He's best known as a fiery bebop trumpet innovator and constantly
in-demand soloist and session artist who for over three decades
has performed and recorded with the elite of the jazz world.
But when Bobby Shew went to MAMA Records with the concept for
his third album for the label, he turned more than a few heads.
"I told them, 'Don't look at me funny, but this is what
I really want to do - a Latin jazz session.'"
After almost fifty years of hectic activity as a musician,
composer, arranger, educator and clinician, Salsa Caliente
completes a cycle in Shew's life that began in his home state
of New Mexico, where as a teenage trumpeter, he learned the ins
and outs of this rhythmically sophisticated Cuban-based music
in local Latin dance bands. "All these years," Shew
says, "that music has been moving through my veins and lingering,
almost telling me, 'Someday, you're going to do me.' This is
"This music is exciting, to say the least," the
leader readily affirms. "It's very sensuous and stimulating.
It pushes the adrenaline to the point where it almost gets out
of control! One of the things about being a trumpet player is
that the trumpet is really the instrument of this music. When
you get into those montuno sections and start soloing, there's
just no other instrument that can solo over those vamps like
a trumpet. It's a tremendous feeling that's infectious and almost
overwhelms me. My heart's pounding like crazy and I get totally
electrified by it. I always have."
Shew's well-known career virtually parallels the evolution
of jazz in the last four decades. Particularly respected for
his big-band work, which has included stints with such famed
leaders as Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson and Oliver
Nelson, the trumpeter has also made a name for himself with such
small group icons as Art Pepper, Horace Silver, Louie Bellson
and Bud Shank, among many others. His output as a leader has
produced a Grammy-nominated album and such recent critically-acclaimed
efforts as his two MAMA Records releases Playing With Fire,
with trumpeter Tom Harrell, and Heavyweights, with trombonist
Carl Fontana. In addition to his prolific recording schedule,
Shew has become one of the jazz community's most in-demand clinicians
and concert soloists. As an educator, he's made his mark as Trumpet
Chairman of the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE)
and as the author of numerous articles and books on trumpet performance
Although his name has never been associated with Latin music,
Shew has long nurtured a strong appetite for the music and has
engaged in a life-long pursuit of information about the myriad
of intricate styles associated with Latin jazz and the tropical
Latin dance music today known as salsa. "When I was just
14 or 15 years old," he recalls of his early days as a budding
musician in Albuquerque, "I'd go back to the homes of the
Hispanic musicians after the gig, and they'd get out albums by
Tito Rodriguez [the famous fifties era Puerto Rican band leader]
and other greats of that time, and they'd teach me things about
the role of the different percussion instruments, the rhythms,
the difference between 2-3 and 3-2 clave [the rhythmic time signature
of Afro-Cuban music], and things like that."
But it wasn't long before he understood there was much more
to learn. "When I played a gig with a band in Los Angeles,"
he remembers, "the rhythm section was cookin' so hot, I
decided I wanted to join in, so I picked up a shaker and started
to play. The leader grabbed it away from me and said, 'No, no!'
He looked like he was going to kill me and was probably thinking
'What's the matter with that kid? Doesn't he know a shaker doesn't
fit into something like this?'
There are no such gaffes on Salsa Caliente. Shew has
placed himself in the midst of an assemblage of Latin jazz pros
respected by their peers as some of the genre's leading exponents.
Shew tapped fabled percussionist Jose "Papo" Rodriguez,
the well-known sideman for such Latin jazz luminaries as Tito
Puente and Poncho Sanchez, to hand pick the date's rhythm players.
The percussion team includes Michito Sanchez, a much in demand
conguero whose extensive discography includes dates with pianist
Clare Fischer's Latin jazz group and drummer Alex Acuna's band;
bassist Eddie Resto, a member of hip L.A. area groups like Bongo-Logic,
a Cuban charanga-style unit; and Ricardo "Tiki" Pasillas,
a highly regarded timbalero who as a young student attended one
of Shew's clinics in Northern California. Trombonist Art Velasco
and trumpeter Sal Cracchiolo are both veterans of the highly
successful Poncho Sanchez octet, while Colombian saxophonist
Justo Almario, a noted woodwind artist Shew considers one of
the best bebop players around, is a seasoned Latin jazz veteran
whose associations include Bobby Paunetto, Mongo Santamaria and
many other idiom leaders.
Salsa Caliente reunites the trumpet legend with pianist/composer
Mark Levine, a longtime associate who is widely respected as
one of the most knowledgeable and proficient non-Hispanic Latin
jazz artists in the world. Shew also uses the album to introduce
the talents of composer/arranger Robert Washut, the director
of jazz studies at the University of Northern Iowa and leader
of his own Latin jazz and salsa band, Alto Maiz. The album's
program includes two Washut originals in addition to pianist
Ray Bryant's classic "Cubano Chant," Levine's beguiling
"Linda Chicana," vibraphonist Cal Tjader's engaging
"Paunetto's Point," and four other explosive tracks.
"A lot of musicians are recording Latin jazz albums these
days," admits Shew, "but I haven't heard another group
that has the rhythm section we have, the great tunes, the whole
package. I think we really hit a magical thing on Salsa Caliente."