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Don Shirley - Plays Gershwin
Cadence CLP3032 [1960]    Reissue Collection

IGOR STRAVINSKY: "His virtuosity is worthy Gods."
BENTLEY STEGNER, Chicago Sun-Times: "He can play big round notes that fall as softly as velvet, or make bright, little ones leap up like the tinkle of ice in a glass."
SARAH VAUGHAN: "The most glorious sense of shading, phrasing and balance I've eve., heard."
AL "JAZZBO" COLLINS: ". . . of all the things that might be consigned him, he is most nearly to become the artist embodying the suffusion of the classics and the modern. .."

It is impossible to describe Don Shirley's music without analyzing Don himself; and in analyzing, we tend to categorize because we then have a ready frame of reference. Although our age may not have produced the Renaissance Man, Don Shirley probably comes as close as any other human being in our time to that ideal. His musical talents could almost be overlooked from an academic standpoint if one realizes that, in addition to his Doctorate in Music, he is the holder of Doctorates in Psychology and Liturgical Arts, speaks eight languages fluently, and is considered an expert painter as well.
Like most musicians who are true innovators, Don Shirley the arranger-composer has always been classified in various pigeonholes such as "Jazz," "Classical," "Jazz-oriented Classical" or "Classically-oriented Jazz," but always half-heartedly and with many reservations. His work cannot be catalogued in a particular school of musical composition. Each song is more than just a new arrangement; it is a composition in itself, using the familiar song melody as part of its framework. Though the melodic and harmonic structure of a song by Jimmy McHugh may suggest to Don Nineteenth Century romanticism and not Twentieth Century Hollywood, the melody is always there forming the basic fabric of his arrangement, at the same time inspiring counter-melodies.
Don's piano style reflects many different influences, yet these are all governed by his own inscrutable and unyielding individuality. He may suddenly quote the familiar style of Garner or Ellington or Shearing. Still these polite tributes are never more than just that, for this is one more device of Don's using his music to create the atmosphere he chooses. "There are three ways to enjoy or to interpret music, from a listening point of view: emotionally, intellectually, and a combination of the two. I have tried to utilize all three, contingent upon the quality of the tune chosen." His choice of using the piano as a stringed rather than as a percussion instrument gives him a flexible and marvelously expressive voice to combine emotion and intellect in the subtlest way.
The extent of Don's formal training is clearly revealed in his fabulous technic. He began playing piano at the age of 2 1/2, and by the time he was 9 he had been invited to study at the Leningrad Conservatory, where he was to spend a great part of his youth. And yet he was to abandon the piano while still quite young.
It was while in Chicago as a psychologist that Don "tripped" back into a musical career. He was given a grant to study the relationship, if any, between music and a juvenile crime wave which had suddenly broken out in the early 1950's. Working in a small club there, he used his knowledge and skill to perform experiments in sound, whereby he proved that certain tonal combinations affected the audience's reactions. No one in the audience knew of his experiment, or that students had been planted among them to gauge their reactions.
But Don Shirley the pianist became a sensation. Appearances in New York followed, notably at the Basin Street, where Duke Ellington first heard him. Here started their warm friendship which was highlighted by Don's performance in 1955 of the premiere of the Duke's Piano Concerto at Carnegie Hall with the NBC Symphony of the Air. An appearance on the Arthur Godfrey Show launched his career nationwide.
Don has composed three symphonies, two piano concerti, a cello concerto, three string quartets, a one-act opera, works for organ, piano and violin, a symphonic tone poem based on "Finnegan's Wake" and a set of "Variations" on the legend of Orpheus in the Underworld.
All indications seem to be that Don Shirley's favorite career is that of musician, and his material that of our country, our time, and the richness of a many-faceted personality.

Side 1
1. Porgy & Bess Suite - Don Shirley, Gershwin, G.**
Recorded at Capitol Studios, New York
October 21, 1957
Basses:  Jim Bond & Kenneth Fricker

** The Porgy And Bess Suite includes the melodies from the following: 1) My Man's Gone, 2) I Got Plenty Of Nuttin', 3) It Ain't Necessarily So, 4) Strawberry Song, 5) Summertime, 6) That Can't Take That Away From Me, 7)I Love You Porgy, 8) Someone To Watch Over Me, 9) Bess You Is My Woman, 10) The Man I Love, 11) Love Is Here To Stay, 12) But Not For Me

2. Love Is Here to Stay - Don Shirley, Gershwin, G.
Recorded at Webster Hall, New York
May 7, 1955
Bass:  Richard Davis

3. But Not for Me - Don Shirley, Gershwin, G.
Recorded at Bob Blake Studios, New York
July 19, 1956
Bass:  Richard Davis

Side 2
4. The Man I Love - Don Shirley, Gershwin, G.
Recorded at Webster Hall, New York
May 7, 1955
Bass:  Richard Davis

5. Someone to Watch Over Me - Don Shirley, Gershwin, George
Recorded at Webster Hall, New York
December 20, 1955
Bass:  Richard Davis

6. They Can't Take That Away from Me - Don Shirley, Gershwin, George
Recorded at Webster Hall, New York
May 7, 1955
Bass:  Richard Davis

Reissued on
Collectable Jazz Classics

Shortly after George Gershwin’s death in July, 1937, a cash assessment was made of each of his serious compositions, based on popularity and estimated royalty earning potential.  At the top of the list came his Rhapsody in Blue, still the most-performed piece by any American composer.  At the bottom with “nominal” as its price-tag, was Porgy and Bess.  His labor of love, which had taken three years of writing, had failed on Broadway two years before, and was considered virtually worthless.  Today, with many successful revivals, an historical world tour, and a prodigious motion picture version to its credit, Porgy and Bess has earned its place in the sun.

Love is Here to Stay was Gershwin’s last song. Though written only days before his collapse on the set of The Goldwyn Follies,  there is no indication of any impairment in his phenomenal gift for melody and harmony within the confines of popular song form.  Rather, it shows a glimmer of the increased quality of output which would have continued had he lived.

One of the most uniquely distinctive features of a Gershwin song was the composer’s use of harmonic devices—particularly the diminished chord—in turning a deceptively simple little tune into something with poignancy, and polish.  But Not for Me falls into this class, as does ‘Swonderful, and many others. Perhaps the most “standard” of the Gershwin standards, The Man I Love, started originally as a kind of misfit tune, written as a verse to a song in one of the early shows, and never used.  Somehow it caught on independently and quickly become one of his most performed and requested numbers.

With Someone To Watch Over Me, we have again a song which depends upon harmonic changes to an atmosphere of longing and wistfulness.  Don Shirley used this fact to build a lovely counterpoint around the melody, which remains one of Gershwin’s most cherished.

Back in the days when it was still commonplace for a movie-goer to leave the theatre humming, one might have noted that a great number of the songs had been sung by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  So lucrative were their films that they demanded—and got—only the cream of song writers.  When George’s turn came, he and brother Ira came through with some of the best music and lyrics ever written. One of the most memorable moments in the picture, Shall we Dance, was a song called They Can’t Take That Away From Me.  The song, with its graceful though unconventional rhythm pattern and broad melodic line, was nominated for Academy Award song of 1937.  It didn’t make off with the Oscar that year, but, as with dozens of others before it, there was the tribute of immortality waiting.