About Me

My photo
Atlanta, GA, United States
When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995 and have been music director at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation since 2011.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Remembering Bob Shaw

It seems like there have been a lot of celebrity deaths in 2016. While I'm sad for their loved ones, celebrity deaths don't affect me that much. I may have listened to their music or watched them on the silver screen, but I didn't know them personally. A death that has affected me is the passing of my former guitar teacher, Bob Shaw. Although he passed away about a year ago, I only learned the news recently. You can read Bob's obituary here, but I'd like to share how he affected my life for the good.

I met Bob Shaw in 2004 after recently moving to Atlanta. I had been playing guitar for maybe four months, and I wanted to find a teacher. After an online search, I reached out to Bob. At the time, I was more interested in folk music, while Bob was a jazz guitarist. Still, I decided to contact him. I figured that anyone who had been teaching for 30 years might have a thing or two to show me. Boy, was I right about that!

In our first lessons, it became apparent that Bob was the right teacher for me. If I sucked, he told me. If I sounded great, he told me. He had a wonderful sense of humor, and I think he must have enjoyed teaching me, because our 30-minute lessons often extended to 60 minutes. We started off with the folk songs I wanted to learn. With my professional music background, I learned folk tunes quickly. In some ways, I was probably a challenging student. I had the fingers of the beginner but the experience and theoretical knowledge of a professional. Sometime during those first months of lessons, Bob played a chord/melody arrangement of a jazz standard, and I was blown away. I hadn't heard anything like that. Before long, we were working through the Mel Bay Rhythm Guitar Chord System and I was learning to play jazz standards. Then Bob encouraged me to start writing my own solo jazz guitar arrangements. I tackled this challenge enthusiastically. Since my guitar chord knowledge was still limited, it took an excruciatingly long time to write arrangements, and it took even longer to learn how to play what I wrote, but I kept at it. Misty was my first solo guitar arrangement, and to this day I often use it as an opener when I'm performing alone. Other arrangements followed. Arranging was (and is) a perfect way for me to explore the possibilities of the guitar. I eventually got faster at arranging, and I've even gotten to the point where I can often make up arrangements on the spot if needed.

Bob not only steered me toward jazz guitar, but he helped me find playing opportunities, two of which immediately come to mind. The first was subbing with the ASO – the Atlanta Swing Orchestra, that is, not the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Their regular guitarist, a former student of Bob's, was traveling more often, and they needed someone to sit in on rehearsals and sub for gigs when he was out. Through playing with the ASO, I eventually was called to sub for the SJO – the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. Thanks to Bob's teaching, I was able to sight-read the SJO guitar book pretty well. I became their first call sub, and then I became their regular guitar player after the previous guitar player moved.

Bob also steered me toward my first small group jazz experience. Someone was hosting a small group jazz jam on Thursday nights. This wasn't for performing. It was more for fun and practice. Bob told me about the opportunity, and soon I was jamming on Thursday nights. This helped me gain confidence, and from that experience, I either joined or started a series of groups. Now I'm performing with Godfrey and Guy once a week and playing solo guitar twice a week. Godfrey and Guy recorded our first album recently, and we have plans for more.

Whether I'm playing in big bands or small groups, I can trace my beginnings back to Bob Shaw. His influence helped set me on the path.

Not only did Bob help me find places to get started playing, but he also had a profound impact on my musical style. Bob played with elegance. He had a way of making everything sound easy, even if it was difficult. I tend to gravitate toward medium tempo, tasty music, and so Bob's style rubbed off on me. More than once, warming up before a rehearsal or a gig, someone has said to me, "Have you ever heard of Bob Shaw? You sound just like him." I was always delighted to hear this, and I'm sure Bob would have been pleased as well.

Bob may be gone, but his musical spirit and influence will live on through me and his other students. Even though I received the news one year too late, I hope he's had time to look down from wherever he is and check in my gigs from time to time.

1 comment:

  1. I was a former student as well and just heard he had passed. Beautiful reflection here Tom. Mike O'Brien - themikeo.com

    ReplyDelete