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Beaufort trumpeter finds music, friends and his fate playing the Big Band sound

Jeff Shawd gets into the swing of things at a recent gig.
Jeff Shawd gets into the swing of things at a recent gig. Submitted photo

It’s a good thing for Lowcountry listeners that trumpeter Jeff Shawd’s doctor was wrong.

As an asthmatic child, Shawd was told by his physician to learn to swim or to play a wind instrument, “but you’ll never be good at either.” Now, decades later, Shawd finds himself squarely in the middle of a post-retirement career as a bandleader for the Evolution Big Band, a local jazz band that almost exclusively performs — without pay — on behalf of charities.

“I had no clue I’d be this busy,” said Shawd. “None of this was ever planned.”

What is planned, however, is a concert by Evolution next week that features contemporary spins on jazz classics benefiting the Beaufort Arts Council, of which Shawd is also the current chair. It’s part of Shawd’s mission to help expand awareness of the BAC beyond just an advocacy group for the visual arts.

Not bad for guy from small-town Iowa who’s been playing the trumpet since that fateful, early childhood visit to the doctor’s office. Back then, he learned to play his instrument as part of a school band that played jazz out of necessity since they didn’t have enough members for a full showcase band.

Shawd — his lungs fully expanded — played his way into the high school band by the time he was in the seventh grade. He was also quarterback of the football team, watching his teammates enter the locker room at halftime while he grabbed his instrument to play in the band performance midfield.

“I just tend to jump into those lead roles when I get the opportunity,” he said.

By his senior year, his band had won a state competition and he had earned a scholarship to Drake University. While there, however, he discovered a predilection for business, and after graduation, spent years in the corporate world working for monoliths like Wells Fargo, DuPont and General Electric.

He never lost his lip, however, and put it to use again when he and his family made the move here several years ago.

After sitting in with a small group, he started getting calls asking him to join the larger ensemble. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of calendar dates in his role as co-director and lead trumpeter of Evolution.

“I live in a golf community and never even have time to golf,” said Shawd.

He does, however, get to spend his time around what he calls the “passionate, talented people” who make up the rest of the Evolution Big Band. Like him, most are retirees who get together once a week for full rehearsals, a time Shaws finds both “challenging and gratifying.”

The band not only helps local charities with fundraising events, but the brass and strings and keys and percussion join forces in a swinging, harmonious blend to help spread the love of Big Band music. You know — the kind played by Glenn Miller and Jimmy Dorsey and other bands you hear only on scattered public radio stations at odd hours.

You’ll have your chance to pick out the standard melodies — some in newer arrangements— for $25 a ticket at the Technical College of the Lowcountry at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21.

After all, it’s those audience reactions — when someone claps or dances along to a recognizable tune within a contemporary format — that Shawd seeks. It’s the kind he probably never thought he’d still be able to get when he was wearing a suit and tie every day in corporate America.

At the very least, he’s probably breathing easier these days.

“Fate has a way of connecting you to your purpose.” said Shawd. “I don’t know that it gets much better.”