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Gospel According Don Shirley
[1969]   Columbia CS9723

Side 1
1. I'll Drown In My Tears 
2. Climb Ev'ry Mountain 
3. Trilogy 
4. Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross, arranged by Don Shirley 
5. Glory Burdens Down Lord, arranged by Don Shirley 
6. When the Saints Go Marching In, arranged by Don Shirley

Side 2
7.I 've Been 'Buked, arranged by Don Shirley 
8. He's Got the Whole World In His Hands, arranged by Margaret Bonds 
9. I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free 
10. Blowin' In the Wind
11. Dream Of a Time

Produced by Teo Macero
Engineering: Stan Tonkel, Arthur Kendy, Don Meehan
Personnel: Don Shirley, Piano
                  Gilberto Munguia, Cellist
                  Henry Gonzalez, Bassist
*With orchestra, arranged and conducted by Archie Bleyer

Reissued on
Collectable Jazz Classics

Album Notes:

First of all, I would like to point out that the word gospel, as it is used here, is in a purely etymological sense-"something regarded as true and implicitly believed." The common phrase "gospel truth" comes to mind. I think of gospel as the spreading of truth, the preaching of truth, not necessarily within a strictly religious connotation.

The album begins with Iíll Drown in My Tears. This melody has an interesting aspect in that it is in 3/4 meter and most people tend to think of 3/4 in terms of waltz time. However, anyone who has ever attended services of gospel church music knows that 3/4 is very much a religious beat. In the lyrics of the original spiritual a person is praying sadly and he says, with great respect, that if his prayers are not answered, he will drown in his own tears.

Richard Rodgers' Climb Ev'ry Mountain is a magnificent paean to optimism, a song of great affirmation. The introduction here is in a religioso manner and the second section bears the coloring of a plainsong or Gregorian chant. As the melody and arrangement build toward the final crescendo, there is the instrumental portrayal of actually climbing majestically--until a final amen.

In Trilogy, really a series of lamentations, we hear a single note in the beginning portraying the human voice singing "Glory, glory, hallelujah--when I lays my burden down." I recall the first time I ever heard this was as a very small boy. There was a woman singing it, without accompaniment, attempting to sing all of her own chord structures. This theme was struck here as a stretto really, not meaning to be a complete song form at all. But it grew and grew to several measures. But this is a Protestant hymn, "Where He Leads Me I Will Follow." It was used as a bridge between "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah" and the next spiritual, "No More Auction Block for Me. " The undulations in the right hand on the piano are an attempt to suggest the emphasis of just how deeply felt the joy is of never having to undergo the concept of being sold, or of one's own daughters or sons or mothers or fathers being sold. So in the right hand where the trill comes up, this again is stressing a No! Then there is a kind of a mockery of a Gregorian chant, suggesting some of the problems that have come . under' the hands of Christianity and Catholicism. This is. the angry aspect, and the trills I spoke of are here. "No more auction block for me . . . many thousands gone." Next the bass in the piano strikes out for the hope we have : the dreamer says, "If I had a hammer . . . if I had a bell . .. if I had a song .. . it's a hammer of justice ... it's a bell of freedom . .. it's a song of love for all my brothers and sisters all over this world."

In Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross there is a rather odd and interesting treatment that came to me, and I really don't know why, other than that I have a very dear friend who loves this particular hymn. It's a study in suspensions in the inner voices with the bass violin acting more like the extension of the piano in the sense of the pedals of an organ.  This hymn is, I suppose, one of the stabilizing factors for a lot of people; and, if this be the truth, then I think it belongs in the album.

Glory Burdens Down Lord is a rollicking jubilee. It says, 'Burdens down, burdens down, when I set my burdens down . .. I will feel better, so much better, when I lay my burdens down." Actually, this is an inversion, melodically, of the very first Glory Burdens Down Lord that we heard in the Trilogy. This is a most rejoicing aspect of "Glory, Glory" whereas in Trilogy it was not having quite made it and hoping to get there.

When the Saints' Go Marching In has a curious history. Somewhere along the line the middle section of this got lost and the majority of the people have only heard the portion that is being performed now, the one made very popular by Louis Armstrong and I donít know how many other millions of people. As a matter of fact, in the old Dixieland days this was considered a march. But through some of my efforts of research I came up with a concept of a chorale plus the missing second section which is known as " In Green Mansions Above." When I heard it, I heard it that way, and of course it did make sense--when the saints go marching in to attempt to get into the "green mansions above." And in an attempt to hold the two together rather than just have two spirituals played, I wrote a small stretto, something to join the two things. And here it says, "In green mansions above, in green mansions above, Lord I want to be up yonder, in green mansions above." Of course this goes back again the second time--"In Green Mansions Above" and so forth leading into When the Saints Go Marching In.

It's rather interesting to note here also that "In Green Mansions Above," as in most spirituals, the misconception of the influence of Christianity is something I would like to see if I couldn't clear up because we have often been told or have thought of heaven as having milk and honey and streets of gold and what have you. And as they clearly try to point out "In Green Mansions Above," what it here often suggests melodically, going home was not really going to heaven in terms of someplace up in the sky, but rather back to Africa. This is the point then. "Green mansions, green mansions of Africa above" and so forth. I think that makes some sense. In fact that makes a lot of sense to me. Mark Fisher did a book on Negro slave songs based on his research at the University of Chicago in which this is very pointedly brought out.

I've Been 'Buked is a negro spiritual with content very obvious in meaning. "I've been Ďbuked and I've been scorned ..... trying to make heaven my home." In the second verse we see a note of optimism: "You can talk about me sure as you please . .. I am going to talk about you on-a my knees. " In this rendition, however bitter the facts are, there seems to be an attempt to keep from being engulfed by the bitterness itself, to try and survive it, to move forward optimistically--to what avail I do not know.

Marian Anderson made He's Got the Whole World in His Hands internationally famous. This particular setting was written by Margaret Bonds and was recently recorded by Leontyne Price. In this recording we use the cello in place of the soprano. The lyrics suggest just why and what this album is about: "He's got the young and old ... He's got the rich and poor ... He's got everyone . .. He's got the whole wide world in His hands."

The wonderful Billy Taylor composition I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free is usually done with a more contemporary treatment. I decided it would work beautifully arranged as a gospel song. A few of the lyrics by Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas should tell you why: "Wish I knew how it would feel to be free ... I wish I could break all these chains holding me . . ."

Blowin' in the Wind, the Bob Dylan classic, may seem a strange choice for a gospel album but I believe it works beautifully in an instrumental version--and we all know that Dylan is preaching the gospel truth of today.

The concluding song, Dream of a Time, was written by Dr. Valarian Smith, and I collaborated by writing the second song form and developing it in a sort of symphonic or perhaps rhapsodic manner. The essence of the meaning of this song is that which a parent does unto a son or daughter and the hopes all parents have for the ultimate happiness and success of their offspring.

--Don Shirley



Neville Budhia is the well-known Indian painter who happens to be Don Shirley's first cousin. He resides in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where he has a studio and gallery. The painting, now in Mr. Shirley's private collection, was one of the inspirations for this album. He says it evoked in him a sense of optimism and emergence, which is, in essence, the theme of this album.