Shirley - Piano Perspective
1. Someone To Watch Over Me
2. Love For Sale
3. Blue Moon
4. How High The Moon
5. I Can't Get Started With You
6. I Can't Give You Anything But Love
7. I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart
8. Makin' Whoopee
9. Lullaby Of Birdland
Collectable Jazz Classics
London Label #HAA 2002
To predict the future of an artist is sometimes a precarious
thing. I was in this position just a few short months ago
when I wrote the liner notes for Don Shirley's first album
"Tonal Expressions, Volume I." If I may quote myself, I
remember saying "Don Shirley plays the piano." I went on to
explain that this is not, as you might suppose, the least a
piano player can do but the most, especially when you listen
to the majority of what other so-called pianists are
attempting. But happily we are not involved here with
others-we are to hear more of the delightful and inventive
performances conceived by Don Shirley.
To be commercial, to
be accepted as a "selling artist" is to be desired most
naturally. Often it is done by forfeiting ones standards to
make the mass appeal. It is gratifying to note that the
phenomenal sale of the first album was made with no
concession to standards as envisioned by Don. I had the
happy experience of broadcasting the abum [sic] in its
premiere performance and the response from the first playing
was signal enough to me to be confident of Don Shirley's
success. In subsequent night club appearances, not only in
the New York area but also out of town, audiences were
delighted with the approach Don Shirley has to contemporary
Don's music is
singular but at the same time controversial. Invariably
people tend to classify, that is, what school of piano or
what style . . .and more popularly, is it jazz or classical.
You could say all of these things about Don Shirley and be
right. You could also be wrong. Where you classify someone
[sic] is not always a matter of fact but largely a matter of
personal taste. Don Shirley runs the well known gamut of
technique classical and jazz. His approach is both warm and
human, yet the brilliant touch he employs propels his music
away from the personal and into a much more dynamic and
thereby lasting effect. All of this I may have in my first
set of notes and perhaps in more articulate form, but I
might here be probing a little further into the kind of
pianist Don Shirley is and the center is least definitive.
Perhaps a word or
two regarding Don's extra activities might lend some stature
to this artist. Duke Ellington recently gave a concert at
Carnegie Hall. He wrote a piano concerto for Don to perform.
Don's performance of this concerto with the N.B.C. Symphony
of the Air was the high spot of the program. During the
winter season he made several television appearances, the
most interesting being "The Arthur Godfrey Show". Mr.
Godfrey was most kind to him. And it was his enthusiasm for
Don that got listener-viewers excited about him too.
Favorable reviews in the music journals enabled Don to climb
another notch but the one really big literary booster was
Esquire whose column length editorial on the artistry of
Shirley was another factor in presenting him to the music
All of the tunes in this
volume are standards--that is, established old favorites. As
you can appreciate, they offer a challenge to the artist and
his sense of invention. To make tunes like "Blue Moon", "I
Can't Get Started with You", and "I Let A Song Go Out of My
Heart" sound like they were never played before is quite a
problem for any musician. In these three tunes especially,
Don achieves a quiet sound that is as individual and
personal to him as the elongated face and neck is to a
Modigliani and equally as graceful.
Describe it any way you wish:
quiet sound, embroidery with fine needle, delicate etching,
or make something up yourself. I'm sure you will get the
same message. Listen to "Blue Moon" and you can feel the
aloneness, the blue quiet, the tranquility.
In "Someone to Watch
Over Me" which is taken at a very slow-moving tempo, Don
Shirley utilizes his knowledge of harmonics and overtones
with a delicate counterpoint. As in other selections,
Richard Davis compliments Don's playing.
"Love For Sale" is a
splendid example of Don Shirley's forceful playing. His
ability to concertize and swing simultaneously is well worth
listening to. The introduction to the second chorus features
Don playing a metronome-like series of single notes to build
up the rhythm pattern which is quite effective. I also had
the feeling during "Love For Sale" that a slight tribute to
Erroll Garner was insinuated. "I Can't Give You Anything But
love" and "Makin' Whoopee" are taken at what is generally
accepted to be head-shakin' tempo.
"Lullaby of Birdland"
might well have been titled "Lullaby of Carnegie Hall"
because while the melody is preserved, there are certain
long haired accoutrements that you would never find at
Broadway and Fifty-Second Street. (Unless of course, Don
Shirley was playing Birdland.) Extremely refreshing!
It must be a great
challenge to the modern pianist to come up with a new
concept of a tune like "How High the Moon" that is
constantly being extemporized upon. The chords and changes
in the introduction are full and beautiful, and unfold a
grace and charm to this song that I never knew existed
before. However, the introduction is merely a set-up because
whatever stops a piano has have all been pulled out by Don
Shirley in this selection. Everything from the classical
jazz approach to a Mozart minuet style, the rondo, and a
tremendous bass chorus by Richard Davis, who shows extremely
fine taste, shows up in this arrangement.
I feel that this album is just as deserving of praise as the
first one and shows Don Shirley to advantage as a pianist. A
lot less people will be asking who Don Shirley is after the
release of this album.
Al "Jazzbo" Collins