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O.C. Jazz

A Horn of Plenty

Cornetist Shaw adeptly handles classical jazz to rock to gospel.


As a cornetist, 46-year-old Costa Mesa resident Bryan Shaw has played all kinds of music, from symphonic pieces to rock, from light opera to gospel. As a recording engineer, he has mastered more than 1,000 recordings representing all genres.

Ask Shaw which music he enjoys hearing and playing most, and he'll send you back 70 and 80 years to Louis Armstrong and the early days of jazz. He'll look to that era and other traditional jazz styles when he plays the Costa Mesa/Orange County Classic Jazz Festival this weekend as a member of clarinetist-saxophonist Pieter Meihers' High Sierra Jazz Band.

A child of the rock 'n' roll generation who grew up in Newport Beach, Shaw had plenty of youthful musical experiences but few in jazz. His father was a former cornetist who pulled the instrument out of the closet twice a year only for oiling. But he gave his son an appreciation of music via recordings.

"We listened to Brahms and Bach and Beethoven while I was growing up," Shaw said. "Marches were considered light music, and our pop music was [John Phillips] Sousa."

Jazz wasn't on the playlist. "The only [jazz] I heard growing up was on the radio, things like Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass."

He came to the horn in fifth grade when a doctor prescribed a wind instrument to help with his asthma. Out of the closet came Dad's 1917 horn. Previously, Shaw's father had asked him not to touch it. "Dad built my interest [in the cornet] by forbidding it," Shaw said.

It wasn't until high school that Shaw discovered jazz. "I checked out some old Louis Armstrong recordings from the library, early acoustic recordings from the 1920s with King Oliver. And I immediately connected with it."

The aspiring cornetist formed his first jazz band while at Newport Harbor High. The Back Bay Jazz Band included trombonist and now brother-in-law Dan Barrett. Shaw attended performances of the South Frisco Jazz Band in Huntington Beach to learn tunes and occasionally sit in.

"That band was one of my earliest influences. . . . Everything else I learned off of old records. I was born too late to hear most of my idols in person."

Those idols--trumpet and cornet legends Armstrong, Bunny Berigan, Harry James, Henry "Red" Allen, Rex Stewart and Ruby Braff--shaped Shaw's love of his chosen music. But it was Orange Coast College jazz instructor Charles "Doc" Rutherford who widened Shaw's jazz vision.

"First off, he had me put down the cornet and play trumpet with his band. . . . That's where I learned to play all the other jazz styles, from classical to be-bop."

Shaw took every advantage to play, working with saxophonist-arranger-educator Tom Kubis' big band, playing Broadway shows in Long Beach and La Mirada, and participating in several of Disneyland's resident ensembles.

One day in the late '70s, Shaw attended a studio session and was unimpressed with the engineering. "I told the other trumpet player on the date that I could do better with earmuffs on," he said.

He attended the school of professional music at Golden West College to learn the craft of recording and mastering engineer.

Now Shaw has a recording studio, Digital Brothers in Costa Mesa, as well as a studio in his house. He does mastering for a number of far-flung interests including Arbors, the trad-jazz label out of Florida.

The Arbors connection has served double duty for Shaw. After label executives heard him play the Sacramento Jazz Festival a few years ago, they signed him to record a disc. That album, "Night Owl," was released in June and includes trombonist Barrett, pianist Dave Frishberg and drummer Scott Hamilton.

Shaw is optimistic there will be an audience for his kind of music in the future. "I think it will be like Irish music or a form of American folk music that doesn't die out but becomes a specialty. Traditional music is the country music of jazz."

But will there be a new generation of trad-jazz musicians to carry the torch?

"There are a tremendous number of youth bands out there, supported by jazz clubs and the jazz camps," Shaw said. "But unfortunately, instrumental music programs in the schools are not getting the same support that they did when I was a kid. I wish that I could get on a soapbox and demand that school music programs not be the first thing that's cut. But some school districts seem to think football is more important than music."


Bryan Shaw appears with the High Sierra Jazz Band as part of the Costa Mesa/Orange County Classic Jazz Festival, today through Sunday at the Doubletree Hotel, 3050 Bristol St., Costa Mesa. Thursday, 6:30 p.m.; Friday, noon; Saturday and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. Also appearing at the festival are the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the Jim Cullum Band, Night Blooming Jazzmen, the Yve Evans Quintet, the Mike Henbry Orchestra and others. $70. Information: (888) 215-6222.

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