The Dick Shearer Legacy

A man, his music, and his times

Trombonist Extraordinaire

A lifetime of performance

Dick Shearer (1940-1997) was widely recognized throughout the world as the lead trombonist for the Stan Kenton Orchestra during much of the 1960’s and ’70’s.

Besides being a featured soloist, Dick held a number of other positions in the Kenton Organization during his association with Stan.

He acted as Assistant Director, leading the orchestra when Stan was away. He fronted the group at major jazz festivals including the Newport, Monterrey, and Concord.

For many years, he was the band’s road manager, hiring musicians, doing payroll and producing three albums for Kenton. Dick also conducted over 600 of Kenton’s “Jazz Orchestra-in-Residence” programs that were held in high schools and colleges across the United States.

He was recognized in “the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz”, the “Encyclopedia of Jazz in the 1970’s”, and was once ranked as one of the world’s top ten trombonists in the “DownBeat” readers poll.

Performing Music was his passion

He began playing trombone at the age of 13 in Southern California. He progressed rapidly in his skills and by the age of 18 in 1958 Dick began playing professionally in the Los Angeles area.

During the next 8 years, Dick had the good fortune of being able to play with such greats as Perez Prado, Si Zentner, Tex Beneke, Louie Bellson, Claude Gordon and Jerry Gray. He performed with the Righteous Brothers and was recorded on their hits “Unchained Melody” and “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling”. He even played with the Hanna Barbera studio orchestra.

The partial list of major popular artists that he performed with during the 1960’s and 70’s is extensive including such well know names as:

Frankie Avalon, Pearl Bailey, Tony Bennett, James Darren, Phyllis Diller, Ella Fitzgerald, Jerry Lewis, Lou Rawls, the Four Freshmen and Mort Sahl.

A few of the many famous Jazz performers he worked with included:

Cat Anderson, Charlie Barnett, Buddy DeFranco, Don Ellis,  Maynard Ferguson, Mel Lewis, Vido Musso, Buddy Rich, Clark Terry, Mike Vax and Bill Waltrous.

“Dickus” & Stan Kenton

To say that Dick Shearer was close to Stan Kenton would be an understatement. “Dickus”, as he was affectionately known in the band, was enamored by the music of Stan Kenton from his earliest days of playing trombone. He made it a life long dream to play with the famous band leader; a dream that became his life’s greatest work.  He achieved his goal, joining the Kenton organization in 1966. Over the years, Dick and Stan would sit for hours on the band’s long bus rides across the country, planing gigs,  sharing stores, and drinking their share of the booze de jour.  Mike Vax, another famous Kenton Alumni, has been quoted as saying, “Dick Shearer was the most important person on the band. I think that Stan felt about him like a son…the way Dick played trombone, that was the Kenton sound. Dick’s trombone was derivative of all the great Kenton lead players, going all the way back to Kai Winding. But sometimes the person who’s the end of a legacy becomes the culmination of the legacy, so I think Dick was the greatest lead trombone player of them all.”

Dick Shearer was featured on over 20 Kenton Albums and even served as producer for three of them, “Live at Redlands”, “Birthday in Britain”, and “Live in Europe”.

To get a flavor for this period of his life, watch this excerpt from “Bound to be Heard” a CBS Documentary from 1968 that chronicled one of those long bus tours.

When Stan Kenton passed away August 25th 1979,  the music world paused to remember the great band leader. 

On Sunday evening, August 26th, 1979, Dick Shearer was a guest on the David Newman Radio Show on WXYZ 1270 AM in Detroit Michigan. Together they spent the better part of an hour reminiscing with call in listeners about Stan Kenton and the band.

In Dick’s collection was a contemporaneously over-the-air recording of that interview presented here as a fascinating time capsule of that moment in time, including some vintage commercials. The recording begins towards the end of David Newman playing the classic Kenton track “This is an Orchestra“. Please enjoy by clicking the play button.

A legacy of great performances…

After the Kenton Era, Dick was involved in a number of projects. He moved to the Midwest, leading his own group in Detroit, performing with the Detroit Symphony, and Dearborn Community Jazz Orchestra. While in Michigan, Dick served as the director of Jazz Lab Bands at Wayne State, taking them to the prestigious Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland . He was also a Clinician for King Musical Instruments for a number of years during this period.

Returning to L.A. in 1982, he formed the Dick Shearer Big Band performing through southern California. During this time he also worked with Paul Cacia as Music Director, performing and assisting with two albums and several live concerts.

In 1990, He moved to Oregon as his new home base. He released his own album “Dick Shearer and his Stan Kenton Spirits” in 1992.

He continued to teach, leading the Mt Hood Community College Jazz band for a year,  and performing with the Mt Hood Pops Orchestra among others.

Beyond Oregon, he was often a conductor and soloist for Kenton Tribute concerts and numerous other groups including the US Navy Commodores.  He worked as Assistant Director of the Pacific Jazz Experience at the University of the Pacific. He continued to teach and perform as a guest soloist until his passing in 1997.

Its Been over 22 Years

since Dick’s passing. This tribute page in honor of Dick is here through his widow Cheri (now Cheri Redgrave, co-founder of Redgrave Creative Productions).

We are now pleased to share Dick’s personal Trombone Teaching Method book that he used with his students.  

In the future, we hope to share more of Dick’s legacy including perhaps,  some of his music arrangements,  photos and other items that may be of interest to his fans and music history buffs.  Stay tuned…