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Max or Mack Shaw
The Washingtonians' Tuba Player

Researched by
Kevin Coffey and Steven Lasker

supplement to
The Duke – Where and When
A Chronicle of Duke Ellington's Working Life and Travels

This webpage was designed and is maintained by David Palmquist.
Last updated 2022-10-19 16:40

cropped photo
Max Shaw in The Billboard, 1917-12-22
Max Shaw draft registration
Max Shaw's draft registration
Click to Enlarge

Max Shaw in 1925 cropped photo
Max Shaw in 1925
Reb Spike's Legion Club 45 orchestra
Courtesy Dave Hignett
(crop from Mr. Hignett's band photo)
Shaw's admission into home for disabled vets
Shaw's admission into home for disabled vets
Click to Enlarge

Gravestone and request for gravestone
Gravestone and Gravestone Requisition
Click to Enlarge

Tuba player Max (or Mack) Shaw (1894-1939) replaced Henry "Bass" Edwards in May 1926. (His instrument is sometimes called a brass bass.) He was a Washingtonian for a full year, an essential member of the band that first preserved "The Ellington Effect" on wax.

Steven Lasker:
  • The 1920 census lists him as a mulatto.
  • Shaw's draft registration card, dated 1917 06 05, shows he was then an inmate at the House of Correction in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. It notes he had served three years in the military with the 8th Regiment in Chicago, rank: musician."
  • Shaw was the featured trombonist with Lowery's Greater Minstrels according to an ad in a December 1917 issue of The Billboard which includes Shaw's photo.
  • According to his service record, he enlisted in Milwaukee on 1918 03 01 and was assigned to the headquarters company of the 365th Infantry regiment of the U.S. Army's 92nd Division. The Division, comprised of African American "Buffalo" soldiers, deployed to France and took part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Shaw was honorably discharged 1919 03 18 pursuant to a general demobilization.
  • The July 1921 issue of International Musician notes that Shaw had been "dropped" from local 208, the Chicago local for African Americans.
  • Shaw moved to Los Angeles circa May 1925, where he joined the Spikes Brothers' Pods o' Peppers Jazz Band, playing tuba, trombone and accordion according to the June 15 1925 issue of the Los Angeles Express. The Billboard (August 19, 1925) said Max Shaw is a whistler of talent and gives solos at each concert.
  • Saxophonist Les Hite joined the band shortly after Shaw. In a letter to Frank Driggs dated April 20, 1960, Hite recalled

    'I arrived in California June 1925. My first job was with Reb Spikes Orch. playing the Redondo Beach Ballroom, at Redondo Beach, California. George Orendorff, Jimmy Strong [who recorded with Louis Armstrong in 1928/29] and I joined the band at the same time. I sent for Lionel Hampton, as we all had been playing around Chicago, Ill. together. He came around August or September that year.'

  • According to Kevin Coffey, International Musician reports for local 767 (the Los Angeles local for African Americans), which are probably always at least a month, perhaps two, three or more months, after the event reported, note the following:
    • Sept 1925 report lists George Orendorff as a new member and lists Max Shaw as a transfer member from local 208.
    • Oct 1925 report lists Leslie Hite, and "Jommie" Strong as new members.
    • Dec 1925 report lists Lionel Hampton as a new member.
  • Billed as Reb's [American] Legion Club 45's, Spike's band recorded two titles for the Hollywood label, "My Mammy's Blues" and "Sheffield Blues." Discographies date this session to November 1924, but since the recordings are electrical, not acoustical, it must have been recorded later, possibly circa August 1925. A tuba is heard on the record, presumably played by Shaw.
  • Per The Los Angeles Times, September 12, 1925:

    'Jail Time for Negro Musicians
    Jazz Band Players Draw Penalty for Familiarity with White Girls
    Redondo, September 11
         Pleading guilty to "undue friendliness" with three minor white girls, Max Shaw, James Strang [sic] and L. E. Hampton, members of a colored orchestra playing at the Pavilion dance hall, each were sentenced to 190 days in jail by Justice Moodie this morning.
         The negroes are said to have met the three young girls through notes exchanged in the Pavilion Café. According to a confession made by one of the men to Chief of Police Henry, the girls received liquor from the negroes and were later seen frequently in their company on the streets here.
         A general investigation was conducted by Policewoman Eva Kopp and Detective-Sergeant Alder, including the questioning of many girls, who have been attending dances at the Pavillion [...]
         Shaw, Strang and Hampton were sentenced to jail after failing to meet an alternative fine of $300 each.

    (see also Variety 1925-09-16 p.44.)
  • The March 1926 issue of International Musician, under the section of local reports [that] were left out last month due to lack of space notes that Max Shaw's transfer to local 767 had been withdrawn.
  • On April 7, 1926, Bubber Miley and Max Shaw played on a Clarence Williams record date for OKeh. "Jackass Blues" was a blues in B flat and licks Shaw plays on it are strikingly similar to those he'd play exactly one year later on another slow B flat blues, Ellington's Brunswick recording of "Black and Tan Fantasy." Discographies don't include Shaw on the earlier date, but to my ears that conclusion is unmistakable.
  • The Ellington band's first tuba player, Henry "Bass" Edwards (1898-1965) had joined by September 1925 (he's heard on a record they waxed for Pathe/Perfect that month), but left to join the Charleston Bearcats (soon to be renamed the Savoy Bearcats) after their tuba player, Douglas "Chink" Johnson, died on 1926 05 07 (per Walter C. Allen, "Hendersonia," p. 565). Barry Ulanov ("Duke Ellington," p. 53) notes that Shaw joined Ellington for the band's engagement at the Plantation. Shaw's first night with the band can thus be dated to 1926 05 25.
  • Shaw is heard on the band's records from 1926-06-21 through 1927-04-30. In contrast to Edwards, Shaw seldom played eighth notes. Sonny Greer told Phil Schaap that while Shaw could play loud, Edwards could play solos.
  • According to Ulanov's "Duke Ellington" (1946, pp. 53-54), Max [Shaw] had a broken jaw bone. He took quantities of aspirin (mixed with whisky) to keep the pain from felling him. But he continued to blow horn, to outblow anybody else's horn.
  • According "The Art Is in the Cooking" (by Duke Ellington in Collaboration with Stanley Dance, Down Beat, June 7, 1962, reprinted in Mark S. Tucker's "The Duke Ellington Reader," p. 337),

    'The police, gangsters, or somebody had caught Mack [sic] out in Chicago, beaten his face in and broken up all the bones. This cat would be blowing his tuba and blow out a loose bone. He had a whole lot of loose bones in his face, and he'd just put them together again and continue blowing!'

  • The Club Kentucky's bandstand was so small, Otto Hardwick recalled (Metronome, 1944-11-00, p17), we had no room for a bass fiddle, that's how Bass Edwards [and later Max Shaw] came to play with us. We had to find a man with an instrument to fit the stand, and Bass played an upright recording tuba, the smallest bass instrument made he got the job.
  • Ellington's employment at the Club Kentucky came to an end in March 1927. Wellman Braud, who played both sousaphone and string bass, was hired in June 1927. Harry Carney told Brooks Kerr that Rudy Jackson, Wellman Braud and he were all hired at about the same time. Jackson and Braud had arrived in New York with the Lucky Sambo revue, which played the Lafayette Theatre the week of 16-22 May 1927 (per The New York Age, 1927-05-14, p. 6).
  • While Ellington has been lauded for being an early convert to the use of string bass, that instrument had been featured in bands since the early days of jazz in New Orleans, and the string bass had become increasingly popular in New York City by 1926. Per "The Billboard," 1926-04-10:

         All over New York it has been mentioned that, with most of the prominent bands, the string bass, alias "bull fiddle," alias "dog house," is replacing the tuba.
         Leaders agree that the string bass has a far greater carrying power than the tuba, and that it blends much more effectively. Practically all of the exponents of the tuba double in string bass, so the only inconvenience resulting from the switch will be the difference in the sizes of the instrument cases, which take our word for it, is plenty.

  • With the end of the Club Kentucky residency, bandstand size no longer dictated Ellington's choice of bass instrument, so Shaw, who apparently never played string bass, was let go in favor of Braud.
  • Ellsworth Reynolds, who played with Shaw at the Plantation in May and June 1926, recalled (letter to Frank Dutton dated 1978-07-15) that Mack [sic] Shaw didn't stay in New York long – he returned to Chicago.
  • In 1928, Shaw was hired by bandleader Earle "Nappy" Howard.
  • Per Earle "Nappy" Howard, "Those Were the Days," Earle 'Nappy' Howard's Life Story as Told to David Griffiths", Storyville 88 (April-May 1980), p. 145:

    'The bass player who joined us was Mack [sic] Shaw; he had played with Duke Ellington the summer before he came with us. He joined us and worked coast to coast. We used his car for transportation at twenty cents a mile. He had a big old-fashioned Pierce Arrow that all eight of us could get into with instruments and baggage on top and on the sides. Mack was quite a character. He had been gassed in active service in World War I and that was the reason he gave for his drinking to excess; he really could make alcohol disappear. Mack had travelled all over the U.S.A. He was a good liar and storyteller and, during trips between jobs, he could really tell them, as long as he could find drink to oil his pipes on. Before leaving Mack Shaw and his bass, I must say that he was a darn good bass player and his bass was just the thing to fill up many of those holes we had in many places in our arrangements. His brother, Frank Robinson, suggested that Mack was a good man to me. He was a good musician. Even then when he played, they took down and listened to him; he had all of them in the palm of his hand even at that age!'

  • The 1930 census found Shaw and his wife Christina living in New York. The local reports from New York list him depositing his union card in the March 1930 report and withdrawing it in the August report. He was by then a member of L.A. local 767.
  • On March 12, 1931, Shaw was admitted to the Veteran's Administration's home in Los Angeles for, among other ailments, an inguinal hernia. He was also considered a "mental case." Shaw's service record notes he was 68-3/4 inches tall, married, and his nearest relative was Christina Shaw, 5010-1/2 Central Avenue, Los Angeles.
  • Max Shaw died in Los Angeles on December 24, 1939 and is buried at the Los Angeles National Cemetery, also known as Sawtelle Veteran's Cemetery.
  • Shaw was a much better fit for the band than Bass Edwards. If you'll listen to Edwards' playing on the records by the Savoy Bearcats, he's very busy. He tries to show off and be the star. (Not surprising he had lights in the bell of his horn!) Shaw is more subtle, and adds atmosphere to Ellington's sonic pallette.