Masterful trombonist Steve Turre distinguished him self first by playing with some of the jazz world’s most lauded musicians, including Art Blakey, Woody Shaw, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Cedar Walton, McCoy Tyner, and Dizzy Gillespie. He emerged as an artist in his own right by fusing his artistry on the trombone with shell-blowing, jazz samba/bossa nova, and Afro-Cuban rhythms with brass undertones and Brazilian-style vocals in his fourth release in 1997, the self-titled Steve Turreon Verve. His previous three accomplished releases hinted at where Turre was heading musically, and his bold, experimental sound reached full fruition with Steve Turre. Down Beats Dan Ouellette wrote, “(Steve Turre) not only represents Turre’s finest hour to date, but also reaffirms the trombone/shell maestro’s promising future.”
Turre was born and raised intheSan Francisco Bay area to parents who loved jazz and met at a Count Basie dance. Turre’s childhood was infused with the strains of big band music along with the salsa and mariachi sounds of his Latin heritage. Whenever Duke Ellington and Count Basie performed in San Francisco, Turre’s parents would take him and his younger brother to their shows, and this early exposure to jazz influenced the course of Turre’s career. He studied the trombone in grade school, and became enrapt with the music of J. J. Johnson in high school. As an eighteen year old in 1970, Rahsaan Roland Kirk invited Turre to sit in with him during a concert at San Francisco’s Jazz Workshop, and Turre was asked to return each time Kirk had a local appearance. Kirk was noted for fashioning instruments out of unorthodox objects like garden hoses and dented, antique instruments. Turre first heard the sound of a shell being played when Kirk banged an enormous gong and then blew a shell. Turre told Down Beats JonathonEig, “The sound of it touched me…. When you hear it live, it kind of goes through you in a way. It’s simplicity. The shell is about rhythm and melody. That’s it.” Turre created a Sanctified Shells choir, but he has been careful not to let the shell-playing become a gimmick that overshadows the rest of his music.
Turre also worked with Van Morrison, Charles Moffet, and the Escovedo Brothers, but his musical break came when he was asked to tour with Ray Charles during his 1972 world tour. Turre spent the remainder of the 1970s working with many of the decade’s greatest jazz artists: Cedar Walton, Art Blakey, Woody Shaw, Elvin Jones, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and Thad Jones and the Mel Lewis Orchestra.
Between 1980-87 Turre worked with Woody Shaw; the association proved beneficial, as Turre and Shaw released twelve recordings and Turre gained credibility as a composer in his own right. Turre had a watershed
Born in 1952 in San Francisco Bay area; parents were avid jazz fans who met at a Count Basie concert; studied trombone in grade school; married to cellist Akua Dixon.
First played with Rahsaan Roland Kirk in 1970; spent the 1970s working with Cedar Walton, Art Blakey, Woody Shaw, Elvin Jones, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and Thad Jones, the Mel Lewis Orchestra, Van Morrison, Charles Moffet, and the Escovedo Brothers; musical break came when he was asked to tour with Ray Charles on his 1972 world tour; Turre worked with Woody Shaw between 1980-87; released Fire and Ice in 1987; Viewpoints & Vibrations in 1989; Right Here in 1991; Sanctified Shells in 1993, and Rhythm Within in 1995; debut release for Verve Records was Steve Turre in 1997; worked with various bands and band leaders such as Lester Bowie, Manny 0?Quendo, Dizzy Gillespie, and McCoy Tyner; created the ten-member Sanctified Shell Choir (shell players, trombonists, keyboard players, and percussionists); created various quintets, quartets, and sextets, and performed at jazz festivals and clubs across the country; composed music for television commercials and films, and performed as a trombonist regularly in the Saturday Night Live band.
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moment while on a stopover in Mexico City during a Shaw tour: while visiting relatives, his uncle told him that his Aztec ancestors also had played shells as instruments. Turre visited some Aztec ruins in the area and found inspiration in the stone reliefs of ancient shell players, as he realized being a musicians and playing the shells was his birthright. He knew he was following his heart as well as his rich historical legacy.
Turre released Fire and Ice in 1987 and Viewpoints & Vibrations in 1989, both for Stash Records. For Antilles Records, he released Right Here in 1991, Sanctified Shellsm 1993, and RhythmWithinm 1995. Hisdebutfor Verve Records was Steve Turre in 1997. He experimented with and refined his musical direction by working with various bands and band leaders such as Lester Bowie, Manny O’Quendo, Dizzy Gillespie, and McCoy Tyner. He created the ten-member Shell Choir—which consists of shell players, trombonists, keyboard players, and percussionists—as well as various quintets, quartets, and sextets, and performed at jazz festivals and clubs across the country. He also composed music for television commercials and films, and performed as a trombonist regularly in the Saturday Night Live band. Turre pointed out to Down Beats Eig at the end of 1997 that he and J.J. Johnson were the only trombonists with major-label recording deals at the time, and added, “I can’t understand why Slide Hampton isn’t recording, or why Curtis Fuller, Robin Eubanks, Frank Lacey, and Conrad Herwig don’t have major record deals … I’ve certainly paid my dues, but I thought the music business was about talent.” Unlike days of yore when Glen Miller and Tommy Dorsey were noted for their trombone music, current musical promoters favor saxophone players and trumpeters. Turre told Eig, “If you play something that communicates with people… they don’t care what instrument you’re playing.”
Turre’s shell instruments serve to set him apart from the fray and create a “hook” for the public. He utilizes the shells to broaden and enrich his sound and to create musical contradictions, which is also why he uses a plunger and Harmon mute. He told Eig, “Historically speaking, the shell is the root of the trombone…. It takes a little more endurance to play the shells. It takes more volume of air.” Turre aspires to record material with a large orchestraand his Santified Shells shell choir in the future, and plans to record the Steve Turre Sextet With Strings in 1998, featuring Regina Carter on violin, Buster Williams on bass, Mulgrew Miller on piano, Lewis Nash on drums, and his wife Akua Dixon on cello.
Turre balances the sound of brass in his music with two strings, violin and cello, and feels this arrangement creates flawless equilibrium. He writes for strings the same way he writes for horns, and told Eig, “… we hit just as hard as if it had been a trumpet and saxophone…. as atrombone player… I wantthe sound to rally around the trombone; that’s got to be the center. A lot of times I voice the violin on top and the cello below. That’s a beautiful sound.” After the release of Turre’s eponymous Verve debut in 1997, Oulette wrote, “Turre takes his recording career to the next level with a sumptuous collection of eight tunes that reflect his multifaceted jazz passions…. (He) weaves the plentitude of solos into the fabric of his compositions and steers his supporting cast into enticing rhythmic arrangements.”
Billboard featured Steve Turre in its “Reviews & Previews” column shortly after it was released, and claimed, “The innovative jazz trombonist who introduced the conch shell to the genre makesan outstanding label debut… excellent original themes.” While performing outside in Chicago on a rainy Saturday afternoon in late 1997, Turre and his band members were greeted with theenthusiasm and excitement usually reserved for rock bands—in spite of the fact that the group is comprised of a violin, cello, trombone, and standard jazz rhythm section. Turre has invoked remarkable enthusiasm—and created an ardent base of fans—for his undeniably original style of jazz.
Fire and Ice, Stash 7 Records, 1987.
Viewpoints & Vibrations, Stash 2 Records, 1989.
Right Here, Antilles Records, 1991.
Sanctified Shells, Antilles Records, 1993.
Rhythm Within, Antilles Records, 1995.
Steve Turre, Verve Records, 1997.
Billboard, May 17, 1997.
Down Beat, July 1997; December 1997.
The Portland Skanner, May 21, 1997.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian, May 7, 1997.
Additional material was provided by the publicity department at Verve Records.
—B. Kimberly Taylor