Internationally renowned trumpeter, Albuquerque native, and Corrales resident Bobby Shew will be front and center Saturday evening, backed by the sterling rhythm section of pianist Jim Ahrend, bassist Colin Deuble, drummer Cal Haines—and the New Mexico Philharmonic Orchestra—in a concert that will reprise the material on Shew’s favorite album of his, Metropole Orchestra. The album features 10 tracks, including 8 standards, an original by Shew, and an original written for him by Lex Jasper, who arranged all the tunes on the album.
The Metropole Orchestra, founded in 1945 and based in the Netherlands, has held a lofty position in the European jazz world for over 70 years. The New Mexico Philharmonic will play the Metropole’s original arrangements.
I had the opportunity to chat with Bobby—no disrespect intended; he’s my neighbor, and everybody here calls him Bobby, and when I type “Shew,” I’m wondering who that is—about the album, the concert, and how he once jumped off a 35-foot windmill with a surplus parachute, and lived to tell about it.
Mel: How did you come to make contact with the Metropole Orchestra and make this album?
Bobby: I was touring with [American baritone saxophonist and composer] Pepper Adams. We had a quintet together. We were touring through the United Kingdom and some places in Europe. The piano player in the quintet was Lex Jasper, who did all the writing for the Metropole Orchestra. He was not that aware of my playing until we did that tour. But he really loved what I did, and so he went back to Holland, and he told them that we have to bring this guy in as a guest. So they organized it, and I went there, and we did one session of five tunes [in 1986]. They liked it, and so they brought me back again, and we did five more tunes [in 1988]. They were thinking about doing a label. But I asked them if I could get copies of all the tracks, mixed and everything, and so they just gave it to me, for no money at all.
Bobby: Then I got a label in Germany. A friend of mine has a label over there, Mons, and he released it. It’s currently out of print because Mons went out of business, but I own the rights to it. The only reason it’s not in print right now is that I haven’t bothered to print more because people don’t buy CDs like they used to, you know, and I don’t want to have a thousand CDs sitting on the shelf over here. So it was all through the connection with the piano player Lex Jasper.
Mel: Yeah, he’s the guy that arranged all the compositions. He wrote a tune for you, too: “Ballad for Bobby.”
Mel: That’s kind of an honor, I would think.
Bobby: Absolutely. That’s actually the hardest piece to play on the whole album.
Mel: Who chose the tunes for the album?
Bobby: Well, when we started to put this together, Lex asked me if I had any tunes I’d like to do. I made a list of some of my favorite tunes, and Lex kind of selected the ones he felt he could do and wanted to do. Then I submitted that “Nadalin,” which is my tune, and that’s one of the prettier things on the entire record, I think.
Mel: I’m surprised I hadn’t heard that tune before.
Bobby: Well, it was recorded on the album Two Trumpets. Me and Chuck Findley did this. It’s been played an awful lot. I’ve actually started writing lyrics for it. I do it quite often, and people always love it. It’s just a very simple tune. It just popped into my head. It took me three minutes to write it.
Mel: There are a lot of ballads on this album, and I know you love playing ballads.
Bobby: Yes, indeed.
Mel: So how is it that such a crusty old curmudgeon as yourself can play such tender music?
Bobby: Well, I don’t know that I’m a crusty old curmudgeon. I’m a very sensitive person. I have a very sensitive heart. I cry easily at movies. I mean, I can cry when a guy makes a basketball shot at the right time. My emotions are really up on my sleeve at all times, you know. I don’t know why. I guess it was the way I was raised, a little difficult childhood and everything, but I just happen to be that way. I’ve always been that way, all through school and everything. I’m not one of these men that’s afraid to cry, I guess. I mean, it happens all the time. That’s part of the thing of the sensitivity in playing a ballad. You know, if you’re playing an up-tempo tune, it’s like a rodeo—hoot and holler and everything, yip-de-doo, here we go! and so forth. But when you have to pull down and play some deep, intense emotion of romance or love lost or something like that, and tap into things like sorrow and so forth, that takes a tremendous amount of sensitivity and introversion in order to pull that off.
Mel: Well, you’re pretty much a master at it, Bobby. There’s some really wonderful playing on here, such touching stuff, and when it’s cushioned with those strings—the arrangements are pretty nice, too—it’s really a nice package.
Bobby: That’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life, without a doubt. I don’t remember how many albums I’ve done under my own name—25 or so—but this one stands far above any of the others, and I’ve got some other good ones, but this one is just— You know, I’m an incurable romantic, I suppose. That’s the bottom line. When I heard Bird with strings and Stan Getz with strings—all of these people with strings—there’s something about the lushness of a string orchestra and the French horns and all the double reeds and everything. It’s almost like whipped cream being wrapped around you.
Bobby: When you play with the textures, they so enhance and support the sound of an instrument, and I’m critical about the sound I get on any instrument. It’s the top item on my list, of all things, and it is what I stress to my students, too. The first thing you have to do is find a sound, you know. You have to think about your sound before you think about anything else—your fingers, how fast they are, how high you can play or loud or anything. You have to think about the quality of the sound, and then intonation is the second thing.
Mel: Your use of—I would call it colors, maybe timbres. You find a lot of different colors in that horn. There is one track on the album—I forget which one—where you come in on the last chorus, and I thought for a minute it was a trombone. The sound was so round and warm. Within a couple of seconds, it became clear that it was you on the trumpet. What you’re able to communicate with those sounds is pretty special stuff.
Bobby: Well, thanks. That’s the standard I set for myself. I try to keep up with it at all times. It’s not always easy, but if you don’t set a high standard, then you don’t have anything to strive for.
Bobby: Anyway, I’m so looking forward to playing this concert. I’ve done that Metropole album or portions of it probably 20 or 25 times around the world, but to be able to do it in my own hometown, what a gift is that.
Mel: How did this come about?
Bobby: Marian [Tanau, the philharmonic’s executive director] just sent me an email and said that they’d like to have me do it. I had done a previous concert with the orchestra when Matt Catingub was here conducting a few years ago. He’s a real talented multiinstrumentalist who lives in Las Vegas, but I got him his first job when he was 15 years old.
Mel: You supplied the orchestra with the original arrangements?
Bobby: Yeah, I bought the music from the Dutch Broadcasting Corporation. The Metropole Orchestra is like a big band with strings, but I had it all completely reorchestrated for symphony orchestra.
Mel: Hey, I’ve got a question for you. At the end of “Here’s That Rainy Day,” you quote another tune, and I cannot come up with the name of it. I’m going to hum the first line to you, and see if you can recognize it and help me out on this. [Hums.]
Bobby: Yeah, I know exactly what it is.
Mel: What is it?
Bobby: “It Might As Well Be Spring.”
Mel: “It Might As Well Be Spring.” #!#@%&%^%8! I could not get the title in my head. Thank you. It’s been bugging me. I feel better now, but a little embarrassed.
Bobby: Are you kidding? Come on. Don’t worry about that. They pop into my head all the time. I can remember the melody to thousands of tunes, but I don’t always come up— I’ll go to Lisa [Bobby’s wife]. Lisa absolutely knows a jillion tunes, and I’ll sing it to her or play it to her, and she knows it immediately. I can’t come up with the titles all the time. Sometimes I just don’t have the access, the clear channel. They’re all in there. The information’s there, but . . . the blue wire crosses over and hits the yellow wire, you know?
Mel: I hear you.
Bobby: One thing that’s notable about this concert: It’s on March the fifth, right? Well, March fourth is my 75th birthday. I couldn’t have received a more beautiful gift than to be able to play this music.
Mel: That’s fabulous. Well, happy birthday.
Bobby: Yeah, I made it this long. I can’t believe it. I was looking at 40 as impossible a long time ago.
Mel: I hear you had kind of a wild life in your younger days.
Bobby: Well, I was not afraid to take chances. You can bet on that. That’s why everything hurts now. [When our family lived on Fifth and Griegos,] that property had a windmill on it. There used to be an army/navy surplus store down on about Second and Central, and I went in there, and they had parachutes on sale for eight dollars, used. So you can see what happened. I bought the parachute. I was about eight or nine years old. I climbed 35 feet up to the top of the windmill and jumped off. Of course, the parachute never opened. . . . When I hit that ground, I swear to you there was a surrealistic moment there where I don’t know whether I exited my body with impact, but I didn’t know where I was. I thought I was on another planet, in another place in the universe for a few minutes.
— x — x — x —
An Evening with Bobby Shew
and the New Mexico Philharmonic Orchestra
Byron Herrington, conductor
Proudly sponsored by the New Mexico Jazz Workshop
Saturday, March 5, at 6:00 p.m.
203 Cornell Dr., on the campus of UNM
Tickets available here, or by phone at 505-925-5858
© 2016 Mel Minter. All rights reserved.