top of page

Prominent jazz journalist Scott Yanow's review of my upcoming 2nd release "180," on Origin Records; you can also find this review in the June, 2022 issue of LA Jazz Scene!

            Guitarist Shawn Purcell, who is based in the Washington DC area, worked with the U.S. Air Force’s The Airmen Of Note for 15 years and with the US Navy Band Commodores jazz ensemble. He has appeared on over 30 recordings including with his wife singer Darden Purcell, tenor-saxophonist Chip McNeill, and trombonist Ben Patterson. In 2019 he led his first album, Symmetricity, and the recent 180 (his debut for the Origin label) proves to be a giant step forward.

            For this consistently stimulating project which is mostly comprised of his originals, the guitarist leads a trio with organist Pat Bianchi and drummer Jason Tiemann. Darden Purcell makes three guest appearances while trombonist Patterson helps out on “Soul Blue.”

            Shawn Purcell begins the set by playing with great passion on the uptempo romp “Cat And Mouse.” There are also spots for Bianchi’s fluent organ and drummer Tiemann, making this an excellent introduction to the trio. There is plenty of variety to be heard throughout the set as is displayed on the augmented and extended blues “180” and the adventurous “Fond Illusion”; the latter has Purcell playing quite freely and with intensity over a groove.

            Darden Purcell contributes some warm and attracting singing to the standard “A Time For Love” before the trio digs into the cooking “ChickaD” which is a close relative of Miles Davis’ “Half Nelson.” “A Long Stroll” has a complex melody that almost sounds like someone talking, a mood and feeling that is continued throughout the organ and guitar solos. One of the set’s highpoints is the boppish but modern “Hoodang” which builds in momentum and excitement as it evolves. A contrast is offered on “LTG (Little Tori Girl”), a melodic and thoughtful piece that one could imagine being given lyrics. The rewarding program concludes with the funky “Window Games” (which contains some colorful drum breaks), the struttin’ medium-tempo blues “Soul Blue,” and the heated “Search And Destroy.”

            There are no slow moments on 180 or throwaway tunes, and the trio never coasts. Shawn Purcell is consistently inventive while altering his sound and approach depending on the song, always serving the music  With Bianchi contributing many colorful solos and the supportive Tiemann keeping the momentum flowing, 180 is an update on the classic organ trio. The result is an enjoyable outing (available from that is heartily recommended. - Scott Yanow




I’m thrilled to announce that beginning next week I will be a guest and doing spotlight features on “guitarists of note” 2-3 Thursday's per month at 7-10pm (Pacific Time), on the radio show "Jazz Tracks" with Michael Tanner, 7-10pm on KSQD, Santa Cruz. You can listen live and/or go to the archives at to check out the show anywhere in the world!


During these spotlights I will be discussing guitarists playing styles, technique, giving a bit of historical context, and providing 2 tunes to showcase the brilliance and artistry of each musician!


I plan on covering guitarists from the 1920s up to the present, and there are enough amazing players to keep me busy for years to come!







































Shawn's recent interview with Cindy and Bob Benedetto for their Benedetto Guitars Archives "In The Limelight" series. (Click Image)


"I can't find the words that convey the feelings that emerge from the presence of a great player. It happens once in a while and now is one of those times. Shawn Purcell has "layed it down" with "Symmetricity," a great album! Bravo my friend!" 

- Pat Martino 


"With this collection of originals played by a group of great musicians, Shawn Purcell shows his mastery and maturity as player and composer of the highest level. The tunes are varied and very well crafted, and Shawn shows his great range as a guitarist. This is a beautiful collection of musical stories!!" 

- Peter Bernstein 


"...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 

“Shawn Purcell is an exciting and fresh addition to the modern Jazz guitar scene. On his new recording “Symmetricity" Shawn shows through his playing and writing he is definitely someone to watch!"

- Dave Stryker


"After listening to Shawn's recording, there is a feeling of peace that fills my soul. The peace comes from the outstanding compositions that were written and the high level playing and maturity from each player, especially Shawn. This is a recording that's easy to put on repeat and fill your soul."

- Terell Stafford


"Symmetricity is a really outstanding jazz recording by guitarist Shawn Purcell who I’m sure will be recognized soon as one of the top jazz players in the world." 

- Steve Masakowski 

“This debut recording by Shawn Purcell is long overdue. It’s obvious that Shawn has put in his time and this set showcases his fluid and adventurous playing along with a well-honed and personal compositional approach. A thoroughly enjoyable listen!" 

- John Hart


“Shawn Purcell's first recording under his own name is nothing less that spectacular in both his world-class guitar performing and its compositional merit. I have known Shawn as a stellar performer as a guitarist for quite some time (having recorded with him before) and every time I hear him it is a pure joy! This latest recording, "Symmetricity" is sure to be a sought after recording by all jazz enthusiasts and musicians alike! The playing is amazing and the compositional depth of Shawn's originals is captivating. I hope all of you enjoy the incredible talent displayed by Shawn et al, on “Symmetricity!!" 

- Chip McNeill

"Shawn Purcell’s latest musical offering once again confirms his absolute mastery of the guitar, his signature style and the total command of jazz language. His style is personal and engaging with a quiet intensity. Shawn’s brilliance as a composer and guitarist shines masterfully on each of the albums tracks. You will thoroughly enjoy this recording!" 

- Steve Allee


“I checked out “Norm’s View" right away. SLAMMIN!! Sounds like Mike Stern meets Brookmeyer! Brilliant man." 

- Steve Wiest

"You're Burning" 

- Jerry Bergonzi

“His lines are flowing as he weaves between the harmonic foundation, each idea building into the next in a fluid rhythmic swing feel.” - All About Jazz


“Purcell's solo is a playful game of chromatic lines and catchy blues riffs, both combining to show his mastery of building a musical improvisation that is filled with the rich sounds of jazz history and modern sensibilities.” - All About Jazz


“His originals are smartly written and sing with interesting harmonic complexities, while still keeping things musical and flowing. Purcell is not just a technician with his playing, he gets into the marrow of a song and puts forth stunning performances to illuminate his idea.” - 5 Finger Review


“…on his new album, Symmetricity, he (Purcell) goes full speed ahead and creates an exciting sound that bounces from genre to genre. Jazz guitarists aren’t known for shredding, but that’s such an apt description for what’s going on here with Purcell’s fingers skittering over the fretboard with heat and energy and sweat.” - The Vinyl Anachronist (Part-Time Audiophile)


“Shawn Purcell's compositions and arrangements are as stimulating as his thoughtful, imaginative, and ardent guitar playing. With his terrific band, "Symmetricity" is Purcell's outstanding, if long overdue, debut.” - In a Blue Mood (Ron Weinstock)


“A high octane kind of player that has hand picked a crew that is in the right church and the right pew, this is a solid dose of classic New York jazz where anything can happen and usually does. A wonderful wild ride.” - Midwest Record

"...Folks - you are not going to believe how hip his playing is..."Missed It By an Inch" is one of the coolest jazz guitar originals I have ever heard...

- Contemporary Fusion Reviews (Dick Metcalf)

"Purcell’s solo on “Gaffe” (Steve Fidyk - "Allied Forces" Posi-Tone Records) is standout for such fluid, confident guitar lines."

- Something Else Reviews (S. Victor Aaron)


"Guitarist Shawn Purcell performs with a slippery yet sharply electric tone. His compositions veer towards fusion but holds a strong bop sensibility." 

- Jackson Sinnenberg (CapitalBop)


"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." 



"Shawn Purcell debuted his new recording last night at DC's Blues Alley.  While Shawn's writing and playing are truly remarkable, the musicians he invited to join him for this project created a band that is an awesome powerhouse.  The ensemble played two sets of similar content, showcasing seven of the 10 compositions on the album, plus a stunning performance of "Darn That Dream" by Darden Purcell.  This drew some of the strongest applause of the evening, and offered a master-class lesson in comping for a vocal from Shawn.  

In all respects, Shawn is a "monster player" and his chops were on full display last night.  His compositions range from the angular to the lyrical as does his playing, with turns of speed that simply cannot be followed.  His musical ideas are dazzling, both in terms of composition and improvisation.  His creativity - and his confidence in his band-mates - were especially on display with his use of high-velocity unison lines incorporating the tenor saxophone of Luis Hernandez and the vocals of Darden Purcell.

I was there for both sets.  While the virtuosity on display from beginning to end of this evening was uniformly brilliant, it is sometimes that case for some bands that a second set of the same material can be perhaps a bit more perfunctory.  It was not so with this band!  The musicians each dug deeper, coming up with more ideas, more swing and more funk.  If anything, the second set was more thrilling than the first.  This was especially on display in each musician's solo on the piece from which the album's title is drawn, "Symmetricity in the Linear Evolution."  While it took a hint dropped by monster bassist Regan Brough in an overheard conversation between sets for me to realize it, this piece is a contrafact on "rhythm changes."  Some deeper listening during the second set showed me what I feel is the brilliance of this piece and the depth of understanding of all the band members, especially as their solos added even more in content and intensity to the already high bar they had set during the first show.  Pianist Todd Simon was irrepressible, building energy chorus after chorus.  Drummer Stockton Helbing, especially in dialog with Regan Brough, was riveting.  Each musician's ideas combined with playing that was on fire established this piece as a musical milestone for me as a listener and as a student of this music.  While this album is a great listen, I sincerely hope that more people get the chance to hear this band live.  They are astounding."  - Jerry Bresee (jazz guitarist in the Washington, D.C. region)

In a Blue Mood / Jazz Blues Magazine 

by Ron Weinstock 

The Midwest Record

by editor and publisher, Chris Spector

For a cat that played for the Air Force band for 15 years, this jazzbo guitarist has certainly emerged as a cat that's not afraid to color outside the lines in his quest for the eternal groove. A high octane kind of player that has hand picked a crew that is in the right church and the right pew, this is a solid dose of classic New York jazz where anything can happen and usually does. A wonderful wild ride. (Armored 8059)

The Rootsville, Blues, Jazz and Roots Info

by the European Jazz Union



The News-Gazette

"Former Air Force musicians spreading wings in C-U"

by Melissa Merli


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 Purcell's 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 Purcell's 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."'


Tennessee Jazz and Blues Society

by Courtenay Shipley


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.

Screen Shot 2021-01-16 at 4.22.43 PM.png
bottom of page