Jazz Insights: Oliver Shaw

Oliver Shaw was believed to be America’s first musical composer. He was born in Newport in 1779 (long before the Civil War). Following a childhood accident, and a bout with Yellow Fever, he became totally blind. Yet, he studied with the noted organist John Berhonhead and later with veteran society pianist Gottilieb Grauper.

Oliver Shaw began his long career in Boston and eventually returned to Providence. He wrote five volumes of his own music. It included all kinds of rhythm of that era. Much of his music was upbeat. Oliver wrote famous marches, waltzes and Polish polkas, which highlighted his career. His sacred music touched modern-day religious music, which eventually became incorporated into jazz.

He passed away late in 1848, and many of his original compositions are still played today.