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Don Shirley - Pianist Extraordinary
Cadence CLP3048 [1962]  Stereo CLP25048

This album was recorded on July 18, 1960 at the Fine Recording Studio in New York City, employing four Neumann U-47 microphones. Recording engineer: George Piros. The disc masters were cut directly from the master tapes on a Neumann lathe, employing the SX45 cutter head. (frequency response flat within 2DB from 30 cycles to 15,000 cycles).



1. HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN (How High Is The Sky)
Irving Berlin, Irving Berlin Music Corp., ASCAP 3:34
K. Gannon - M. Wayne, Leo Feist, Inc., ASCAP 2:58
K. Weill - I. Gershwin, Chappell & Co., Inc. ASCAP 3:19
J. Styne - S. Cahn, Sands Music Corp., ASCAP 3:51
G. Gershwin - I. Gershwin, Gershwin Pub!. Corp., - Chappell & Co., Inc. ASCAP 4:23
J. Livingston - M. Symes - A. I . Neiburg, World Music, Hallmark Music ASCAP 3:47

George Gershwin, Harms Inc., ASCAP 3:25
G. Arnheim - A. Lyman - A. Freed, Miller Music Corp., ASCAP 4:37
Traditional, Walbridge Co., BMI 2:06
M. Blitzstein - K. Weill, Harms Inc ., ASCAP 3:08
N. Wever - M. Ager - 1. Schwartz, Advanced Music Corp., ASCAP 2:58
Bart Howard, Almanac Music Inc., ASCAP 2:48

Reissued on
Collectable Jazz Classics

Surprised to hear just a piano? It's unusual, all right. But then Donald Shirley's an unusual pianist. So maybe this shouldn't come as so much of a surprise after all. Usually today's popular pianists, especially those who are concerned with jazz and the beat, like to play with a bass and either guitar or drums, and sometimes even with a big orchestra behind them. Not Donald Shirley. " I love playing by myself," he stated recently during an interview in his spacious studio-apartment atop Carnegie Hall, "because it gives me more freedom than I can get playing with a trio or an orchestra. I work mostly with a trio, you know, and when I do, I find myself acting as a, conductor as well as a soloist. On this record you might say I'm conducting only my own faculties."

Keen faculties they are, too, as anyone who has heard Donald Shirley play must realize full well. Faculties that are constantly probing, learning, listening, absorbing, creating, adapting. Donald (he prefers the name to "Don") feels that the tunes on this record adapt themselves especially well to solo playing. " I think it would have been superfluous to use anything else. When I play with my trio, we try to make our three instruments (piano, bass viol and cello) sound like one. I'm still basically an organist at heart, I guess. But for these selections, the piano seems more suitable by itself."

Donald employs the technique of transcriptions rather than that of arrangements. The difference? "An arrangement," he points out, "consists of rearranging notes to serve a purpose. A transcription on the other hand is essentially are-composition."

Almost everything Shirley plays he writes out ahead of time. This, of course, is the antithesis of how a jazz pianist operates. "I'm not a jazz musician," Donald says. "But I love to listen to some of them play." On the other hand, he does not envy the jazz musician's life. Most jazz artists, according to him, must accept their lot because of their night-club environment and the consequent emphasis on the dollar. Thus, he feels, most people in jazz must become entertainers. "Their first interest has to be pleasing other people. But the chief aim of the artist is to comply with the rules, regulations, order and protocol that concern his art and his craft. At that point, pleasing the public, per se becomes secondary. But, Shirley is quick to add, "this doesn't mean I'm saying one way is better than the other."

"And there's this to remember, too. The concert stage is often far too formal and stuffy. Intelligent music can still be entertaining and humorous." Certainly both of these elements, as well as Shirley's more serious side, including his vast knowledge of many forms of music, come through on the selections he has chosen for special treatment on this record. Take the opening HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN, heretofore a fairly simple, romantic melody by Irving Berlin. Donald treats it like a Mozzorabic Chant - "an early Eastern form which led to the Gregorian Chant. I've used a chorale form with four part harmony. It's also in a two part song form. The original melody is one part and the introduction becomes the meat of the second part. I've tried to emphasize the much part of the lyric, how much do I love you? with the second part attempting to answer how much."

I UNDERSTAND, the ballad which Bob Eberly used to sing so well with Jimmy Dorsey's band, is treated as "an impromptu, after the fashion of the word 'impromptu' of Schubert as opposed to Chopin. It's strictly a song concept whose melodic lines remain its strongest element. After hearing it again, I realize I included quite a bit of the G FLAT MAJOR IMPROMPTU by Schubert, though I swear I wasn't thinking about it when I wrote this transcription."

MY SHIP, Kurt Weill 's lovely melody from Lady In The Dark, never was treated as orientally as Donald does here. He became especially conscious of the song at a time when he was trying to help Miyoshi Umeki find some material. "The tune had always suggested an Eastern flavor to me - maybe because of the use of the word silk.  Here I use a three part song form - first theme A, then B, then A again, then B again, then C and then back to A followed by B. You can hear the theme of the introduction running all through the song."

TIME AFTER TI ME is treated "fairly straight. If there's any improvisation on this record, it's in this tune. I once heard a singer - I think her name was Norma Pettiway - do it in Washington, D. C. long before I ever got into this business. She was a mature person - a little like Billie Holiday - and I had the feeling she knew 'what she was talking about." No frills - just emotion.

LOVE WALKED IN, one of George Gershwin's last songs, is treated a la "chanson de jeste. This is similar to a two part form , except that here the second part is basically the original melody played backwards. This technique is also known as crab counter point, and it's a lot of fun to do."

About IT'S THE TALK OF THE TOWN, Shirley has little to explain. "It's a tune I've always liked, and I just played it, that's all.

LADY BE GOOD, one of Gershwin's earlier melodies ("I love Gershwin. He lends himself so well to the piano.") is treated in a binary form. "This is different from the two part song form ," Donald explains. "There is no distinct second grouping. Instead there's just a fragmentary development of the bridge (the song's 17th through its 24th bars). I've fused Eastern and Western harmonies here too."

I CRIED FOR YOU reflects Shirley's reactions to the song's lyrics. The form is ternary. "The words are filled with what you might call antagonistic reciprocation, a kind of I'll-get-even-with-you feeling. But there is also some implied optimism, too, like maybe-we'll-get-together-after-all. The first two forms are developed in minor and then suddenly I burst into major, which is the optimistic portion. At the end the left hand plays in major, sort of a triumph for the time being. But it couldn't remain in major because
of the strict form of the ternary which called for going back to the first theme in minor. This is all done on a series of diatonic scale patterns."

The treatment of RUSSIAN LULLABY is "more nostalgic than anything else. Its basically a Moment Musicale, a short piece that has no other purpose than of being lived for that particular moment. It's played more for oneself than for any audience."

MACK THE KNIFE, another Kurt Weill number has, according to Shirley, "never been recorded with any proper feeling for the tune. Originally in Three Penny Opera it was used as a way of telling the people of England what the politicians were doing. But whenever any officials went by, instead of singing those Voice of the People words, they'd switch to lyrics that made no sense. It was Weill 's way of poking fun at the politicians of England. Later the song was switched to poke fun at Hitler, and Weill, who had nothing to do with the switch but who was a German, was in danger of being killed for this. My treatment is also filled with a great deal of bitterness. I worked on the transcription while I was listening to the Democratic National Convention, and all the vulgarity there made me mad. You can sense the bitterness, the way I even quote from THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER and I'VE BEEN WORKING ON THE RAILROAD. So much is promised, but so much less is given." Shirley has very strong feelings about politics and, of course, about the racial situation, and he contends that an artist has not only the right but also the obligation to express himself on subjects such as these through his art.

TRUST IN ME has less serious overtones. "It's just improvisation. The song always reminds me of Kate Smith - I love her! I love her! - and I guess I was influenced by her note of sincerity, her straightforwardness, her honesty, her always seeming so happy, like the real, All-American Girl."

IN OTHER WORDS, known to some as FLY ME TO THE MOON, is to Donald "a real, thought-out American song.  Bart Howard wrote it and there are only a handful of people like him. Alec Wilder is one and so is Harold Arlen on occasion. The treatment here becomes an etude, a study in tonal contrasts, and it's the most ambitious of all the twelve works on this record. If you listen closely, you can hear a low G sharp being held through the first portion."

Actually, all the numbers on this record bear much close listening. On first hearing, some may seem strangely simple. But the more one listens closely, the more there is to hear. It is the sort of piano playing very few people can do - and even fewer can do as well as Donald Shirley does right here.

- George T. Simon
and jazz commentator of The New York Herald-Tribune