Music News & Reviews

Shoemakes keep jazzing up the North Coast

Guitarist Josh Collins, 20, and bassist Keegan Harshman, 23, will join Charlie Shoemake, center, and Sandi Shoemake for an Aug. 9 show at Painted Sky Studios in Harmony.
Guitarist Josh Collins, 20, and bassist Keegan Harshman, 23, will join Charlie Shoemake, center, and Sandi Shoemake for an Aug. 9 show at Painted Sky Studios in Harmony.

A  hauntingly familiar melody wafted out of a small room in Cambria where a new jazz trio was rehearsing July 24. That easy familiarity can be a rarity these days — actually being able to track the tune amid all the jazz riffs and ego solos.

But this was the new Charlie Shoemake Trio, which has lots of intriguing contrasts and balances: Experience and youth; decades of international acclaim paired with a recent, highly prestigious national award; and, most of all, plenty of talent, musical sophistication and a deep respect and passion for jazz and the melody on which each performance is based.

The trio consists of Shoemake on vibes and piano; guitarist Josh Collins, 20, from Atascadero; bassist Keegan Harshman, 23, from Washington. They're often joined by special guest vocalist Sandi Shoemake, Charlie’s wife. 

The best part? The Shoemakes are expanding their North Coast appearances, first taking the new group to a Painted Sky Studios concert in Harmony on Sunday, Aug. 9.

Then, starting Saturday, Sept. 5, they’ll launch a steady gig at Centrally Grown (the former Hamlet at Exotic Gardens, where the Shoemakes and noted guest performers appeared regularly). Performance time there is tentatively set for 7 to 9 p.m., Charlie Shoemake estimated Monday, July 20.

“I’m excited about all this,” he said in an email interview, “and I think it’s going to be something meaningful for Cambria.”

The Shoemakes will continue to sponsor and perform at their Famous Jazz Series at the Cambria Center for the Arts Theatre. The series features nationally known musical artists.

Shoemake legends

Charlie Shoemake has a stellar reputation that dates back to his seven years with the George Shearing Quintet, and many years as a respected studio  musician and instructor.

Sandi Shoemake sang with Si Zentner and Nelson Riddle. Jazz critic Leonard Feather called her “one of the most underrated vocalists on the contemporary scene.” 

The Shoemakes married in 1959 and have a remarkable relationship of shared life and work in an industry not known for marital longevity.

Sperdak’s DownBeat award

Collins and Harshman are part of Sperdak, a Cuesta College jazz combo that won a national award for best community college jazz combo in the nation from none other than the legendary DownBeat magazine. 

The two met at Cuesta College and, with Sean Collins (Josh’s brother) won the honor in May in the publication’s 38th annual Student Music Awards.  

Sean Collins has a full-ride scholarship to University of Reno, one reason he’s not in the current Shoemake group.

Sperdak -- the name means “coffee buzz” -- released its first album July 19. The eponymous collection is available on Amazon, cd (download $9.99; CD, $12.96) and from other outlets and online sources.

Amazon describes Sperdak as “a progressive jazz group in San Luis Obispo” whose style is "a new mix of influences almost sounding like alternative rock sometimes, but still deeply rooted in the profound tradition of jazz.”

In 2012, the Collins brothers were among the first four students in Shoemake’s Central Coast Jazz Institute, where young musicians train, rehearse and jam in Cambria. 

“They’re in my second generation of kids,” the vibes master said of his students. Shoemake estimates he taught about 1,500 young students in his renowned school for jazz harmony, theory and improvisation in Sherman Oaks. 

The concept is, he said, “I can’t teach them how to play their instruments, but I can teach them how to play the music.”

Collins and Harshman

Josh Collins “always wanted to be a musician and play guitar. I wanted to play in a jazz band,” but didn’t understand the lingo, what it meant or how it translated into how he was supposed to play it. After learning some of that, “I got hooked on the challenge of jazz.”

When Harshman was young, he was less musically motivated on his own, he said, but still spent his early life playing a variety of instruments — no surprise with a high school band director for a father, and a mother who played the flute. After dabbling with trumpet, trombone, clarinet, euphonium and violin, the boy tried playing bass in middle school. When he mentioned being intrigued by jazz, his dad said, “if you’re going to play jazz, you have to play upright bass.”

Harshman said one of the many things he’s learned from Shoemake and Ron McCarley, Cuesta's director of jazz studies, is that, while he enjoys playing a variety of music now, jazz is “one genre you can’t BS. You have to be good at it.”

Collins said with a laugh that in jazz improv, “every musician has to be able to carry a solo,” even the bass player.

Memory lane music

And the evocative music from the trio’s rehearsal? No wonder it was so familiar!

It was a jazz rendition of the classical composition, “On the Trail,” part of Ferde Grofé’s "Grand Canyon Suite" -- recognizable to many as the long-ago commercial radio theme for Philip Morris cigarettes.

Painted Sky show

  • Who: The new Charlie Shoemake Trio and special guest vocalist Sandi Shoemake
  • When: 3 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 9
  • Where: Painted Sky Studio, 2117 Old Creamery Road, Harmony
  • Tickets: $20 ($10 for students) or $30 to see both performances
  • Reservations: 927-8330