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2 Jan
Back: Red Holloway, Ernie Watts, Jay Graydon Front: Charlie and Sandi

Back: Red Holloway, Ernie Watts, Jay Graydon
Front: Charlie and Sandi

The “Famous Jazz Artist Series” was started in 1991 in San Luis Obispo County after renowned jazz vibraphonist, Charlie Shoemake, and his acclaimed vocalist wife, Sandi, moved to Cambria and noticed a dearth of major jazz artists performing on the Central Coast. How Charlie and Sandi ended up on the Central Coast is a fascinating tale. Growing up in Houston, Charlie developed a passion for both music and baseball, excelling in both. He was on the high school’s city championship baseball team, and attracted the attention of the St. Louis Cardinals. Initially he planned to pursue both in college, but then decided to really excel, he would need to focus on only one. So in 1956 he moved to Los Angeles to become involved in the jazz scene. In a proud aside, Charlie mentioned his grandson is now being drafted by a professional baseball team.

The 1950s were an exciting and inspirational period in Charlie’s music career as he honed his craft. He shared that he was particularly influenced by his informal studies with pianist Jimmy Rowles, as well as learning from the innovations of his idols Charlie Parker and Bud Powell and other talented innovators. Charlie eventually worked on the biographical film on American saxophonist, Charlie Parker released in 1988. During the 1950s, he met his future wife Sandi at a Si Zentner rehearsal, where Charlie was substituting for an absent band member.

Sandi’s path to a music career was influenced by her father who was a semiprofessional drummer-vocalist with Dixieland bands. As far back as she can remember, she wanted to be singer. To that end, in 1956 she enrolled in the acclaimed Los Angeles City College’s music department where she quickly rose to being a featured vocalist. After her second year of college, she was hired as a vocalist by trombonist Si Zentner’s Orchestra, which played various venues on the west coast, and was a regular attraction at the Hollywood Palladium. Sandi shared that she had a chance meeting with Charlie at a Si Zentner rehearsal; within two days they decided they would eventually marry, which they did in 1959.

During his early professional career, Charlie became a sought-after accompanist for well-known vocalists. He adoringly shared he has always enjoyed accompanying Sandi, but he felt many of the singers he was accompanying were not of her caliber. Thus Charlie decided to switch his musical focus to vibraphone, which he had begun playing in high school. For a year, he spent nearly every waking hour in exhausting practice. His efforts were rewarded in 1966 when he became the vibraphonist for the fabled George Shearing Quintet. George Shearing is a piano jazz legend,  best known for his composition Lullaby of Birdland, a jazz standard. Born poor and blind in London, George’s father delivered coal to Buckingham Palace. In 2007 George was knighted by the Queen of England in Buckingham Palace for his contribution to music.

During the year Charlie was honing his skills on the vibraphone, Sandi did studio work to help keep the family afloat. While Charlie was touring with the George Shearing Quintet, she was a staff vocalist at N.B.C. from 1965 to 1971, in addition to singing with other television shows including The Andy Williams Show, The Jerry Lewis Show, The Red Skelton Show, The Lennon Sisters-Jimmy Durante Show and specials for Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Dean Martin and others. She was particularly proud of her time performing with Nelson Riddle and his orchestra.

Charlie working with Barry Harris on movie "Bird"

Charlie working with Barry Harris on movie “Bird”

In 1973, driven by a desire for change and to be home more with his wife and son, Charlie opened a jazz improvisational school in Los Angeles. In spite of the widely-held belief that jazz improvisation couldn’t be taught, his school was a success. He was the only teacher at his eponymous school. By 1990, he had taught over 1500 students, with many students going onto successful careers including Ted Nash (trumpeter with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis), Kye Palmer (trumpeter with the Tonight Show Orchestra and formerly with Woody Herman and Poncho Sanchez), Andy Martin (top jazz trombone recording artist), and smooth jazz artists Dave Koz and Richard Elliott. During a Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) at the Cal Poly Performing Arts Center in March 2013, Wynton Marsalis verbally recognized Charlie Shoemake, who was in attendance, as an important mentor and teacher to Ted Nash who was a featured soloist at the concert, and is the first person other than Wynton Marsalis to be a featured composer for the sensational orchestra. When asked about the recognition he received at the concert, Charlie stated, “I didn’t teach Ted Nash how to play, but what to play, how to improvise.”

Following the local JLCO performance, Ted was contacted by this writer for comments on his time studying with Charlie, and in spite of a busy performance schedule, he generously agreed. During the April 8, 2013 interview, Ted said he initially was trained classically on piano starting at age seven and clarinet at age 12. At age 13, Ted stated he started playing sax and was in the junior high jazz band. Ted’s high school jazz band director enthusiastically recommended studying with one of Charlie’s students. Ted’s father, (well-known jazz and studio trombonist, Dick Nash), decided that Ted should study jazz improvisation directly with Charlie. Charlie was very busy at the time bbut agreed to accept Ted as a student. Ted noted Charlie’s teaching method involved “memorizing transcribed music” from such jazz greats as Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins. Ted stated that the 2 ½ to 3 years of studying with Charlie gave him a foundation that he still uses, even with “new improvisation and harmony.” When asked about his being the first composer for JLCO other than Wynton Marsalis, Ted replied that he was the first “featured” composer, although they had some prior visiting composers who had provided some arrangements. Ted noted that this Portrait in Seven Shades helped forge a new direction for JLCO. Although he did not mention it, Portrait in Seven Shades was a Grammy-nominated album representing seven different artists including Claude Monet, Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Marc Chagall, and Jackson Pollock. On the Shoemake’s website, Ted is quoted, “When I began lessons, I could hardly play. Three years later, not only could I play, but I was working professionally with many groups, including Lionel Hampton, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and even Charlie’s own quintet….Charlie was the ONLY teacher in Los Angeles with a method of teaching jazz improvisation that actually worked.”

In the early 1990s, Charlie closed his school and relocated with Sandi to what he described as “the beautiful little ocean village of Cambria” where they began bringing in major jazz artists. During their two Sunday show times, Charlie accompanies the guest artists by playing piano or vibes and Sandi graces the stage for select vocals. The series was held at the Hamlet Restaurant in Cambria (which is currently under renovation), and is presently appearing at D’Anbino Vineyard and Cellars in Paso Robles. A list of the stellar artists who have performed at the series and more interesting information on Charlie and Sandi can be found on their website

Sounds of Shearing Tribute Group: Joe Bagg, Ron Anthony, Charlie Shoemake, Luther Hughes, Colin Bailey

Sounds of Shearing tribute group: Joe Bagg, Ron Anthony, Charlie Shoemake, Luther Hughes, Colin Bailey Courtesy: Bob Barry

When asked to share a humorous or interesting experience, Charlie said that due to an unavoidable delay due to a national crisis, the George Shearing Orchestra didn’t actually perform on television until two days after they were scheduled. Sleep-deprived due to the schedule changes, when the band was called back for an encore, the bassist forgot to take off his sunglasses. During a second encore all of the band members sported sunglasses, along with George, who regularly wore them due to being blind. Charlie added that when the band would arrive late for a gig, George would humorously say it was because he was driving.

Last year, instructors from the music departments at local Cal Poly and Cuesta College, both of which have outstanding music programs, approached Charlie to work with some of their students. To that end, the non-profit Central Coast Jazz Institute was recently established, which is “dedicated to the instruction and preservation of American jazz music.” Charlie spoke passionately about how the donated funds provide scholarships for jazz instruction of private students of all ages, as well as a lecture series.



25 Jul
Jody Mulgrew credit: Jacob Mendez

Jody Mulgrew
credit: Jacob Mendez

Jody Mulgrew has come full circle—returning to his home turf of the Central Coast of California where he woos audiences with his stirring vocals and deftly-played guitar. He performs solo, as well as in a number of groups including Jody Mulgrew and the Skeleton Crew, and the Girls and Boys. He also enjoys writing music and performing with other individual musicians. Jody performs many of his own songs with his music being influenced by Sam Cooke, The Everly Brothers, k.d.lang, Smokey Robinson or anyone who is “a good singer with a good song.” He views his voice as his primary instrument, with a focus on music that is “heartfelt” and “easy to listen to.”

The Skeleton Crew features many of his original songs, but with more of an emphasis on danceable music than during his solo performances. The group plays top rock, rockabilly, Sam Cooke, Steve Earl, and music with “a little bit of twang in it and a little bit of sizzle.” Jody notes the Bay Area-based Girls and Boys band have a great female lead singer, Brianna Lee. The group tours the West Coast. When on the Central Coast, they play alternative rock and Americana along with other styles of music. Jody also relishes the opportunity to perform with the talented Nataly Lola at the Paso Robles Inn’s Cattleman’s Lounge. Recently, Jody has relished working with his “old singing and song-writing buddies,” including Gary Garrett, who lives in San Francisco. Jody described Gary’s music as “thoughtful and humorous,” noting that their two voices blend well.

In April 2013, Jody attended a songwriter’s week in Nashville. When asked if he had received any awards, Jody revealed he was nationally recognized for his songwriting. He received the Abe Oleman award for excellence in songwriting by the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. Jody explained that this is a national award, and it was not something he applied for; rather “they found me.” He is thrilled that the award is signed by the current leader of the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, Jimmy Webb (composer of By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Up, Up and Away and many more hits.) He was also recognized by the Durango Songwriter’s Expo for his song, I Will Not Fall in Love with You Again. The prize for that win was the opportunity to write a song with hit maker, Shawn Mullins. In 2011, local New Times readers voted Jody’s Rocket Ship, the best new album.

Raised in Morro Bay, California, as a young boy, Jody remembers climbing into a self-built “fort” where he would sing along with the radio. In school, he sang in choirs in school before attending Cal State Northridge where he naturally majored in music. After graduating he spent a few years cutting his teeth in the L.A. music scene, and touring throughout the United States and Europe before he and his wife decided to return to their home turf on the Central Coast.

Jody Mulgrew - Brick - by - Brittany App HI

Jody Mulgrew
credit: Brittany App

The now disbanded group, Johnny Starlings, was one of Jody’s early musical ventures. He and fellow musician, Yohei Shikano, created a full-length album, Aiming Too High. They also composed the song, Slow Dance, sung by Inga Swearingen, which was featured on the nationally syndicated radio program, A Prairie Home Companion.

Besides his many gigs, Jody volunteers in local Elementary and Special Day Classes. His eyes lit up as he described a memorable experience he had the prior day. In this class the students are mostly non-verbal. The children were given percussion-type instruments to play. When it came to an appropriate spot during the Bob Marley song, “one little guy” suddenly shined when launching into an energetic, on tempo, drum solo.

Some of Jody’s favorite local performance venues are the Pony Club in Paso Robles and the Cambria Pines Lodge. Jody smiled as he cited the large oak tree that covers the Pony Club patio as contributing to the good vibe. Jody feels dancers inspire and energize his playing, noting that there are often great dancers at the Cambria Pines Lodge.

Jody’s playful nature and other upcoming performances can be found on his website where he describes he fondness of “fondling figuoas” at the local Farmer’s Market.