Amy Shook: The Power of a Trio
By Susan Frances
3D Jazz Trio, where the D stands for Divas, is a swinging jazz ensemble comprised of drummer Sherrie Maricle, pianist Jackie Warren, and upright bass player Amy Shook. According to the band’s bio on their website, they “met in May of 2014 at the Cleveland Playhouse while performing in the DIVA Jazz Orchestra as part of Maurice Hines’ award-winning show Tappin’ Thru Life… The show received the 2016 Audelco Awards’ Musical Production of the Year.”
A beautiful start to a bond that keeps growing stronger over time, Shook explains the attraction that she and her band mates felt when they first played together. “For one thing, from the very first note we ever played together, we immediately ‘recognized’ each other…we had practically the same concept of swing and feel, and that is a very rare and wonderful experience.”
“And I think,” she reasons, “that is why we can play so tightly, or loosely, together, because we are feeling it the same way. There is a tremendous ease in it. And it feels amazing! We are constantly laughing on the bandstand sometimes, because we cannot believe the intuitive way we play together, and it is so much fun. Now, years later, the three of us are the absolute best of friends, so the hang and communion continues whether we’re on the bandstand or off of it. I am forever grateful we found each other in this life!”
Shook recognized the power of a trio even before 3D Jazz Trio was formed. While attending junior hgh school in Boise, Idaho, she remembers hearing several legendary jazz musicians perform live. The most moving played in a trio. Their music affected her profoundly and influenced her course in life.
She recounts, “When I was in junior high in Boise, Idaho, I sang in the jazz choir. Every year, the jazz choir would attend the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival at the University of Idaho in Moscow to compete and perform, as well as attend the incredible evening concerts featuring the most prominent names in jazz. In 8th grade, I didn’t know what I was hearing, I just knew that I loved it and it really resonated with me.”
“That year,” she resumes, “I remember hearing Carmen McRae, Dizzy Gillespie, and Lionel Hampton and his big band. But the galvanizing moment for me was when the Ray Brown Trio took the stage, with Gene Harris on piano and Jeff Hamilton on drums. I was literally swept up in the groove and soul and blues and swing coming from them, and it still astonishes me that all that power came from ‘just’ a trio.”
She elaborates further, “The next year, the bass player who played in the combo that accompanied the jazz choir was headed to high school, and our director asked for a volunteer to play bass. I had already been playing violin since I was 9 years old, so I volunteered, and taught myself to play bass.”
Torn between the two string instruments, she analyzes what led her to playing the bass full-time. “I went on to attend the University of Idaho on a violin scholarship, and expected to stay on that track, the whole time still playing bass and playing jazz. I actually had decided to quit playing bass and jazz my freshman year to focus on violin. But every time I went to one of the jazz concerts at school, and then the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival the following February, I had such an unbelievable yearning to play. I told my parents I didn’t want to come back to school the next year without my own bass. My dad ended up finding one in the classifieds!”
“A couple years into playing again,” she cites, “I was talking with bassist Brian Bromberg about feeling torn between my violin studies and playing bass, and he said to me, ‘You just need to decide you’re a bass player, and do it!’ I ended up completing both a bachelors and a masters in violin performance, but as soon as I graduated, I immediately got a gig playing bass on a cruise ship. Over time I, of course, listened, listened, listened, and tried to copy and integrate as much of the music and concepts I was hearing from the creators of the music. I am still trying to do that, still trying to develop, am still a student of the masters.”
While attending the University of Idaho, Shook recalls how she met her husband Pat. “Pat and I were both students at the University of Idaho, and performed together in jazz bands and various jazz combos. We never dated until after he had come back to Spokane, Washington, after graduating with his masters from North Texas. We both ended up on a gig playing with the Spokane Jazz Orchestra, started hanging out, and the rest is history. We had been working together on cruise ships on and off over a four year period, when he auditioned and won the lead tenor sax chair in the Army Jazz Ambassadors big band stationed at Ft. Meade, Maryland near Washington, D.C.”
Her musical journey continued, and prior to being a part of 3D Jazz Trio, Shook played in the Fred Hughes Trio, reveling in the power of performing in a trio as she recollects, “I had been playing regularly with drummer Frank Russo in the Rob Levit trio, in our own group, the Shook/Russo Quartet, as well as in a variety of other bands. He had, by that time, already been playing in Fred’s trio for at least ten years, maybe longer. When their regular bass player moved out of state, Fred invited me to come play with them on a more full-time basis. It was already a great musical fit because Frank and Fred, and Frank and I, had separately already logged so much playing time, that it was an easy thing playing as a trio. I really enjoy both the musical material Fred chooses, including his own original compositions, and both he and Frank play at such a high level. It is always a fun challenge!”
Her journey also included playing in the SR4tet comprised of herself, her husband Pat, Frank Russo, and Jonathan Epley on guitar. “We had been writing music,” she broaches, “and wanted to find some other musicians to play with and write for. Since Frank and I had been playing together in various bands, the quartet kind of formed out of us just getting together and jamming. For a few years, we had the pianist in the Jazz Ambassadors, Tim Young, playing with us, and for a number of years we were a quintet with Tim Leahey on trumpet, who is now retired from the Airmen of Note. Eventually, both Tim’s moved on and Jonathan came into the Jazz Ambassadors. We invited him to come play with us, and it was a great fit.”
She reflects about her experience being a part of SR4tet, “As with any band or creative endeavor, each project will take on the flavor of the individuals participating. With the SR4tet, our goal is to write new music for and with each other. While both Fred’s trio as well as 3D have played some of my original tunes before, that hasn’t been the musical focus of those two trios. Fred, for the most part, selects the trio’s repertoire, and with 3D, we’ll just throw out tunes we all like, and play around with them and arrange them together. In the future, however, you can expect to hear more original tunes written by Sherrie, Jackie, and myself.”
3D Jazz Trio’s latest release I Love To See You Smile follows their debut recording 3 Divas and precedes their upcoming CD Christmas in 3D. It’s been time that has been used to strengthen the trio’s bond and affection for swing. Shook examines how the trio’s writing and performance differed between their debut outing and their sophomore release.
“I would say it was a different experience,” she assesses, “simply because we had more time logged playing together, and developing our already natural intuition. The other thing that has developed even more is musical trust in each other, and that can only come from time playing together. I’m not sure that I discovered anything new about either of them per se, simply because I know them both so well, but I can say that their professionalism and musicianship never ceases to delight and astonish me.”
When discussing her favorite track to record on I Love To See You Smile, she appraises, “I loved everything we recorded… but I think my favorite might be our version of ‘Moonglow.’ I love playing slow and soulful like that, and again, we all just ‘feel’ it the same way. I particularly like how, as a group, we kinda stretch the melody on the bridge. Gives me chills every time!”
She adds, “I also really love how Jackie and Sherrie played my arrangement of ‘Angel Eyes.’ My mom had just passed a few weeks before our recording session, and we had only ever played the tune together one other time about a month before we recorded it. We did an impromptu video recording of it for my mom and sent it to her as a surprise. It was her favorite tune and she loved it. A few days before we went in the studio, I came up with a simple arrangement and asked if we could do it as a tribute. And they played it so passionately and beautifully. I know my mom would’ve loved it.”
Shook ruminates how jazz musicians have the sensibilities to touch the human spirit. It is a reaction that the 3D Jazz Trio’s music has on audiences. “Jazz is a living, breathing art form.” she professes. “It is a music of community, a music of protest, a music of passion, a music of trials and of bearing one another’s burdens and of celebrating one another’s joys. Because of this, the audience is every bit as important as the performers. The energetic exchange is like a prayer, or a sanctuary, where we gather together to share and celebrate and heal. Because of this, I think the music is most honest when it is live and in that environment where this energetic exchange happens between musician and listener. For me, all of my most favorite jazz recordings are live ones, because you can still feel the energy that was captured.”
“When we perform live,” she reflects, “the energy is absolutely incredible, not just among the three of us, but between us and our audience, and it’s our hope to capture it and share it when we can. Plus, for those who aren’t able to come see us perform live, it is the next best thing, being able to view a live performance documented on video. The more people we can make smile, the better!”
3D Jazz Trio certainly made audiences smile during their live performance at Nancy Wilson’s 80th Birthday Party held on February 20, 2017 at the Taglyan Complex in Los Angeles. Shook beams, “This was truly an amazing honor to have been invited to play at Nancy Wilson’s birthday party. There were a number of celebrities there, namely Stevie Wonder and Dionne Warwick, among others. But to me, Nancy and her voice are so woven into my musical DNA because I listened to her so much over the years, and especially during my early developmental years as a young musician, and it’s difficult to explain all the emotions I had around the experience. To be in the same room with jazz royalty. Nancy had performed and recorded with Sherrie and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, and she loved Sherrie. To be invited was a tremendous honor. I’ll never forget it!”
Another amazing experience for Shook was 3D Jazz Trio’s performance with baritone saxophonist Leigh Pilzer at the Washington Women in Jazz Festival in March 2016. The performance was recorded for Pilzer’s debut CD Strunkin’. She raves about the experience, “Leigh, like Sherrie and Jackie, is not only one of the best musicians I know, and I say that unbiased, but she is also one of my very best friends. She is an incredible composer and arranger in addition to being a killin’ bari player. It was like we were all 5 years old and having a blast playing in the sandbox together. We had an awesome audience supporting the jazz festival, Leigh leading the way, 3D swinging hard, and the amazing Jen Krupa on trombone. Leigh’s brother, Charlie, who recorded us, is a Grammy-winning engineer, and it sounded and felt great to play. Again, another highlight of my career. And the hang continued off the bandstand! You just can’t beat ‘working’ with your best friends!”
Though some of Shook’s experiences might seem improbable to measure up to in the years to come, she is not one to believe that her best years are behind her. She ponders some pursuits that she’d like to go after in the years to come. “The “bucket list Is long and lengthy,” she considers, “in addition to wanting to continue playing, recording and touring with 3D, as well as continuing to write and play with my band, I hope to do more touring and performing with as many other great musicians and bands as possible. I would love for 3D to tour Europe and be featured with the WDR big band one day, as well as be featured on more jazz festivals around the world. I have been playing, writing, and arranging auxiliary string parts for various indie artists, and I hope to keep expanding and doing more of that.”
“Mostly,” she asserts, “I just want to keep growing as a creative person, to be a good example of what it is to be human, to bring more life and light into my existence and and the existence of others. I have been so lucky and blessed in my life and career, and while there is always “more” to have and experience, I am so thankful and content with everything so far. It’s all such an incredible gift. I did always want to be an astronaut, though,” she teasingly fantasies.
Many readers might say that Amy Shook has lived a dream simply by making a living as a live performer and recording artist. Her dream took her a step further and brought into her life good friends whom she can riff, jam and hang with, exercising her creative talent and affinity for swing and jazz. According to 3D Jazz Trio’s website, they are not only super swingers but “each member of 3D is a Crazy Cat Lady,” strengthening the trio even deeper than the music they play. Like the old adage says, “All good things come in threes.”
About Susan Frances:
Born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in eastern Long Island, I always enjoyed writing and made several contributions to my high school literary magazine, The Lion’s Pen. Influenced by writers of epic novels including Colleen McCullough and James Clavell, I gravitated to creative writing. After graduating from New York University with a BA in Liberal Arts, I tried my hand at conventional jobs but always returned to creative writing. Since 1998, I have been a freelance writer and have over three thousand articles to various e-zines including: Jazz Times, Blogcritics, Yahoo Voices, Goodreads.com, Authors and Books (books.wiseto.com), TheReadingRoom.com, Amazon.com, Epinions.com, Fictiondb.com, LibraryThing.com, BTS emag, BarnesandNoble.com, RomanticHistoricalReviews.com, AReCafe.com, Hybrid Magazine, and BookDepository.com. In 2013 and 2014, I was a judge in the Orange Rose Writing Competition sponsored by the Orange County chapter of the Romance Writers of America located in Brea, California.