When he was a child Don
Shirley like to play--the piano and all the rough and tumble games little
boys are supposed to like. His parents, however, worried about his
hands. They thought he might harm them and ruin any chances of a great
career. So Don Shirley compromised. He learned to walk the
tightrope. And he's been walking one ever since.
He's equal parts jazz and
serious music. Stravinksy calls Shirley's playing worthy of the
gods. Al Collins claims Don makes old tunes sound like they have never
been played before. Downbeat lauds him. London's Gramophone
applauds him. Don Shirley's piano gives all manner of music lovers a
message, but still his style remains an enigma.
Neither purely jazz nor
chastely classical, his way with a piano is actually a sympathetic synthesis of
the two. For the traffic of his 99 keys, Don Shirley chooses the
familiar. He uses an old tune like I'm In The Mood For Love, to
carry the listener quite comfortably from the known to the unknown.
This peculiar; auditory hegia is accomplished in many ways - all of them smooth
and singularly subtle. He broadens the standards to point where it
embraces traditional forms; fugues or litanies or madrigals. His
variations, then, are not those of an ordinary jazz musician. They are,
rather, classically legal and legitimate variations on a melody.
All this may seem to put
a mortar board and pince-nez on Don Shirley's psychological visage, but that's
hardly the case. Don's piano is as happy as it was in the long ago when he
felt E-flat major was a round red apple. It is bright and tart as the time
a song reminded him of yellow lemons in the sun. It is, in short, as
complex and interesting as Don Shirley's psyche. It is above all,
listenable and lovely. You will love it without half realizing the genius
of Don Shirley.