Even though illness forced jazz band instructor Roger Shew to quit teaching in Laguna Beach months earlier, his high school students wanted to uphold the good-luck ritual he started of sharing a dinner at the Spaghetti Factory together before a competition. As a measure of their devotion, students instead brought the meal to him, sharing pasta with Shew at his home prior to their graduation in June, a band parent said this week.
Now, many in the Laguna Beach school and music community together are sharing a different emotion, grieving over the death of the beloved teacher, who lost his fight against a rare form of cancer.
“This morning, the world lost the greatest husband, father, son, musician, teacher, jokester, and friend,” Roger Shew’s wife, Jamie, said in a post Tuesday, Aug. 30. “I love you, Roger Shew. You were my everything for the last 20 years.”
More than 400 fans contributed over $56,000 in recent days to a Go-Fund me campaign established for Shew by a former LBHS student, Aaron Alcouloumre. Funds intended for medical costs will now provide some financial support to Shew’s widow and their 9-year-old son Simon, who live in Fullerton. The funding goal remains $100,000, the site says.
“We would like to express our love and thanks to the Laguna Beach community and GoFundMe contributors,” Jamie Shew wrote. “We are extremely grateful to all these friends and family members for their overwhelming support. Thank you all for making us feel so appreciated and loved.”
“If there was anyone that deserved a miracle, it was Roger,” said Karen Kanner, president of a high school parent music booster group who described the take-out dinner at Shew’s home.
Kanner, a volunteer who collaborated with Shew over his 12 years as a part time middle school and high school instructor in Laguna, described him as funny, easy going, and humble. “He was easy to be around; easy to love. But I loved Roger most for what he gave my kids and all the kids he taught. Roger gave the kids confidence, not just in their abilities to play music, but it was something they carried away with them in their life.
“They knew they were safe with him. He had taught them well, he believed in them, and if they failed, he would never hold it against them. That gave them the ability to play their hearts out and to play their best – not for the glory of the prize, but for the love of a man who gave them encouragement and respect.”
For many jazz students, their school day continued non-stop with afterschool sports, but few would consider skipping Shew’s 6:30 p.m. class, said Kanner, who packed her sons extra peanut butter sandwiches for Mondays and Wednesdays jazz band rehearsal.
Caden Robinson, a trumpeter who graduated from LBHS in 2011, remembered a rehearsal when Shew gave away the cliffhanger ending of the television show, “Lost.” Robinson hadn’t seen the finale. “In a stupid knee-jerk reaction, I flipped him off. Instead of punishing or telling me to get out of the classroom, he just paused for a second in shock then stated, ‘Okay, I deserved that’.”
“This is what made Mr. Shew so special,” said Robinson, who graduated this spring from Washington University in St. Louis. “He treated everyone in jazz band with a level of respect unknown to students in middle school and high school. I consider him more than a teacher, but a professor and friend. Rest in peace.”
Shew, in his early 40s, also taught at Fullerton College and Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, and performed professionally, playing stand-up bass with his own bands, Club Django and Bug, often accompanied by his wife, a jazz vocalist.
“Roger was always about making great music and sharing his gift with others,” said trumpeter Bijon Watson, artistic director for Laguna Beach Live!, a jazz and chamber music presenter. “As an educator, he was always exceptionally patient and caring. On the all too few occasions that I performed with him, he always made the experience joyful ones. He will truly be missed.”
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In August 2013, Shew was named a California All-Star Teacher, recognizing instructors who promote student success, innovate in the classroom, build relationships with parents and staff and foster a sense of community. Two former LBHS students nominated him for the honor.
Parent Tom Fay, whose two sons benefited from Shew’s instruction, described him as “cool, laid back, fun and giving.” But he also made extraordinary efforts, such as pursuing performance opportunities for students at Carnegie Hall in New York, Fay said. Shew also arranged professional recording sessions for the student musicians.
As a teen, Shew had chemotherapy to fight non Hodgkin lymphoma, said Kanner. His doctors told him they believed the treatment could have triggered the rare cancer, Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumors, which manifested late last year when a tumor appeared in his neck, Kanner said. While test results from a biopsy were benign, by January the cancer had spread, she said. Shew underwent three major surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and was seeking immunotherapy, the Go Fund Me site says.
Shew remained upbeat and positive throughout the cancer treatments, telling students when he took a six-week break for surgery, ” ‘I’m coming back to teach, I just need to get through this’,” Kanner said.
Counselors met with LBHS band students this week and will be available to support students or staff struggling with this loss when school officially begins Tuesday, Sept. 6, Principal Chris Herzfeld said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, including his wife and young son.”
Funeral arrangements for Shew are pending, Kanner said.
Sharing a Shewbox of Memories
Compiled by Marilynn Young
The death of musician and jazz instructor Roger Shew elicited a flood of condolences and recollections about him on social media and in inboxes. Here are a few. Please feel free to add one of your own.
“Roger Shew, you were one of the greatest influences in my life. These past eight years you were not just a teacher or mentor to me, but a true friend. You taught me what it was to love music, something that is so deeply ingrained in who I am that I cannot begin to imagine where I would be in the world right now if I had not been lucky enough to have known you. Your kindness and love towards me will forever be held in my heart, and I will always work to project the goodness you taught me onto others. It pains me to know that you have passed away, but you will always live on through me and the endless people who were blessed to have known you.” –Aaron Alcouloumre, LBHS student
“I found out this morning that my friend and colleague Roger Shew passed away this morning. I’m devastated. I had the privilege of sharing a classroom with him, I taught band and strings and he taught jazz after school. I value the time that I got to spend with him and can’t quite process that I’ll be starting a school year without him here at TMS. He was a tremendous teacher, musician and person. He greatly influenced my way of teaching.” — Jon Mann, Thurston Middle School band/strings teacher
“From the first musical note Roger Shew struck, the whole audience sat up and leaned forward; he had their attention. He had all the mannerisms of a true jazz performer. He brought out the best musically and humanely in everyone. Tragedy has struck. It’s a tragedy for music and education.” — Carol Reynolds, co-founder of the Laguna Concert Band and retired music educator.
“I have never been one to express myself on social media about the passing of souls, but this one hurts me deeply. I met my musical friend, Roger Shew around 12 or 13 years ago through Dave Goldberg and Duane Allen. We would get together at Dave’s place in the late morning to early afternoons on many occasions and just play thru Real Book tunes.
“Upon first meeting Roger, I immediately got the sense that he was a kind and gentle soul and so I wasn’t surprised when our first bar of music played together felt like a well-worn, broken in baseball glove. It is a special thing when you meet someone and play music with them and everything feels good and right. Roger made it extremely easy to play and took the fear out of any apprehensions I had toward my own abilities by giving me encouragement and confidence. But he did that with everyone. He was just that way. He was a positive light. He was a happy person. He was a giving person. He was a gentle soul and he liked to laugh. He had my kind of humor and he made me laugh.
“Making music with others is a very intimate thing that is hard to describe to some. Trust is a key element, and Roger had mine completely.
“I am heartbroken and devastated over his loss. Cancer should happen to nobody, and to happen to a soul as kind and gentle and caring as Roger is more than a crime. Can we please, dear God, release the cure?
“During this painful transition, my heart and prayers and healing thoughts go out to you, Jamie Shew and Simon, and to all of his family and close friends… we mourn together.
“I have never seen a more courageous and strong individual than Roger ever in my entire life. His battle was real and he fought hard and was strong for everyone around him even though he didn’t need to be.
“Upon seeing him for the last time on Saturday, he made me feel that everything was going to be okay, but I didn’t want to believe that it was nearing the end and that this was really happening to him. I couldn’t say goodbye.
“I told him I would see him soon and that I would send him some music that we recorded together and that he hadn’t yet heard. I couldn’t bring myself to send it to him because of the title of the song and the lyrical content within it.
“But I want to share it now along with other recordings over the years with Roger. His music he has given to us will live on and I want to remember him as the brilliant musician he was. I want to remember his infectious laugh and generous spirit.
“I want to remember all the times on stage I had with him when it was time for one of us to take a solo and we would glance at each other and he would motion to me to go for it and I would look back at him to motion ‘no, you take it’, but he would shake his head, smile, and gently insist on giving the space to me. He was that kind of player and that kind of person. I love you and will miss you deeply, Roger Shew. I am certain we shall meet again, my friend.” — Evan Stone, musician and band mate. Listen to their session.
“Sin palabras. Roughly translated as without words, or speechless. This was the title of a gentle samba tune we worked through with Roger during one season of cerulean after-hours, once the terraced concrete grounds of our high school had drained of most students and faculty. I recall the strange synthetic green light emanating from the overheads, our friends in collaborative performance who over the years had developed into kin, and a sprite-like and serene energy moving from section to section, to land equalized with our power as players, in the conductor’s spot, swaying to the groove from waist or shoulders, eyes closed.
“Often spilling some taboo innuendo from jazz’s history while beaming with a zen energy, you unfailingly left me mystified and yet at peace. This kind of nurture might be integral for a high school kid eeking by awash in confusion; I wouldn’t have survived without your example.
“I received the news of Roger’s cancer just days before news of his death; that sin palabras came immediately to mind seems, conceptually, both an appropriate response and a disturbingly insufficient one. Through the wordless language of sound, careful listening, and repetitive counting through beats and time changes which eventually turned meditative, we learned with Roger how openness, generosity, and patience transcend hieroglyphics – they become ethical spaces, elemental for both a tight ensemble, and robust community of the self. And also through speaking, sharing ideas, being heard, we all met as people and cultural actors in play, in heartbreak, in various states of crises, at crossroads, in celebration, in honesty.” – trumpet player Jahni Randhawa, LBHS class 2009, graduated from Sarah Lawrence College and is the performance coordinator at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater in New York and co-head of Killing Fields Journal of Arts+Letters.
“Such sad news! Roger was “instrumental” in the beginning of Laguna Beach Live!’s Jazz Wednesdays. He performed in our inaugural season with his Club Django band and after that with his quintet featuring his wife Jamie. Behind the scenes he helped to facilitate opportunities for his students with our visiting artists and always made time to discuss ideas to improve education for the kids.” — Cindy Prewitt, president of Laguna Beach Live!, presenter of jazz and chamber music.
“What was special about Mr. Shew was that his love for the music found its way into all his students. Before jazz band we were taught to just follow the notes. But Mr. Shew taught us that music could contain a lot more. It could contain a piece of yourself whenever you play. Through the music and his teaching he could spread the love and happiness in his heart. He pushed us to achieve more and to express more: to put more of ourselves into not just the music, but everything we did.
“He will be greatly missed: the world has lost a wonderful person and excellent musician too soon.” — Alex LeBon, LBHS student 2011
“As a parent, I only got to see the result of Mr. Shew’s talent. Not only how they played their instruments, but by how he treated our kids with such respect and enthusiasm for music. This in turn reflected on each student by reciprocating the same respect and enthusiasm to him and to music.
He was definitely (by far) my favorite teacher that Alex had at LBHS. And Alex had a lot of great teachers.” – Leslie LeBon, parent.