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Charlie Shavers v. Harry James


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Back in early May, I received an email from a reader, Jeremy Mushlin, who had an interesting point: “I will go toe to toe with any Harry James fan and argue that Charlie Shavers was his trumpet-playing equal. Charlie just did not get the same opportunities and also wasn't as well organized as James. Compare Harry James's Soft Lights, Sweet Trumpet and Trumpet After Midnight with Shavers's Gershwin, Shavers and Strings and The Most Intimate.

Charlie+portada+bona Harry_James_Billboard_3

A big, bold statement, but the more I thought about what Jeremy wrote, the more I tended to agree with him, with reservations. Shavers was a soulful power swinger who was relentlessly in demand by many bands eager for a strong trumpet soloist who could write crisp arrangements and bend the blue notes. These bands included Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Barnett, Count Basie and Lionel Hampton, and he recorded many excellent leadership albums in the 1950s and '60s.

While Shavers and James's trumpets were similarly fleshy and vivid, James had a snap at the top that came from years of circus playing before starting work in swing bands. As for Shavers, he had flavor that James sorely lacked.

If you listen to the four albums Jeremy mentioned above, you will hear a similarity in the two trumpeters' attack and tone. No matter which way you come down, both were distinctive and beautiful players:

Here's Shavers playing But Not for Me from Gershwin, Shavers and Strings (1954)...

Here's Shavers's The Most Intimate (1955)...

Here's James's Soft Lights, Sweet Trumpet (1954)...

And here's James's Trumpet After Midnight (1954)...

Bonus. Here's Shavers and Ben Webster playing Stardust in 1971...

And here's James in 1956 playing Stardust...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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