Woody Shaw: Stepping Stones Live at Village Vanguard (1978) Columbia


This record fails all the High-end Jazz Collector tick-boxes. It is not in the slightest rare, costs almost nothing, but contains some excellent music from some fine musicians from the late 1970s, which has withstood the fickle test of time. It would be remiss of me not to put it forward as a candidate for your listening pleasure.

Selection: A Capricornian Way

.  .  .


Woody Shaw, cornet, flugelhorn; Carter Jefferson, tenor sax, soprano sax; Onaje Allan Gumbs, piano; Clint Houston, bass; Victor Lewis, drums, recorded August 5 &6, 1978 live at the Village Vanguard, Fedco Remote Recording Truck, recording engineer, Tom Arrison, remixed Don Puluse.

Musician name-check: Carter Jefferson, tenor saxophone.

Sax-on-the-Web Forum : “I’m on a real Woody Shaw kick lately, I can’t get enough of his rhythm. And listening to his Stepping Stones and Invitation stuff I can’t get over the sax player with him, Carter Jefferson. This dude has a LOT to say for someone I’d never paid much attention to before. Yeah, he’s post-bop, but with some amazing soul and ferocity. If you guys haven’t checked out “Stepping Stones” go get it for Shaw and Jefferson.”
Organissimo: “One of the best underground jazz players of the 70s! Carter Jefferson cut his chops with Art Blakey, in the years after Blakey had Billy Harper in the group.  Jefferson has a very spiritual post-Coltrane sensibility that closely resembles Harper’s playing “
After the easy opening, deeper into the tune (4:09), Carter’s solo lets rip, cascading lines of fire, high energy. drive, yes, Billy Harper look out, fabulous. Some more Carter Jefferson added at the foot of this post.


Soulful, cerebral, harmonically complex post-bop.

A review by blogger The Jazz Record (site here) offered such a well-written and comprehensive review of Stepping Stones I saw little point in trying to compete, so I will give it a well-deserved second reading. I know when I’m beat. Eric says he’s OK with it. 

Keeping The Spirit Alive: Woody Shaw – “Stepping Stones (Live At The Village Vanguard)

At the end of the 1970s Woody Shaw seemed to be the last man standing when it came to keeping the flame burning for hard bop, and it’s more adventurous offshoot of post bop. Most of his contemporaries had abandoned the sounds of modern jazz for the more commercial leanings of electric jazz and jazz funk, but Shaw stood firm in his stylistic leanings long after it proved a financially viable vehicle for selling records or attracting many mainstream fans.

Some of his well known elders – Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson and Bobby Hutcherson to name a few – would return to this classic sound in the early ’80s, and “The Young Lions” led by the Marsalis Brothers, Joshua Redman and Kenny Washington would rebel against the sounds of fusion and soft jazz and bring a modern jazz sound back into the fold. But, for a while anyway, Shaw stood nearly alone with his musical sound and vision.

Stepping Stones – Live At The Village Vanguard is part of a run of albums Shaw made for Columbia from 1977 to 1981 that are all highlights of his career. Rumor has it that it was Miles Davis who suggested to the label that they sign Shaw, although it may have actually been due to Shaw’s appearance on the surprising hit record Homecoming by Dexter Gordon which was released by Columbia (and which I wrote about here). Stepping Stones followed his fantastic Columbia debut Rosewood, and Shaw and his band sound absolutely inspired on the five tracks recorded at the famous jazz club (which are really four long tracks, the final one is a very short coda track to finish things off).

The group on hand here is easily one of the best that Shaw would record with, and as with the best jazz outfits even though it’s Shaw’s name headlining the album this is clearly a collective of musicians on equal footing. Carter Jefferson’s is pushed to grand heights by Shaw’s attack on the cornet, and the lesser known Onaje Allan Gumbs (who might rank up there with the finest post bop pianists if his career hadn’t started in the late ’70s) is phenomenal. Clint Houston and Victor Lewis are both excellent (Lewis is still doing fine work today), and Houston’s contribution to the record “Seventh Avenue” might be my favorite tune on there. It’s a post bop adventure showing off what this fiery group was capable of on any given night, and is reminiscent of some of the excellent post bop work by the likes of Freddie Hubbard and Wayne Shorter on their final albums for Blue Note at the end of the ’60s. Shaw and Jefferson blow some fast and furious yet soulful lines over Gumbs staunch piano riffs, while the rhythm section somehow keeps the whole affair together.  

As with many jazz musicians, Woody Shaw’s demise was a tragic one, after getting dropped by Columbia in 1982 (the records may have been critical hits, but predictably were commercial failures) he would never again reach the heights he achieved in the previous decade. After bouts with depression and a degenerative vision disease, he would leave us much to soon in 1989 at the young age of 44. 

For proof of just how under-appreciated Shaw remains can be summed up by the simple fact that Stepping Stones didn’t even see a CD release until 2005, nearly twenty five years after it was released (and even then with a somewhat different song lineup). This from an album that can be put up there with the best releases from the legendary Village Vanguard, putting it in lofty company. I prefer, however, to focus on the wonderful music that Shaw left us, his laser focus on continuing the traditions of the golden age of jazz and not moving towards commercial leanings when it certainly would have benefitted him financially. I believe his catalog is still ripe for a mainstream reevaluation, one that he won’t be around to appreciate, but one that is decades over-due and massively well-deserved.”

The Jazz Record

Vinyl: Columbia JC 35560 promo 1F/1F

Posted up on Discog is both a white label promo and commercial release, both stamped  1A/1E.  This promo copy is stamped 1F/1F with a faint etched T1 – Terre Haute.   Following the familiar Columbia system of distributing multiple lacquers to each pressing plant, it looks like promos were manufactured at more than one plant.


Art Director’s Lunch break

Woody swaps his trumpet for cornet and flugelhorn in this live session at the Village Vanguard. Is that important? We need to go deeper.

Ilustrated below, the difference in the appearance of trumpet, cornet and flugelhorn. Though the mouthpieces are slightly different, they each have three pistons, all have roughly the same length of tubing. and are tuned in Bb. The sound is different because of  the progressively wider diameter (taiper) of the bell. Anyone with an interest in jazz needs to know. What’s the story here? 

Of the three instruments, the trumpet is longer, louder and brighter, a piercing sound which makes it stand out more against the other instruments, ideal for the jazz front-line soloist. With its wider bell, the cornet sound  is slightly softer and more diffuse, so blends more with other instruments. The flugelhorn is softer and more mellow still, but can provide a rivetting solo voice isolated against a contrastingly spare background (Carr/Rendell)

Among trumpet “purists”, Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Donald Byrd seem to have established their own voice within the sound of the prime instrument (though Miles Spanish excursions may have included trumpet variants). Though they also played the trumpet, champions of the cornet included Nat Adderley and Don Cherry. Flugellhorn is the furthest from the sound of the trumpet, US champions include Art Farmer and Chuck Mangione It has a warm and dark voice in the lower register, favoured by British-based Canadian Kenny Wheeler and my own Ian Carr.

Woody made his choice for the session: no trumpet. Despite that, Woody is pictured on the jacket front and back with … a trumpet. I guess most people don’t recognise the significance of the choice, but it’s all in attention to detail.  The Art Director’s coat is on a shaky nail.


Harry’s Place

Harry M has the photos – Clint Houston, Montreux 1971

Collector’s Corner

Woody’s Stepping Stones black and white cover seen in colour – through Image Colorization,  artificial intelligence guided


As an advocate of vintage black and white photography, the video medium lends it self more naturally to colour. I am strangely taken with this clever free to use ap. Upload any photo (up to 2mb), and the app returns it colorized. Thanks to Jazzhead  on the LJC Forum – great place to hang out.  Great find, video-colorized too, Miles Davis in Italy 1964 (colourized)  A must view in full screen.It has a sense of being there.

The  colorized jazz video channel on YouTube is ebjazz93


Screen cap: ebjazz93

Postscript: Carter Jefferson – Rise of Atlantis (Muse/Timeless) 1979 with two Japanese giants of the trumpet

Woah! A lot learned from this post! The original stars of the golden age 1956-66 were shining brightly, but by the ’70s, their directions fragmented: electric fusion funk rock  film/TV/studio work, academia, or the toll of ill-health. But those who arrived late, on the tail end of the golden age, seemed to have more energy,  more determined  to carry the torch, carve out their own path. There is some great music here for those of us with  ears trained in the golden age, and hungry for more, but not finding it in those names from the past.. There is more to the Seventies than I expected.

Below, 90 minutes of Woody Shaw Quintet at Antibes, France,  1979,. with Carter Jefferson. Woody’s playing is just beautiful, and the camera  direction is very dynamic, bravo. The Pinedes, Antibes  is a magical setting, the mediterranean view out to sea between the pines, with a hazy Esterel skyline, and setting sun.You could not imagine a more perfect setting to listen to the best of jazz.

5 thoughts on “Woody Shaw: Stepping Stones Live at Village Vanguard (1978) Columbia

  1. I agree with GTF on Marsalis and his playing , saw him live in the 80’s and was very bored with his playing . Anyway ,on Carter Jefferson please do not overlook his fine Timeless/Muse album from 1979 called “The rise of Atlantis ” produced by Shaw. Jefferson pops up on many albums ( see Discogs) but I would also suggest tracking down the 1989 album of Jerry Gonzalez titled ” Rumba Para Monk” for some great Jefferson.

  2. Regarding known exponents of the flugelhorn, one such specialist was Alan Shorter (Wayne’s brother), who possessed a unique vision of brass sound. Check out Wayne’s ‘The All Seeing Eye’, Archie Shepp’s ‘Four For Trane’ and ‘Marion Brown’s ‘Capricorn Moon’. His best known disc under his leadership is probably ‘Parabolic’.

  3. I rather dislike the comparison to Wynton. Wynton was one of the first jazz musicians to have come up not cutting teeth and playing clubs, but through some sort of formalized school theory system. And it shows in his rigid playing, informed far more by parlor tricks than by creativity, and in his absurd dismissal of huge pieces of the music’s history in free jazz and early fusion. Wynton was and to an extent still is a major cause for the stagnation of jazz through the 80’s into today.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s