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Charlie Shavers was a well-trained musician who started out on alto and switched to trumpet. After stints with the bands of Tiny Bradshaw and Lucky Millinder he joined the John Kirby band in 1937, one of the most prominent groups in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s. Kirby’s sextet was noted for its intricate arrangements, many of them by Shavers, and its “cool” sound which presaged a style that became popular in the ‘50s.
Shavers is universally praised as a brilliant arranger and as a versatile and technically savvy player with a beautiful sound. His compositions are not numerous, but “Undecided,” with lyrics by Sid Robin, was a hit when it was first performed in 1939, enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in 1951 when the Ames Brothers recorded it, and remains a staple of the jazz repertoire. Shavers recorded it with pianist Ray Bryant.
Personnel changes and the draft took its toll on Kirby’s group and he disbanded it in 1946. Shavers had left the group in 1944 and the following year joined the Tommy Dorsey band where he was a featured soloist and singer. He continued with the band on and off for 11 years. After Dorsey died, the baton passed to Sam Donahue, and the band eventually became the touring orchestra for Frank Sinatra, Jr.
Shavers co-led a sextet in 1950 with Louie Bellson and Terry Gibbs, played with other small groups, and with Benny Goodman’s band for a time. During the 1960s he led his own quartet and made several world tours both as a soloist and with the former Dorsey band.
- Sandra Burlingame
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