Jaleel Shaw: Philly Soul
Jaleel Shaw has been one of my favorite young alto players for about a decade. We first played together with the Charles Mingus Band, and we kept in touch over the years. I've worked a few times in his band and he's worked with me a number of times. You might know him from the Roy Haynes group, which he has been working with for a long time. Shaw has that amazing balance of depth and innovation in his sound and his improvisation. He's on my latest CD on the Steeplechase label, entitled The Facts (2013) and we just finished a great weekend with a quintet at the famed Smalls Jazz Club in New York City. I was glad to catch up with him and get an interview with one of the baddest cats on the New York jazz scene.
George Colligan: OK. What's your earliest memory of music?
Jaleel Shaw: Wow! My mom told one of the first movies she took me to see was The Muppet Movie and that I came home and was singing the music a few days later. I guess that impressed her! She had me in these music theory classes for children around five or six. My mother always had lots of recordings laying around. She checked out a lot of late John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, Yusef Lateef, Pharoah Sanders, Ornette Coleman, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, [and] Prince. So I heard a lot of that as a kid.
GC: Do you believe that alto is your instrument, and if so, why? Some guys double or triple, but other focus on one. And when did you know that alto was the one?
JS: I originally wanted to play drums and trumpet. I think my mother thought both were too loud! So I ended up picking the saxophone. Maybe she secretly wanted me to play saxophone now that I think of it. There were no saxophones available when I signed up, and I had to start off on clarinet. But a year later, I got an alto sax.
I honestly didn't think of playing anything else for a while. I don't really remember having the opportunity to switch, but I think the alto stuck to me like a glove. I really got into it and started checking out as many alto saxophonists as I could almost immediately.
Today, I play soprano as well and I'm really into it. I've been thinking about baritone too. There's something in that sound that I like. But ultimately, I think that alto is a very difficult instrument and I'm still working out my sound and I feel like I'm always trying to find better set ups, better mouthpieces, etc.
GC: Who are your saxophone heroes? Who are your non- saxophone playing musical heroes?
JS: I could be here all day with this one! My first alto saxophone hero was Bobby Watson. I was really into his playing and compositions and I got to meet him. When he came to Philadelphia, he became a close mentor and I still consider him a very close friend. Then, I started checking out lots of Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, then Sonny Stitt, Johnny Hodges, Charlie Parker, and Lee Konitz. Of the younger alto saxophonists I was checking out Antonio Hart, Kenny Garrett, [and] Myron Walden.
Since I'm a Philly native, I got to be around Grover Washington, Jr., and a man named Byard Lancaster. I was studying with a lot of great saxophonists [like] Robert Landham and Rayburn Wright. I also checked out lots of Maceo Parker.
In terms of non-alto players, I'm a huge fan of Mark Turner and Chris Potter. I also came up under the wing of Tim Warfield and got to play with him in Philly. Of course Trane, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, Branford Marsalis, Joe Lovano, Steve Wilson for alto and soprano, and I'm really into Sam Newsome on soprano.
GC: Ok, maybe a few guys who aren't saxophone players who are really big influences?
JS: Oh right! Mulgrew Miller, Kurt Rosenwinkel, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Dave Holland, Roy Haynes and Elvin Jones, Lennie Tristano, Freddie Hubbard, and Lee Morgan were all big influences.
GC: When did you know that you wanted music to be your life?