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Charlie Shoemake’s Biography

 Red Holloway with Charlie ShoemakeRed Holloway & Charlie Shoemake
© Photo M. Schimberg

Vibes player Charlie Shoemake's current Chase Music Group (CMG) CD is entitled "Vibes Master." Indeed, there is good reason for this moniker. Although fundamentally a classicist, as jazz critic David Steinberg of the Albuquerque Journal observed of his playing, "Shoemake is a jazz vibist who still believes in the value of a melody line and in harmony." Jay Harvey of the Indianapolis Star News described Shoemake's playing: "He has a shimmering liquid sound and his neatly balanced lines swim in it as in a natural element." And Scott Yanow, noted in the LA Jazz Scene, "He is a major voice (if un-recognized) on his instrument.


Owen McNally of the Hartford Courant zeroed in on a shocking reality when he noted: "West coast players, even excellent ones like vibraphonist Charlie Shoemake, are in terms of national recognition, too often locked into a kind of geographical limbo. Because they're not based in New York City, the jazz media capital of the world, word about their talent doesn't travel all that well across the continent to the east coast."


Charlie Shoemake was born in Houston Texas. There were no musicians in his family, but his mother and father were both music lovers and had him begin piano lessons at the age of 6. During his early years he had a conflict of interest between music and baseball, a sport in which he excelled. In high school, as a member of his school's city championship team, he was named to the first team all-city squad unanimously by all of the city's high school coaches and attracted the attention of the St. Louis Cardinals.. He planned to attend Southen Methodist University in Dallas, majoring in piano while continuing to play baseball but after one year decidied that to reach the highest level of either field it would be necessary to choose only one. In the summer of 1956 he left Texas to come to Los Angeles and embark on a career in jazz music.

The late 50's were a time of extensive study for Shoemake as he attempted to master the concepts of his idols, Charlie Parker and Bud Powell and other greats that created in the same vein..(Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham, Clifford Brown, Sonny Rollins, Hank Mobley, Sonny Stitt, Phil Woods, Al Haig, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Sonny Clark) During this period informal studies with the great pianist Jimmy Rowles were very valuable, especially in the area of harmony.


"A major voice of jazz

vibraphone…" - Scott Yanow,
L.A. Jazz Scene



The arrival of the 60's saw a severe deterioration of jazz opportunities in California that affected all artists, but was particularly hard on younger players.forcing them into other forms of music. In Charlie's case this meant doing a great deal of accompanying for singers, much of the time dealing with commercial work, a situation he was unhappy with. One of the few singers Charlie truly enjoyed playing for was his wife, Sandi. (They had met at a Si Zentner rehearsal and married in 1959) but Sandi was suffering the same problems as those of the young jazz artists with a lack of opportunities for young vocalists not involved in rock n' roll and country music. She was forced to compromise by entering the world of studio work, singing with vocal groups on television variety shows and for commercials. Charlie was soon to follow her lead.


Charlie Shoemake
"Arguably the most successful teacher of jazz improvisation in Southern California history, Shoemake is also a highly charged mallet man capable of blistering solos off the metronome markings…" - Leonard Feather



In his senior year in high school he had begun to play the vibraphone, an instrument he had always loved. Inspired by Victor Feldman, he came back to it in the early 60's with the idea of finding another commercial direction...away from the vocal accompanying mode he found himself trapped in. Within a relatively short period of time, again aided by Victor Feldmans support and recommendations, he became busy in studio work playing the vibraphone and other mallet instruments as well as other percussion for composers such as Quincy Jones and Lalo Schifrin. This continued until the end of 1966 when one evening he went to hear the George Shearing Quintet at Shelley's Manne Hole in Hollywood. The quintet's drummer at that time, Colin Bailey, informed him the vibraphone player with the

Charlie with Red Holloway at The Hamlet
Charlie with Red Holloway
at The Hamlet
© Photo Talsan Music

group was leaving and George was in great need of a replacement for a 5 week tour of the Midwest that was about to commence.After a day of reflection, Charlie decided to take the job, not realizing at the time the 5 week tour would turn into almost 7 years with the group. During this period (1966-1973) the groups personnel would include guitarists Joe Pass, Pat Martino, and Ron Anthony; bassist Andy Simpkins; drummers Harvey Mason, Bill Goodwin, Stix Hooper, Vernel Fournier and others.


At the beginning of 1973 Charlie decided it was time to get off the road. He wanted to be home with Sandi and their son Tal and thought that opening a jazz improvisation school in Los Angeles could be successful. He was right. The school (of which Charlie was the sole instructor) flourished and by 1990 there had been over 1,500 people come to Charlie for guidance in jazz music. Many of these students have gone on to highly


"Charlie has something going with not only his playing but his compositions as well that I haven't heard before. I think being on the west coast has hurt him as far as the recognition he should have. I know I'd like to play a lot more with him…"

- Hank Jones


successful careers. Saxophonists Ted Nash and Tim Armacost; Trombonist Andy Martin; trumpeter Kye Palmer; Pianists Cecilia Coleman and Randy Kerber; to name but a few. Even smooth jazz artists such as Dave Koz and Richard Elliot credit Charlie's teaching as an important early influence.


In the spring of 1990 Charlie closed his teaching studio and left Los Angeles to move 225 miles north to the beautiful little ocean village of Cambria. The plan was to use Cambria as a home base while he and Sandi performed in various parts of the world. Soon after settling in Cambria however, they noticed a lack of appearances by major jazz artists in the central coast area and approached the owners of the Hamlet (a restaurant with a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean). about trying an occasional concert. This was in the fall of 1991 and for 20 years they have done around 30 concerts a year. Almost every major jazz figure on the west coast (and many from the east coast and Europe as well) has appeared there. Charlie and Sandi make appearances with all the visiting artists.




"Charlie was a helluva musician when he was with my quintet but he's even better now…" - George Shearing




JazzTimes article on Charlie ShoemakeIn May 2003, JazzTimes did an article on Charlie Shoemake called "Overdue Ovation" by Doug Ramsey. If you would like to read their article, please click on the image on the left to download the PDF file.

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