Cambrian: Opinion

John Brannon: Famous Jazz Artist series founder starts jazz institute

Charlie Shoemake
Charlie Shoemake PHOTO BY BOB BARRY

In the world of music, especially jazz music, styles and tastes weave back and forth. As one jazz critic observed, “Charlie Shoemake still believes in the value of melody and harmony. He has a shimmering, liquid sound.”

Charlie Shoemake was born in Houston, Texas. His parents loved music and provided piano lessons for Charlie at the age of 6. However, there was a conflict in the young boy’s life because of his love of music and his obvious talent on a baseball diamond. All through high school he attracted attention with his baseball skills. When it was time to focus on one skill or the other, he chose music in 1956 and moved to Los Angeles to embark on a career in jazz music.

Surrounded by some of the great names in jazz at that time, Charlie worked hard to master this form of music. As luck would have it, jazz in the 1960s suffered a severe challenge for all players, but it was especially difficult for young musicians to find work. As a result many performers were forced into others types of music.

Charlie met vocalist Sandi Bumgarner at this time and they married. Employment conditions forced her to enter the field of studio work and variety shows on television. Charlie soon followed her lead. He continued to find occasional gigs with jazz groups. But his big break occurred when he learned that George Shearing was looking for a vibraphone player for a five-week tour of the Midwest. That tour turned into a seven-year stint with Shearing’s world-famous group.

In 1973, Charlie and Sandi decided to open a jazz improvisational school in Los Angeles. The school flourished; by 1990, more than 1,500 people had enrolled to learn jazz music from a master. The list of those musicians is lengthy —beyond the space we have here.

In the spring of 1990, Charlie closed his teaching studio and left Los Angeles for the charm of Cambria.

It was obvious immediately that there was a lack of appearances by major jazz artists on the Central Coast. The Shoemakes approached the owners of The Hamlet (a restaurant with a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean) about providing occasional jazz concerts at The Hamlet. For more than two decades they provided more than 30 concerts a year. Famous artists from around the world appeared on Sundays at The Hamlet.

But when the restaurant closed for extensive remodeling early this year after 30 years on Exotic Garden Drive, Charlie and Sandi were invited to perform at the D’Anbino Wine Tasting Room in Paso Robles.

“The move has been very successful,” Charlie reports. “Attendance continues to increase and the owners have bent over backwards to provide for us.”

Along with this success, Charlie has founded the Central Coast Jazz Institute, a nonprofit organization in Cambria dedicated to the instruction and preservation of American jazz music. The CCJI seeks to provide scholarships for private jazz instruction to students of all ages. Scholarships provide lessons and the opportunity for student participation in public jazz recitals. Top jazz musicians from all over the world will come to CCJI to speak at a regular lecture series. This will help make the Central Coast a top destination for jazz instruction in the entire country.

As a nonprofit organization, the CCJI welcomes scholarship funding from foundations, corporations and private donors. This will help preserve American jazz music for generations and allow promising music talent to thrive.

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John Brannon’s “My Turn” column is special to The Cambrian. Email him at

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