Charlie Shoemake’s Biography
Red 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 on July 27,
1937, in Houston, Texas. There were no musicians in his family,
but his mother and father were both music lovers and had him begin
piano studies 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 schools city championship team,
he was named unanimous first team all-city and attracted the attention
of the St. Louis Cardinals. He planned to attend Southern Methodist
University in Dallas, majoring in piano while continuing to play
baseball but after one year decided 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 1950's were a time of extensive
study, attempting 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, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Sonny Clark.
During this period informal studies with pianist Jimmy Rowles were
very valuable, especially in the area of harmony.
The arrival of the 1960'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 "show business" commercial work, a situation that
he was unhappy with. One of the few singers that 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, that of lack of opportunities for
any young vocalist not involved in rock n' roll and country western
music. She was forced to compromise by entering the world of studio
work; singing with vocal groups on television and for commercials.
Charlie was soon to follow her lead.
Charlie with Red Holloway at The Hamlet
© Photo Talsan Music
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 direction... away from the "show
business" accompanying mode that he found himself trapped in.
Within a relatively short period of time, again aided by Victor
Feldman's 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.
The quintet's drummer at that time, Colin Bailey, informed him that
the vibraphone player with the group was leaving and that 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 that 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, Stix Hooper, Vernel Fournier and others.
At the beginning of 1973 Charlie felt
the need for a change. He wanted to be home with Sandi and their
son Tal (born in 1960) 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 1500 people come to Charlie for guidance in
jazz music. Many of these students have gone on to highly successful
careers. Saxophonists Ted Nash and Tim Armacost; Trombonist Andy
Martin; Trumpeter Kye Palmer, Pianists Cecilia Coleman and Keith
Saunders, to name but a few. Even smooth jazz artists such as David
Koz and Richard Elliot credit Charlie's teachings as an important
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
parts of the world. Soon after settling in Cambria however, they
noticed a complete lack of appearances by any major jazz artists
in the central coast area and approached the owners of The Hamlet
(a fine restaurant with a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean)
about trying an occasional concert there. This was in the fall
of 1991 and now, 15 years later, they're doing around 30 concerts
a year and 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.
The Shoemakes collaborated on a new
recording in 2005 (arrangements by
Charlie for all of Sandis' vocals) with some of the giants of west
coast jazz. Of the project, Charlie commented "This
is the definitive Sandi Shoemake recording. In the
Leonard Feather/Ira Gitler encyclopedia of jazz they
talk about the purity and beauty of Sandis sound but with this recording
she also injects such a great swing to go along with it. Very few (if any) female vocalists are able to match that combination today."
Of his career, Charlie states:
"I feel very fortunate to have been able
to succeed at so many different areas of music but without
a doubt the last decade and a half of concerts here in Cambria
with so many great musicians in this gorgeous setting has been
the most fun and rewarding."
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.