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"...Finally got to see you on youtube playing Mynabird are SMOKING!! Really great!!! Next time you're in nyc let's play some tunes!!!"   - Peter Bernstein 

"You're Burning"    - Jerry Bergonzi

"Impeccable phrasing, iron chops, solid time feel, and huge ears are what make Shawn's playing so ridiculously good! One of the finest guitarists I have ever had the pleasure of playing with, or for that matter, that I have heard."    - Scott Lerner

"...The Meters "People Say." The latter number was arranged by CJE's [Chicago Jazz Ensemble] guitarist Shawn Purcell and also resulted in a stunning drum solo by [Stanton] Moore. Purcell also demonstrated his ability to stroke the guitar with the best on this number. The crowd loved this highlight moment of the first set."    -

Click the link below for a great article on about The Chicago Jazz Ensemble's November 2010 performance with guests:  Saxophonist Donald Harrison, Drummer Stanton Moore, and Pianist Henry Butler.  I had the honor of subbing for guitarist Jeff Parker on this gig, and I also wrote some big band charts for the concert!

Former Air Force musicians spreading wings in C-U Most people have weird notions about military bands, say Shawn and Darden Purcell. They think of John Philip Sousa and marching music, and bass drums and bugles. Shawn, a guitarist, and Darden, a jazz vocalist, will tell you their experiences with the U.S. Air Force bands were quite different. Darden's main repertoire was pop-rock and jazz; Shawn's was jazz. The venues they played varied as they traveled the world as international ambassadors of music. Back in the States, they performed at monuments and museums in the Washington, D.C., area, where they were stationed, and at theaters and other venues nationwide. And they didn't have to live on base. "It was about as unmilitary as you can get," Shawn said. Darden and Shawn Purcell met as military musicians, and now they're at the University of Illinois School of Music. The two met in 1999 in a concert series featuring a number of Air Force bands. They later started dating and then married. They are now studying for advanced degrees at the University of Illinois School of Music and performing often at clubs in Champaign-Urbana. They have been well-received by listeners and fellow musicians alike. "They've contributed greatly to the scene because of Shawn's guitar abilities – he's extremely versatile and plays with several groups, bigger bands and trios and quartets," said Paul Wirth, owner of the Iron Post in Urbana. As for Darden, Wirth said she has a distinctive alto with a full range. "I like to say she could be the next Diana Krall," Wirth said. Darden, 33, attributes a lot of her musical growth to the Air Force because it forced her to quickly learn and perform music. One day she might have had to learn pop-rock tunes, with choreography, and the next day, big band songs. "The first gig I had was for the highest ranking officer in the Air Force," she said. "I'd been out of basic training for four weeks. I was told, 'Learn this music, get in your uniform and go over to his house.'" As soon as Shawn finished his basic training, he found himself in a studio recording an album with Airmen of Note, the top big band in the Air Force, considered the direct descendant of Glen Miller's Air Force band. Before joining the military, Shawn had an even more unusual musical experience: For two years the guitarist toured with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus band, after graduating from Duquesne University. "It was a unique gig for musicians, a really good job with a good salary and benefits," he said. "It was kind of strange being around the circus people and traveling two years straight, especially being only 21 at the time." As a circus musician, Shawn did nine shows a week, visiting 93 cities in two years. He burned out quickly, and six months after leaving the ring, he joined the Air Force. He stayed for eight years. Darden and Shawn met in 1999 and married three years later; the ceremony was conducted by a two-star general who is the chief chaplain of the Air Force. "Darden's father has friends in high places," Shawn said of Jon Safley, who as a pilot and career officer in the Air Force had followed in his father's footsteps. The week after their wedding, the Purcells were touring with Airmen of Note, for which Darden was the featured vocalist during her last six months in the military. "Our first honeymoon was on taxpayer expense," Shawn joked. That unofficial honeymoon and "creme de la creme" tour took them to San Diego, Palm Desert and other cities in California as well as Arizona and Nevada. With Airmen of Note, the Purcells also enjoyed a 21-day tour of the Middle East, performing on R&R bases for American soldiers and seeing parts of the world that most Americans never visit. Even though her father and grandfather had been in the Air Force, Darden enlisted at the suggestion of jazz vocalist Lisanne Lyons, her mentor/teacher at Virginia Tech. Lyons also had sung with Air Force bands and taught at Virginia Tech the same time Chip McNeill was there. Lyons and McNeill, now head of the UI Jazz Studies Program, have been influential in Darden's career. As for Shawn's musical influences, they were mainly familial. Both his grandfather and father were trombonists in the Navy band. Shawn's father, Randy Purcell, toured with Maynard Ferguson in the '70s and is on a couple of the jazz giant's best-known albums. While many musicians make the military a career, Shawn, now 36, and Darden are among the few to return to civilian life. They wanted a change of pace and to live in a big city. They chose Nashville, mainly because of its music scene and location somewhat close to their families. They stayed in Music City for three years and would have stayed longer if they hadn't decided to pursue advanced degrees. They moved to Champaign in August 2007. "We drove into town on a Wednesday and my first gig was on a Friday," Shawn said. "It was very promising." "The thing we really like is the musicians here are really nice to one another and support one another," Darden said. "It's interesting. Here, musicians come out to other musicians' gigs."'

Growing up, the entire side of my dad's family were professional musicians. My grandfather played trombone in The Pittsburgh Symphony for 20 years, my dad played trombone with Maynard Ferguson for 4 years, my aunt and uncle were both professional pianists. When I was 4, Mom and I went out with Dad for 10 months on the road with Maynard and the band, so I guess that was my first tour.  I peaked when I was 4!" So begins the story of Shawn Purcell, Pittsburgh, PA native, and his career as a talented jazz guitarist. Like most guitar players, he gravitated toward the garage rock bands around high school age and then branched out from there. He was active in the rock scene in Pittsburgh, playing professional gigs starting when he was 16. Most of Shawn's experience came playing with Late Edition, a fusion band, where he wrote almost all of the original material. "I picked guitar because I heard AC/DC. I started air guitar at age 10 to AC/DC and Led Zepplin, the typical. I never liked jazz until college though. In college I heard Jimmy Rainey and Michael Brecker and I thought 'this is cool!' Perhaps it clicked -- all of my dad's jazz records -- and I started to understand it all. At Duquesne I had some really great guitar teachers and being around and immersed in the Pittsburgh jazz scene at that time, which was still on the end of the fusion scene, was so great. The scene was very diverse with a fair amount of styles and players." Shawn had been ready to pursue "business major/pre-law/something like that" but it wasn't until he hooked up with Jim Frazier as a teacher during his senior year that he thought about music as a profession. "That's when the lights were starting to go on and I thought maybe [playing] is something I want to pursue as a lifelong career. He was the first non-family member that inspired me." Shawn earned his B.M. of Recording Arts and Sciences from Duquesne University (pronounced Du-kane for those not familiar with the home of Heinz Ketchup and the Steelers) and then ran away and joined the circus, literally. "Right when I graduated from Duquesne I joined Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus and spent two years traveling around 93 cities in the US. I grew a lot as a musician because it was any style of music you could think of thrown in. Plus, it was good travel experience and I got to meet people across the country while developing my chops." After his circus adventure, Shawn went back to Pittsburgh for 4 months and auditioned for the Airmen of Note, the premier jazz ensemble of the United States Air Force. He landed that gig and continued playing with them for seven and a half years. During this time, the group brought jazz and big band music to audiences throughout the world. (As a side note, I once heard a Russian violinist say that he had always wanted to be a musician because those were the lucky people who were granted permission to leave the country to travel and ultimately see the world. Times haven't changed much in 25 years as far as the ability to see and experience the world if you choose a career in music.) "My favorite place was Brugge, Belgium because the people there were so incredibly receptive and hospitable, the scenery was gorgeous, fantastic food, chocolate, was picture-perfect like out of a movie. Heidelberg, Germany was beautiful.  Mildenhall, England had great beer. England was the first place we discovered the cask beers. Along the way we got to play with a ton of big band jazz artists and festivals including the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, International Trumpet Guild in NY, Toronto Jazz Festival, International Association of Jazz Education when it was in New Orleans. Plus, I did a lot of freelancing. I went to NY to do gigs with Jeannie Bryson, Dizzy's daughter. While in DC, Frank Loesser ( If I Were a Bell) died while writing Signor Discretion Himself and his wife commissioned several writers to finish the show. I played in the world premier at the Arena Stage in Washington, DC." In May of 2004, Nashville was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of Shawn's moving van as he and his wife, Darden, a jazz vocalist, decided that Nashville had the best combination of being near family (LA was too far) and inexpensive living (compared to New York City). And boy are we lucky. Shawn just completed his Masters of Jazz Studies from MSTU, and will be teaching improvisation and jazz guitar this fall. In addition, he will be teaching commercial guitar at TSU and will continue to teach at the Nashville Jazz Workshop. As far as his playing, I cannot pay higher compliments. He has creative solos that are out of this world and Liz Johnson put it best when she said "[he's] a great human being, and an incredible musician with world class technique." Shawn said "I'd be most flattered to be compared to well, as a combo of Grant Green and Pat Martino, but with a little 'modern' thrown in." Hear Shawn on Ben Patterson's cd "The Prowl" available at What's next on your plate? "I'd like to start doing some more touring, but I want to continue playing locally because there are so many great players here I haven't gotten the chance to play with yet. After getting my masters to teach on the college level, I'm anxious to get back to playing on the road again and to teaching more. Plus, I want to keep composing. I most enjoy writing when I finally get to hear what I've put on paper played by real musicians. I'm surprised when things come alive -- what I thought I heard in my head and how it morphs into something I usually end up liking better when played live. Plus I get to cheat and write things I like to play on!" One of Shawn's works for big band was featured by the Nashville Jazz Orchestra during a composer's forum this summer that took place at The Blair School of Music. The NJO plans on having more of those concerts in the future, so get ready to hear local music! And lastly, I asked for a sound byte on the Nashville jazz scene. "We've got a good foundation here and I hope scene continues to grow. We have tons of great players, hopefully new clubs and new audiences will follow so musicians can get out and play in that style more often. There's a good sense of community and camaraderie especially. The biggest thing we need in Nashville is a venue where the John Scofields and other big artists of the world can play." You can see Shawn perform with Liz Johnson on Wednesday nights at F. Scott's . Shawn has also appeared on Live in Studio C and has been spotted playing with Bump City, a Tower of Power cover band. Coming soon, he will be on Chris West's (saxophone) solo album and Steve King's (keyboard for Keith Urban) cd. Speaking of, Chris West's cd release party where Shawn will be playing is at 9pm on August 30th at Mercy Lounge. You have another chance to see him at Caffeine on August 24th or at The Jazz Factory if you find yourself in Louisville, KY on August 25th or 26th with the Marcus Finnie Project. Find Shawn and more details on his upcoming performances on the web at or