Interview What’s Up: musician Ben Shaw releases his new album “Seven Songs”

In May 2019, I had a brief moment of uncertainty when I received an email from RI-based musician Ben Shaw. I knew Shaw as a saxophonist, but he shared his last single at the time, “Sailboats”, his first release as a “singer-songwriter”. With the click of a mouse, I heard a well-crafted tale in the American folk tradition worthy of repeated listening.

Upon careful examination, I discovered that Shaw was indeed branching out into acoustic guitar-based music by the singer-songwriter, having built his reputation as a jazz artist. A little surprising in the world of genre regimented music, but not unprecedented.

Of course, there are no rules – many popular artists are constantly exploring various musical styles. In Shaw’s case, he is not only a jazz musician and singer-songwriter, but he also composes classical music. “I try to stay busy,” he joked in a recent interview.

Fast forward to April 2022. Shaw finally releases his long-awaited album seven songs. On Thursday, April 7, he hosts an album release show at The Parlor in Providence. Joining him on stage will be his band featured on the album as well as opening sets from local favorites John Faraone and Allison Rose.

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How did it come to this?

“I started learning the saxophone when I was a kid,” Shaw explained, “because I needed to play an instrument in school and I was really drawn to the saxophone. It was my path to music, I didn’t play guitar at the time, I discovered jazz and developed a love and appreciation for jazz throughout my life.

Shaw composed jazz music in high school and entered the music program at the University of Rhode Island. But he always had very varied musical interests.

“A few years ago, I needed a new musical project,” Shaw explained. “I didn’t want to be limited to jazz, I wanted to talk about all these different ways.”

“I learned how to do that by picking up a guitar and teaching myself, learning chords and stuff, and I put out a few songs. That’s how I came up with ‘Between Leather and a Headlight,’ and from there it was just about writing songs and trying to learn.This song became a semi-finalist in the International Songwriting Competition.

Although Shaw is currently focusing on the singer-songwriter stage of his career, he is not giving up on other genres. “I will always continue to do some form of classical music and jazz. Jazz gave me everything about music, the process of learning and reviewing songs, listening to them and analyzing them,” he explained. But in terms of the practical nature of a career in music, I’ve always considered myself a singer-songwriter playing original music.

Shaw continued, “When I was a kid…one of the things I said I wanted to be was a rock and roll scientist. What I meant by that was experimenting with rock and roll in a weird way, I guess. The designation of singer-songwriter is so open that it means nothing more than that you are a person who sings and writes songs.

In many ways, Shaw is a work in progress, always evolving as a musician.

“Being seen as a jazz musician is something so intoxicating to me, something I want so desperately because jazz is America’s greatest cultural export. Being a jazz musician means you have conquered such a difficult and terrifying path. I think I’m into so many different things… I’m just gonna be me, I’m just gonna be whoever it is and be okay with it,” Shaw said.

He is looking forward to The Parlor show on April 7.

“It’s a collection of songs I’ve been working on over the last few years, I’m just happy to release it and play with the guys in the band, it should be a great night!”

For more on Ben Shaw, check out his website here.

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