/big band circle. He certainly had all the musical credentials, always playing with the heavyweights of the day, but he probably suffered from being a contemporary of his great idol Louis Armstrong, whose popularity continued long after his superior powers as a trumpeter had deserted him. Shavers' versatility is illustrated beautifully here as he struts his stuff in the Claude Thornhill Orchestra of 1937 with Maxine Sullivan on vocals, to the quartet recordings of 1960 where he is aided and abetted by pianist Ray Bryant. He is equally at home in the company of earlier leading lights such as Jimmie Noone and Johnny Dodds or as featured soloist with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, an aggregation he dipped in and out of over a number of years. Dorsey, a man not given to over-praising his musicians, dubbed him "the greatest trumpeter of them all". There are plenty of examples of his creative side, never subsumed by that technique, his ballad playing being an absolute joy whatever the surroundings. He became a favourite at those Jazz At The Philharmonic concerts, and two examples from those often chaotic presentations are included; they illustrate his expressive side, allied to a moment or two of humour. The sides where he is buoyed up by strings are the least satisfying moments and were originally released on a Bethlehem album entitled The Most Intimate. Sy Oliver's arrangements are at best workmanlike, although Shavers Siails over the top in an effortless manner. Interestingly, these tunes were recorded only a few months after the Clifford Brown With Strings album, a much more satisfying option. As an insight into the music of a great horn player this collection can only be rated as of the highest order and is recommended to all of those (like this reviewer) who only caught up with him ia his later years. Jazz Journal