Leif Shires - What a Wonderful World

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Leif Shires
CD / Album
Label / Studio
Green Hill

Nashville-based trumpeter Leif Shires, a promising young talent on the contemporary jazz scene, embraces timeless,appealing melodies on his soothing Green Hill Productions debut, What A Wonderful World. Included in the collection, his follow-up to last year's self-produced Rapture, are bright instrumental versions of such enduring jazz standards as "Autumn Leaves, "Unforgettable," "Tenderly," Henry Mancini's "Moon River" and Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight," as well as more modern fare like Sting's "Fields of Gold," Michael Jackson's "Human Nature," Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" and the Elvis Presley staple "Can't Help Falling In Love With You." Along with the affecting title track, a lyrical piece long associated with jazz icon and international ambassador Louis Armstrong, Shires imbues these beautiful, memorable melodies with a gentle touch and golden tones. "That's been my goal when it comes to music," says the 30-year-old trumpeter about his thoughtful delivery. "I've always maintained that if you want to play these classic tunes then you need to stay true to what the writer intended. And while it's nice to have different interpretations, I think it's important to just let the melody sing itself. And on this album we really let that happen." Produced by guitarist Jack Jezzro and featuring such stellar Nashville sessionmen as pianist David Huntsinger, bassist Jim Ferguson, drummer Jim White and percussionist Eric Darken, What A Wonderful World should register with fans of trumpeter Chris Botti and other leading lights of contemporary jazz. From the affecting opener, an Armstrong signature, to the stirring closer of Monk's hauntingly beautiful "'Round Midnight," Shires fairly sings through his horn with heartfelt conviction. Other highlights include an alluring bossa nova rendition of "Unforgettable," a signature tune of Nat "King" Cole, a subtly swinging waltz-time take on "Moon River," a poignant reading of "Can't Help Falling In Love With You" and a tender rendition of the minor key lament "Nature Boy." Shires also offers a nod to one of his biggest influences on "Human Nature" and "Time After Time," both of which were recorded in the '80s by Miles Davis. And his rendition of "Autumn Leaves" was inspired by a recording of that tune by another of Shires' trumpet heroes, Chet Baker. With bold tones and a sense of reverence for these enduring melodies, Shires makes a strong impression on What A Wonderful World. Born in Tucson, Arizona in September, 1978, Shires and his family hopped around from Birmingham, Alabama, to Sacramento and Modesto before settling in Fresno, California. He picked up trumpet at age eight, inspired by a trumpet playing uncle, and by junior high school was playing in the school jazz band. During his high school years at Buchanan High in Clovis, California, his teacher Paul Shaghoian, a one-time lead trumpeter in the celebrated One O'Clock Band at North Texas State, became an important mentor figure for Leif. To this day, Shires plays the very same trumpet that Shaghoian gave him as a graduation gift. "He was a fantastic teacher," says Shires. "What he did for us students was truly inspiring. He just made us want to do well and do it honorably. Paul was always there through my high school years and he really helped motivate us. And because of him, we beat all the other high schools in the state at competitions, won Down Beat awards and played at the IAJE convention. His recent sudden death from a heart attack was obviously a shock to me. But I can honor him with what I continue to do and by continuing to play the trumpet that he gave me." After high school, Leif attended California State University at Fresno, where he played lead trumpet in the jazz big band and principal trumpet in the wind ensemble as well as participating in pep band and marching band. He later transferred from Fresno State to Virginia Commonwealth University, where he began to focus on theory and composition in the jazz program developed by Doug Richards. During the summer months he also worked in a big band at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia. Before moving to Virginia, Shires hit a low point in his development, actually laying off the trumpet for nearly six months. He was eventually encouraged to return to playing by the lead trumpeter with Tower of Power, Jesse McGuire. But it was during a cruise ship gig when Leif began delving deeply into the art of improvisation. "I knew that I wasn't good at improvising and I wanted to improve," he recalls. "And the best way to do that was to just throw myself in the midst of it. So I started to play jazz every chance I got. And at the same time I started listening to a lot of Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard and Dave Douglas. And I fell in love with Chet Baker. One of my favorite trumpet solos of all time happens to be Chet Baker's 'Autumn Leaves' solo. I think it's brilliant. It sounds like a melody and I just appreciate the way he played and delivered it. It just seemed like he was really playing the music first and foremost, and that caught my attention." After disembarking the cruise ship, Shires returned to his home in Richmond, Virginia. He had been back in town for about a month when he heard about an audition for a swing band in Nashville that needed a trumpet player for a European tour. It was 2004 and things were about to change rapidly for the young trumpeter. "I drove to Nashville that weekend and auditioned for the band and got the gig," he recalls. "And I got hired for another band as well, a Christian big band called Denver and the Mile High Orchestra. I was hired as a regular sub for the band, and other work came calling. So I moved to Nashville after that. Then, two weeks after I moved to Nashville, I met my future wife (Jaimee Paul) at a session. She was singing backup vocals and I was doing horn parts. She's a really fantastic vocalist with a very rich voice that is reminiscent of Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. We started working together at different venues around town, sometimes as a trio or larger band setting. And it was at one of those venues that I met the great trumpeter Wayne Jackson of the legendary Memphis Horns from all those classic Stax Records sessions. Wayne asked me to become a part of the newly reassembled Memphis Horns, so I soon found myself playing trumpet alongside him in this five-horn section he put together. A year later I started working for a Christian Latin band called Salvador as well as platinum Latin artist Jaci Velasquez. So I'm working all the time in Nashville, doing what I love to do. It's great to be able to make a living playing the trumpet." In February of 2008, Shires released his self-produced CD Rapture, which included a few originals and some jazz standards like "My Funny Valentine," "Bye Bye Blackbird," "Stella by Starlight" and "My Foolish Heart," which he performed as a duet with his wife Jaimee Paul. In August of that year, he began talks with Green Hill Productions about doing a project to be released in January. Leif and Jaimee were both signed to the label in September and will be releasing their albums simultaneously on January 27 (Jaimee Paul's Green Hill debut is At Last).

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Leif Shires - What a Wonderful World.

1) What a Wonderful World
2) Fields of Gold
3) Moon River
4) Unforgettable
5) Scarborough Fair
6) Human Nature
7) Autumn Leaves
8) I Will Wait for You
9) Time After Time
10) Tenderly
11) Can't Help Falling in Love with You
12) Nature Boy
13) Round Midnight

What a Wonderful World
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What a Wonderful World | Leif Shires