Wally Shoup (1944-2024)


Wally Shoup photo by Shirley Wong


Influential saxophonist, bandleader, painter, and writer Wally Shoup passed away peacefully on March 5 in Seattle after a long illness. For decades, Shoup was a leading advocate of free improvisation and a mentor by example to scores of musicians spanning generations in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

Born in North Carolina in 1944, Shoup experienced an epiphany after being exposed to free jazz and psychedelic rock as a young man living in Atlanta. He henceforth devoted himself to music, inspired initially by the free jazz of John Coltrane and other African-American musicians and later by the non-idiomatic free improvisation emerging from Europe and Britain, in particular. A self-taught alto saxophonist, he participated in improvised music circles in Birmingham, Alabama, and in Colorado and Los Angeles, before moving to Seattle permanently in 1985.

During his time in Seattle, Shoup led or participated in numerous cutting-edge groups including the New Art Orchestra, Catabatics, Pulsation Crew, Project W, Stackpole, Ghidra, Subduction Zone, Spider Trio, Lost Valentine, Sych, and his Deep Lounge Quartet, plus other regular duo, trio, and quartet formations such as his Campbell Shoup duo with percussionist Greg Campbell. He performed and toured throughout the U.S. and in England, Europe, and Canada in collaboration with such leading lights as Wilco’s Nels Cline, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Davey Williams, Toshi Makihara, and Chris Corsano. He was keenly interested in cross-discipline collaboration and frequently performed with dancers and spoken-word artists. He appeared on more than 30 recordings.

In 2009, Shoup was listed among Seattle Metropolitan Magazine’s 50 Most Influential Musicians in the city’s history, and in 2018, he was inducted into Earshot’s Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame. He was instrumental in co-founding the Seattle Improvised Music Festival, which grew into the world’s longest-running event focused on freely improvised music (now on hiatus after 35 years). He also provided opportunities for countless musicians as organizer of the Other Sounds concert series and similar events. He was a prolific commentator on improvised and other music in The Improvisor, Perfect Sound Forever, and other publications. A collection of his writings, Music as Adventure, was published by Nine Muses Books in 2011.

Wally Shoup will long be remembered for his passionate playing, wry humor, and acute observations on music and the human condition. He is survived by his partner Shirley Wong and his daughter Laney Shoup. A three-day memorial celebration featuring dozens of his former collaborators will take place August 23-25 at The Royal Room, Chapel Performance Space, and Gallery 1412.



Posted on

March 26, 2024