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Don Shirley - Standards
Cadence CLP3033 [1960] Reissue Collection
don_shirley_standards.jpg (124927 bytes)
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. .."

Side I

1.  APRIL IN PARIS, - Don Shirley, Harburg, E.Y.
     Recorded at Capitol Studios, New York July 15, 1957
2.  I COVER THE WATERFRONT - Don Shirley, Heyman, E.
     Recorded at Webster Hall, New York
     May 7, 1955 Bass: Richard Davis
3.  LET'S FALL IN LOVE - Don Shirley, Arlen, H. 
     Recorded at Bob Blake Studios, New York
     July 19, 1956 Bass: Richard Davis
     Don Shirley, Ellington, D.
     Recorded at Webster Hall, New York December 20, 1955
5.  WHEN I FALL IN LOVE - Don Shirley, Young, V.
     Recorded at Bob Blake Studios, New York
     July 19, 1956 Bass: Richard Davis

Side II
     Recorded at Capitol Studios, New York July 15, 1957
    Recorded at Bob Blake Studios, New York
    July 19, 1956 Bass: Richard Davis
    Recorded at Webster Hall, New York
    May 7, 1955 Bass: Richard Davis
    Recorded at Bob Blake Studios, New York
    July 19, 1956 Bass: Richard Davis
    Recorded at Capitol Studios, New York October 21, 1957
    Basses: Jim Bond and Kenneth Fricker

Reissued on
Collectable Jazz Classics
COL 2789

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.

To Don Shirley, a 'standard' is a tune that has proved its longevity by establishing itself in the hearts and minds of a great portion of the populace. Like certain classic costumes that remain in vogue regardless of the fashion of the day, the standard composition, too, must possess an enduring quality of simplicity which enables it to survive transient musical fads.
Standards fill a vital area in the repertoire of the musician bent on improvisation. By presenting a familiar-melodic line, the artist is offering his listener a better opportunity to participate in the complexities of the variations.
One of the most prolific contributors to the roster of 'standards' is Duke Ellington, represented in this album with I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart. This band, somewhat inaccurately titled since the arrangement is actually developed in three-part song form, includes Jump For Joy (played in a uniquely slow tempo that shows us just how closely related some of our great contemporary music is to the Negro spiritual); I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart—one of Ellington's earliest and best; and finally, in counterpoint, Don't Get Around Much Anymore. This Ellington tribute was introduced by Don as a Carnegie Hall encore to an Ellington piano concerto, performed with the NBC Symphony of the Air.
We are given a glimpse of Dr. Donald Shirley, Psychologist, as we listen to his pensive rendition of Richard Rodgers' Little Girl Blue. Here he paints in bold blue strokes the sober musings of a life empty except for reflection on the past. The artist, by opening and concluding the song with a well-known nursery rhyme, offers a poignant reminder of the tragedy of a lonely life. This mood, reiterated in Lorenz Hart's line, "No use old girl—you may as well surrender," is retained in every melancholy bar.
Vernon Duke's April In Paris represents the typically nostalgic, yet melodic line, which offers the artist a strong basis for interpretation and improvisation. Don's execution of this haunting, sophisticated 'standard' is a unique tapestry, woven throughout with such aural French landmarks as an intoxicating Freres Jacques and a diluted Marseillaise.
All this leads to the semantically confusing conclusion that Don Shirley Plays Standards in a pretty non-standard way. This album presents a unique art form by a brilliant and unique artist... and these days that's not very standard either!