Drummer Charles ‘Bobo’ Shaw Dies at 69

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Charles “Bobo” Shaw (bottom right), on the cover of his 1973 album Junk Trap with the Human Arts Ensemble. The drummer died Jan. 16 at 69.

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Charles “Bobo” Shaw, drummer and one of the founding members of the St. Louis-based Black Artists Group (BAG), died Jan. 16 at the age of 69. Born in Pope, Mississippi, on Sept. 5, 1947, Shaw began playing music at 6 years old after his family moved to St. Louis. According to childhood friend and trumpeter George Sams, Shaw always wanted to be a jazz musician.

“I first met Bobo in 1957, when we were both in the American Woodmen Drum and Bugle Corps sponsored by the Tom Powell American Legion Post,” recalled Sams. “Bobo started with the Corps at the age of 6, playing instruments like soprano sax and trombone. But he really found his calling as a drummer. When we got older, we started hanging out with musicians at clubs like the Upstream Lounge and seeing if we could sit in with the bands.”

Shaw met saxophonist Oliver Lake in the same Drum and Bugle Corps, and the two musicians became part of the founding core of the Black Artists Group, a progressive multidisciplinary arts collective, in late 1967. When BAG effectively ended in 1972, Shaw traveled to Paris that year with Lake and BAG musicians Baikida Carroll, Joseph Bowie and Floyd LeFlore to tour and record. Shaw also became a driving force in the Human Arts Ensemble, a St. Louis-based free improvisation group, and eventually went on to lead the ensemble, recording several albums with that band in the 1970s.

After a brief return to St. Louis, Shaw and Bowie moved to New York, where they were influential in laying the foundation for the punk-jazz movement as founders of the band DeFunkt.

In addition to his recordings with the Human Arts Ensemble and various BAG groups, Shaw’s discography includes recordings with Lake, trumpeter Lester Bowie, reedist Anthony Braxton, saxophonist Frank Lowe and violinist Billy Bang.

Shaw returned to live in St. Louis in the mid-1980s and continued to be a presence on the local jazz scene. One of his last performances took place at the Ferring Jazz Bistro in April 2016. The concert was part of a special event celebrating BAG’s influence on modern music, and featured a discussion and a concluding performance that included Lake, Sams, bassist Darrell Mixon and BAG member Shirley LeFlore.

“It was so great to have the opportunity to play once again with Bobo this past April,” said Lake. “We hadn’t played together for quite a few years, so it was quite a reunion. Bobo was a high-energy drummer, and that equaled excitement on the bandstand.”

“From the time I first heard Bobo play in the Drum and Bugle Corps, I always thought he sounded like he had no fear playing anything,” added Sams. “And that fearless approach was always part of him.” DB



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February 2020
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