Woody Shaw, the trumpeter who lost his left arm in a freak subway accident in February and who had been plagued for years by blindness, died of kidney failure Wednesday in a New York City hospital. He was 44.
Shaw, whose 1978 recording of "Rosewood" was voted the No. 1 jazz record in the nation, had tumbled down a stairway Feb. 27 onto the tracks in a Brooklyn subway station where a train struck him, severing his arm.
He was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where his condition deteriorated and he was stricken by pneumonia. Although his pneumonia abated, he continued to suffer kidney pain and died of kidney failure, said his father, Woody Shaw Sr.
In April, jazz musicians from throughout the country held a benefit concert for the trumpeter, whose deteriorating health had forced him to return last fall to his parents' home in Newark, N.J., from Europe where he was a top attraction.
Influenced by both Clifford Brown and Freddie Hubbard, Shaw was considered Hubbard's successor in the 1970s as the leading practitioner of his instrument.
Leonard Feather, in his "Encyclopedia of Jazz," notes that Shaw--who headed a quintet--had become more personal in his playing and had moved away from chords into "a controlled freedom."
"After two choruses I get tired of playing the changes, and I think that's the difference in today's music and, say, 10 years ago," Shaw said in 1972. "I like to superimpose harmonically. I like to play it deliberately in another key and resolve it."
Shaw played with most of the giants of modern jazz, including Eric Dolphy, McCoy Tyner, Horace Silver, Dexter Gordon, Archie Shepp, Lionel Hampton, Jackie McLean, Hank Mobley and Booker Ervin. The Shaw discography includes more than a dozen albums.
Before falling ill last year, Shaw had been living in Bern, Switzerland, and in Amsterdam, teaching at several jazz schools and touring with various jazz bands in Europe, most recently the Paris Reunion Band last summer.
Alto saxophonist Bobby Watson, who shared the bandstand with Shaw during their years as sidemen with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, said Shaw had adjusted to the loss of his eyesight.
"The blindness didn't mean nothing to him," Watson said. "He has a photographic memory. He hears a piece of music one time and memorizes it."
Jazz producer George Wein said he felt some sense of relief that Shaw's troubles were over.
"That's a blessing," Wein said after Shaw's death. "The poor man was blind, the poor man was a narcotics addict, the poor man lost his arm. He had more tough luck than any human being I've ever known."