Craft Recordings and Jazz Dispensary will be reissuing Blackstone Legacy, the long out-of-print 1971 debut from influential trumpeter Woody Shaw on vinyl on September 15. Showcasing the musician’s virtuosic talents as a bandleader, composer and improviser, this politically charged, postmodern classic also boasts impeccable performances by Gary Bartz, Lenny White, Ron Carter, Bernie Maupin, Clint Houston and George Cables.
The latest release in Jazz Dispensary’s acclaimed Top Shelf series, Blackstone Legacy has been meticulously remastered from the original analog tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio and pressed on audiophile-quality 180-gram vinyl at RTI. The 2-LP album is housed in a gatefold tip-on jacket, featuring faithfully reproduced designs, as well as Nat Hentoff’s original liner notes.
A pioneering figure in modern jazz, Woody Shaw (1944–1989) was revered for his unique harmonic approach and innovative technical abilities on the trumpet. Raised in Newark, NJ, Shaw began performing as a teenager, gaining formative experience as a sideman for the legendary saxophonist Eric Dolphy and spending over a year in Paris, where he honed his craft in clubs across Europe.
In the mid-’60s, Shaw returned to the US, where he worked alongside such greats as Horace Silver, McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, Andrew Hill, Max Roach and Art Blakey. By the turn of the decade, however, Shaw was eager to branch out on his own.
Balancing the past with the future, Shaw sought to honor his bebop roots, while embracing the avant-garde. His debut as a leader, Blackstone Legacy, embodied that stylistic bridge. Recorded in December 1970 and released the following year on Contemporary Records, the album featured some of the era’s most exciting talents, including funk-jazz icon Gary Bartz (alto and soprano saxophone), veteran bassist Ron Carter and fusion pioneer Lenny White (drums), plus such innovators as Bernie Maupin (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet) and Clint Houston (electric bass), as well as the esteemed keyboardist George Cables, whose work as a composer is also highlighted on two of the LP’s tracks (“Think On Me” and “New World”).
In the album’s liner notes, Shaw spoke to Hentoff about his intentions behind the record. “We’re trying to express what’s happening in the world today as we—a new breed of young musicians—feel it. I mean the different tensions in the world, the ridiculous war in Vietnam, the oppression of poor people in this, a country of such wealth. . . . We’re all also trying to reach a state of spiritual enlightenment in which we’re continually aware of what’s happening but react in a positive way. The music in this album, you see, expresses strength – confidence that we’ll overcome these things.”
Shaw added that the album was dedicated to the era’s youth, as well as to “the freedom of Black people all over the world.” He continued, “The ‘stone’ in the title is the image of strength. I grew up in a ghetto . . . I’ve seen all of that, and I’ve seen people overcome all of that. This music is meant to be a light of hope, a sound of strength and of coming through.”
The six tracks on Blackstone Legacy are expansive, allowing each of the musicians to embark on heady, improvisational journeys. The album opens with the dynamic, 16-minute-long title track, during which Shaw shines as a leader, as he confidently guides the septet through the energetic composition. Another highlight is the free-bop “Lost and Found,” which boasts several impressive drum solos by White, as well as the joyful “Boo-Ann’s Grand” (dedicated to Shaw’s wife, Betty Ann). The Cables-penned “New World,” meanwhile, offers phenomenally funky interplay—particularly between the electric pianist and Houston, who delivers plenty of groovy wah-wahs on the bass. The record closes on a reflective note, with a tribute to Shaw’s late mentor, “A Deed for Dolphy.”
In his liner notes for the album, Hentoff extolled that Blackstone Legacy “is going to be a milestone, as it were, in a singularly influential career.” The critics agreed with that assessment. AllMusic declared it to be “a landmark recording, and a pivot point in the history of post-modern music.”
Blackstone Legacy launched a new era for Shaw, who would go on to release more than two dozen albums as a leader, including the Grammy-nominated Rosewood (1978). Throughout the rest of his life, the prolific trumpeter, flugelhornist and cornetist continued to perform regularly as a sideman, appearing on records by Azar Lawrence, Bobby Hutcherson and Dexter Gordon, among many others. Dubbed “The Last Great Trumpet Innovator” by NPR, Shaw also dedicated much of his time to educating and mentoring others, while his work directly impacted the “Young Lion” generation of horn players, including Terence Blanchard, Wynton Marsalis and Chris Botti—the latter two of whom studied under Shaw in the ’80s.
In addition to multiple Grammy nods, Shaw was universally respected by his peers, heroes and fans. Dizzy Gillespie said “Woody Shaw is one of the voices of the future” while Miles Davis declared “Now there’s a great trumpet player…He can play different from all of them” and Wynton Marsalis said “Woody added to the vocabulary of the trumpet. He was very serious, disciplined, and respectful towards jazz.”