What’s On Your Playlist: Steve Shapiro

JAZZed Magazine feature with Steve

A respected session musician, vibraphonist, and music producer, Steve Shapiro has worked with such diverse artists as Steely Dan, Ornette Coleman, Whitney Houston, Spyro Gyra, and They Might Be Giants. Shapiro is also an accomplished composer and arranger whose work has appeared in hundreds of television and film projects.

In addition to having performed with the likes of Curtis Fuller, Jimmy Heath, and Marc Johnson, Shapiro has also notably collaborated with Nashville guitarist Pat Bergeson (Bill Evans, Chet Atkins, Bill Frisell), with whom he has released three CDs, including 2008's Backward Compatible (Apria Records).

1. Milt Jackson – Bags' Opus

It doesn't get much better than "Afternoon in Paris" on this session – certainly Milt at his very best. Benny Golson also sounds amazing on this record. It is probably my favorite Milt side, from 1958.

2. Charlie Haden ­– Rambling Boy

Here is something new. I like to preview new releases on Internet radio like, then purchase what really interests me. Charlie doing a country record is something I had to examine in detail – if anything, just to hear that gorgeous bass sound on some country tunes.

3. Steve Swallow – Swallow

Swallow's tunes are made for improvisation and always have a clever twist. One thing that makes this CD special is that many of Steve's greatest collaborators all appear on it: Carla Bley, John Scofield, Steve Kuhn, and Gary Burton. I consider Steve and Carla to be two of our greatest American jazz composers in the tradition of Duke Ellington, but with a more post-modern sensibility. Steve was very generous to me when I was young, and I owe him a lot – he is an amazing person. Very few people in jazz have his kind of artistic legacy. His latest project, So There, is a masterpiece and probably the most successful marriage of jazz and poetry ever (along with his 1980 ECM release, Home).

4. Steely Dan – Aja

Timeless. Perfect. Pop music with real jazz chords. To me, Aja and Gaucho represent the pinnacle of sophisticated modern record production. Not much has surpassed this in the last 30 years as far as the integrity of the compositions, the detail of the performances, and a mastery of studio recording as an art form unto itself. And 1977 is remembered as the era of Barry Manilow and disco!

5. Hank Mobley – Dippin' (Rudy van Gelder edition)

Hank took what Sonny and 'Trane were doing, and put it into a groovy setting that made it very listenable. As far as this period – I'm always spinning something from Clifford Brown/Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Erroll Garner, Wynton Kelly or Wes Montgomery. Just stuff that has that feel.

6. Victor Feldman – The Arrival of Victor Feldman

How about this killer trio with Scott LaFaro and Stan Levey? It's a little looser than later things, after Vic became a big L.A. session sideman. But the tasteful playing is always there. I think he is sometimes overlooked when people talk about the innovators of a pianistic approach to the vibes.

7. Weather Report – Heavy Weather

Whenever "Teen Town" pops up on my player, I can't seem to fast forward past it. It is so compelling and Zawinul, Wayne, and Jaco are such strong musical personalities. Joe was very inspiring – his music never got tired. He always infused it with young energy, which I guess is something he learned from Miles. I have become interested in the melodica and I always try to think of Joe when I play that instrument.

8. Paul Simon – There Goes Rhymin' Simon

This is about songwriting and arranging, especially on tracks like "An American Tune." What an amazing song. I'm almost always listening to some classic material from Paul, or James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, The Beatles, or maybe Jackson Browne or Elvis Costello – the masters of the modern pop song. I'm also a big fan of Phil Ramone, who produced this record.

9. Al Green – Greatest Hits

Not much to say – just some serious groove and finesse going on here. A lot can be learned from the economy of the playing, as well. The kind of phrasing that singers like Al and Ray Charles use has a lot in common with my favorite jazz.

10. Maria Schneider – Sky Blue

There is just some really beautiful writing on this and some real individualism. It sounds fresh, but still follows in the footsteps of great arrangers like Gil Evans, Henry Mancini, or even Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays. And like Duke, Maria writes to the strengths of the cats in the band. It's a real ensemble.