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Donald Shirley - Tonal Expressions
Cadence CLP1001  [1955]
with Richard Davis (Bassist)

1. I Cover The Waterfront
2. No Two People
3. Secret Love
4. The Man I Love
5. Love Is Here To Stay
6. Dancing On The Ceiling
7. They Can't Take That Away From Me
8. Answer Me My Love
9. Medley From "New Faces": Love Is A Simple Thing / I'm In Love With Miss Logan / Monotonous / Bal Petit Bal / The Boston Beguine.
10. My Funny Valentine

Reissued on
Collectable Jazz Classics


Let us begin simply by saying that Don Shirley is a pianist. With all that this term implies, it is used here in its fullness to designate the stature of this musician. The kind of piano he ploys may now be, and most certainly and more acutely will be in the future, open to debate.

We would not be inclined to categorize him as a classical or as a jazz musician although with the public that is likely to happen. We would go further and say that his kind of music does not seem to hinge between the two although this is the designation he is likely to receive by many. We would go one step further and say that 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.

These are strong statements to make. They would be so if the artist here considered were an established one. It is dangerous to claim them when he is beginning the ascent. We allow his musical history and what you will hear in this and forthcoming albums to be the proof.

In considering his background, you should know that his first teacher was his mother, that he was born in Kingston, Jamaica on January 27, 1927, that at the age of nine he was extended on invitation to study theory with Mittolovski at the Leningrad Conservatory of Music, that he later studied with the famous organist Conrad Bernier, and that he studied advanced composition with both Bernier and Dr. Thaddeus Jones at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D. C.

Shirley mode his concert debut with the Boston "Pops" Symphony Orchestra in Boston June 25, 1945, with Dean Dixon as guest conductor. In 1949 he received an invitation from the Haitian government to play at the Exposition Internationale du Bi-Centenaire De Port-au-Prince followed by a request from Archbishop Le Goise and President Estime for a repeat performance the following week. Upon Arthur Fiedler's recent trip to Chicago, Shirley was again extended on invitation to appear with the orchestra in June 1954.

With such a background, it is evident that Shirley is a highly respected legitimate musician possessing great technical skill and an innate musical ability. He displays also great tenderness and emotional depth which render his performances inspiring.

Included in this album are "I Cover The Waterfront", "No Two People", " Secret Love", "The Man I Love", "Love Is Here To Stay", "Dancing On The Ceiling", "They Can't Take That Away From Me", "Answer Me My Love", a medley of tunes from "New Faces", and "My Funny Valentine". We will place our focus on four of them.

"I Cover The Waterfront" will remind you of a Debussy or Ravel. It has their qualities of delicacy, contemplation and sensitivity. There is a certain majesty to it, too. His ability to 'concertoize' this makes something more of it than a lover lamenting a lost love on the waterfront and becomes instead, a personal experience with the sea . . .the water becomes the main theme of this, much like La Mer.

In "The Man I Love", there is the sweep of a symphony orchestra. This is because Shirley plays with great amplitude . . .the kind of vigor found in only the best of pianists. Beginning on "Rhapsody in Blue" the melody soon diffuses into the flavor of a Gershwin prelude. Using the climactic points in both pieces, Shirley is able to highly dramatize the opening chords of "The Man I Love". He has so cleverly incorporated the well-known Gershwin themes that the melodic line carries forward more strongly. It is perhaps this tune that serves ,most fully to indicate his exceptional ability as arranger-composer: In the."
middle, the piece switches to cocktail beat . . .a polite swing. Last it becomes a "taking off point" for an exciting fugue-toccata treatment.

Most times a medley is just show tunes played again but in this "New Faces" medley the essence of the play has been so well kept intact that wherever an audience hears Shirley play this, it is completely delighted. The arrangement is bright. It is gay. It is fresh. It retains that " new penny" sound. "Love is a Simple Thing" begins and ends the medley and it is both light and climactic as is necessary. This is thoroughly enjoyable music.

One of the favored standards, "My Funny Valentine" receives especially good interpretation
by Don Shirley with fine bowing by bassist Richard Davis. He conveys more of the Pagliacci tragedy of this melody than we have ever before heard. The beauty and the sadness are real. The tonal effects are particularly effective here with the bowing laying a nice background for the piano notes to be dropped upon.

Shirley's musical taste is so consistently refined that he seems to have selected always the correct musical enclosure for each of the compositions in the album. You will notice that a mood is established akin to chamber music in several of the tunes such as "My Secret Love" and "Love is Here to Stay". Each one of these melodies has a definite form although Shirley has varied the structure.

As a composer, Don Shirley has to his credit four organ symphonies, a group of small pieces for piano, two string quartets and a piano concerto. He has written a full variation concerto against Ravel's "Bolero" much the same as Rachmaninoff did with the "Paganini Variations". It is his ambition to record this with full symphony orchestra. A nation-wide concert tour is his next venture and you will, we are sure, want to hear this fine artist in person.