Former Sony/Columbia recording artist Travis Shook is somewhat of a jazz enigma. He has been called a “man of mystery” by JazzTimes, “pianist-in-exile” by Time Out New York, and although he has been highly praised by the likes of Tony Williams and Ahmad Jamal, remains largely unknown to the public. Shook is an acoustic jazz pianist��”one who demonstrates an unusually wide scope of feeling from the simple to the complex, the conventional to the unconventional, and from the softest, most lush ballads, to the fiercest, hard-driving jazz. “It's all the same to me,” Shook explains. “I don't distinguish between different moods��”it's about nothing but the groove. That's why I put the same energy into a slow tune as a fast tune.”
Born in Orville, California on March 10, 1969, Shook (who began studying the piano at the age of seven) moved to Olympia, Washington with his parents when he was ten and spent his adolescent years in the Pacific Northwest. Shook was never a jazz snob; he also appreciates rock and played some rock guitar growing up. But as a teen-ager, Shook fell in love with improvisation and realized that jazz piano would be his primary focus. Shook's pianistic influences have included Ahmad Jamal, McCoy Tyner, Duke Ellington, Harold Mabern, Herbie Hancock, and Bill Evans, and he also cites non-pianists like saxophonist John Coltrane, trumpeter Miles Davis, and drummer Elvin Jones as strong influences.
At 18, Shook moved to New Jersey to attend William Paterson College, where he studied with Mabern. Shook notes: “Having Harold Mabern as my piano teacher at William Paterson College was the first time I got to stand next to a real jazz musician and see for myself how an experienced jazz musician thinks.”
After graduating from Paterson in 1990 with a BA in jazz performance, Shook returned to Washington State and spent three years in the band of veteran bassist Buddy Catlett (famous for his work with Count Basie and Louis Armstrong, among others).
“Buddy took me under his wing,” Shook recalls. “Working with Buddy Catlett was where I really got my grounding in the jazz tradition. I learned a lot about the history of jazz during that time. It was a valuable experience working with him at gigs in Seattle five nights a week for three years.”
In 1991, a 22-year-old Shook won the Jacksonville Jazz Festival's Great American Piano Competition, which led to a contract with Columbia Records/Sony Music. And in 1993 - the year Shook moved to New York City - Columbia released his self-titled debut album, which boasted the late Tony Williams on drums, Bunky Green on alto sax and Ira Coleman on bass. The album, which Shook produced with Williams, received almost universal favorable reviews; in the All Music Guide, for example, well known jazz critic Scott Yanow initially gave Travis' debut a 5-star rating. In France, Jazz Magazine selected Shook's debut recording as one of the Best of 1993 and Nord Matin praised “At 22 years, he possesses an extraordinary technique.... Yes this Travis Shook is a phenomenon and it is clear that they will be talking about him.”