What the Pros Play – Trumpet Artist Bobby Shew
(Part 2 – The Infamous “Shewhorn”)
Woodwind & Brasswind Contributing Writer - Tony Guerrero
In the first half of my interview with trumpet great, Bobby Shew, we discussed the specific horns he’s playing and how he goes about choosing his horns. Occasionally, our conversation drifted into other territories, and I decided to dedicate a second article to both his thoughts on students and on how his now- legendary “Shew Horn”* came into existence.
TG: Bobby, you’ve long been known as a teacher, and many great players credit you with their helping them further their abilities. What advice do you have for other trumpet teachers, especially where it comes to younger players?
BS: Well, the whole point is that, younger players, we tend to look down on them, “Oh, they’re just kids, they can’t understand much…”. But I think, instead, that for younger players it’s really important to set foundations of solid, truthful information. Why should they get a bunch of nonsense now and then later on find out, “Oh, why didn’t they tell me that?”
Even when it comes to learning the mechanics and structure of the horn – you may not want to put a ten-year old kid through a physics class, but maybe you could put it in twenty-five words or less – talk about air-speed, compression, stuff like that. Now, a young kid may not be able to use the same horn-testing process that a pro does, but it needs to be similar.
But, you never want to underestimate the ability of a young kid to understand things. Never do that, it’s always going to be a mistake.
TG: I know I’ll get in trouble if I don’t ask about your famous Shew Horn*. Back in the eighties, when I first saw yours, I had a repairman who was a friend of mine build me one out of two Benge horns I wasn’t using. I still have it, but I never quite mastered it like you did. How did that horn come about?
BS: Well, I met Dave Monette up in Salem, Oregon at a little gig I did way back in the days when I had my old quintet with Gordon Brisker and Bill Mays, the “Outstanding In His Field” band. We were on tour up there and Dave handed me a screwball trumpet as a gift – it was built backwards so the bell was in your face when you played it. I still have it, it’s hilarious! I kept running into him in the Northwest and one time he gave me a horn with an extra bell on it, and the only time the extra bell worked was when you pushed down the first valve. It was silly, of course. But one night on a Don Menza gig at Carmelo’s I pulled it out and played a solo on it, and it was so funny the band stopped playing. The rhythm section was in stitches and couldn’t keep going! So, I contacted him and said, “You know, maybe there’s something to this. Why don’t you build one that’s a little more serious?” So, a couple months later, I received a box at home and I opened up to find the horn, and a note that said, “Here’s your Shew Horn!” He named it that. It was a hit immediately.
I played it for the first time in ten or more years, maybe fifteen, last year on a gig here in Albuquerque because some people had been asking about it. I played one tune, and the place went nuts, and then I retired the horn again. It’s back in storage. I had quit playing it because it started to become somewhat of a comedy act, and I was concerned that something that I cared so much about – good, quality music and high standards of integrity – was turning into a Vegas lounge act. So, I stopped playing it, it’s basically retired.
A guy in Japan made a “Baby Shew Horn” which is made with Pocket Trumpets! It’s beautiful, but again, it’s more of a collectible.
The Shew Horn could maybe offer some interesting options to a player who is into the avant-garde type of playing and maybe someday someone will utilize something like that, but not so much for conventional playing. I’m just an old be-bopper. Like everybody should, I just play what I hear. I’m too much of an incurable romantic.
* [The Shew Horn is a double belled trumpet. The sound comes out of only one bell at a time, and is alternated by a fourth valve. Bobby would usually put a mute in one bell which allowed him to play “duets” with himself. Here’s an example of Bobby’s Shew Horn in action.]