Songwriters Showcase March 2008

VOCAL’s 200th consecutive showcase took place on March 24, 2008.  No one was better suited to carry VOCAL across this monumental milestone than someone who’s been with the organization most of those years and has his own great catalogue of original music spanning jazz, rock and country.  The songwriter who fit the bill for such an important night in VOCAL history was Gary Shaver!

We want to take a moment to thank Richbrau’s TapHouse grill for hosting VOCAL for three years!  Every third Monday of the month, VOCAL performers present a night of original live music from the artist who wrote the songs.  The TapHouse is a great place for good food, fine home brewed beverages and the company of great people.  It’s a fun, relaxed atmosphere at the Showcase - come join us!!

Before we cover all the events for the 200th showcase, let’s take a moment to learn about the evening’s special guest and musical director for the evening.  Gary was kind enough to honor a request for a bio, which is re-printed in the following paragraphs.

Gary was born in Woodstock ( that's Virginia, not the rock festival ! ) and grew up in the Greater Richmond area. A 1977 graduate of Thomas Dale HS, he began his songwriting journey with longtime friends and VOCAL members Jim Uzel and Frank Lucas. After studying music at East Carolina University for a 2 year period, Gary returned home to finish at Virginia Commonwealth University, graduating with a BME degree in 1983. While at VCU, he was a member of Doug Richards' (first) JAZZ ORCHESTRA 1 from 1979-1982. During this time, the band received a DOWNBEAT jazz magazine Student Recording Award for its album THE TATTOOED BRIDE, while Gary received an Outstanding Soloist Award from the Notre Dame Jazz Festival. In between the music studies at both colleges, Gary found time to study in the Business Department at VCU, and obtained his Virginia Real Estate Commission salesman's license at the age of twenty!

Gary discovered VOCAL in 1989, and took the Grand Prize in its songwriting contest in both 1989 and 1990. In 1991, he was selected as VOCAL Songwriter of the Year. Gary would go on to serve two terms as president of the organization, planning and overseeing the 10th and 20th anniversary celebrations held in 1996 and 2006. Also during this time, he held down a position on the University of Richmond music faculty, teaching saxophone and woodwind classes.

After racking up countless lessons with hundreds of students since 1981, Gary finally retired from private teaching in 2008. However, he still takes the stage with the 10 piece variety act SPECTRUM, which he has lead since 1985. SPECTRUM has one album to its credit, PLAY THE GAME, and a follow-up is in the planning stages.

Today, Gary is employed by Chesterfield County Public Schools. He is registered as a writer with BMI and is a Life Member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity.

With all of Gary’s credentials as a teacher, musician and honored member of VOCAL, it’s no wonder the evening was an amazing tribute to original music from beginning to end.  Gary saluted VOCAL’s milestone showcase with a HUGE jazz blowout in the first set, including the full horn section, piano, drums, guitar and bass!  A complete set of original jazz included Gary’s compositions ‘Razor Sharp’, ‘Close Shave’, ‘Blades Groove’ (a double time swing), ‘Say What’ (16 bar blues) and ‘Enough is Enough’.  The band included members of Spectrum and special guests from the Richmond music community – Bob Buntin, Allen Cole, Anthony Dowd, Mike Holland, Bob Miller, Ross Riddell and Joe Scott.  The songs date from 1977 through 1990.

The jazz combo blew the roof off the TapHouse, with high energy sounds, alternating solos from each musician and dynamic, tight performances.  With emphasis on the ‘composer’ facet of the Virginia Organization of Composers and Lyricists, each song was an instrumental journey and a spotlight on the skill and craftsmanship of a highly talented, multi-dimensional Virginia composer.  While each song was a finely constructed work of thoughtfully written melodies and riffs, Gary left plenty of room for improvisation as the songs unfolded.

Utilizing all of his knowledge as a student of musical theory, composition and popular technique, Gary composes in many styles of music and writes out the charts for his compositions.  Gary has also performed on stage with most every musician who has been a regular VOCAL performer and I can’t imagine how many other artists he has performed with in the Richmond area.

In Gary’s second set, the spotlight shifted to the ‘lyricist’ aspect of VOCAL.  With a selection of great ballads and reflective love songs, Gary demonstrated the careful craftsmanship that makes for a well written song.  Gary’s own piano work served to accompany his vocal melodies.  The vocal duties rotated between Gary and his Spectrum lead singer Marilyn Miller.

The song selection covered the trials of love and romance.  ‘Tellin’ Me Goodbye’ is about someone who deliberately sabotages the romance because of personal problems that they can’t get past.  ‘I Stand Amazed’ is a ¾ time song from 2005 that speaks to the power of love to lift up your spirits.

Marilyn Miller brought a brilliant, warm vocal quality to ‘Without Love’ and ‘We Don’t Matter Anymore’.  Gary penned ‘Without Love’ while waiting on a tardy music student to show up for class at University of Richmond in 1997.  ‘We Don’t Matter Anymore’ from 2001, describes a common lovers’ mystery where a relationship starts out strong, but for some unknown reason, the love turns sour.

Gary illustrates the magical power of a smile with ‘Your Smile’ from 2005, an uplifting song that describes the comfort and soul stirring emotions that can arise from a lover’s smile.  Gary also performed ‘Words on a Page’ and a favorite of mine ‘Burn’.

Thanks to Gary for providing program notes, and making VOCAL’s 200th truly a night to remember.

We would also like to thank others who make each showcase a success.  Thanks goes out to Larry Cody who prints the showcase table tent cards each month, John Ellis for organizing performers and providing sound services, and Matthew Costello for promoting the Showcase on the VOCAL website.  Matthew and Matt Manion share photographer duties and Matthew incorporates the photographs into VOCAL’s web page.  Thanks to all who show up for the music and our membership for their continued support.  We look forward to 200 more showcases!  See you next month!

- John Ellis