Thursday, February 4, 2010

Don Shirley - an Engrossing Talent

Don Shirley is a Jamaican musician, who may not be as well known to today's music lovers as he should be.
When I was starting out in my career, I came across some of Shirley's recordings, and was overwhelmed by his creative gifts.
First of all, he is a superb pianist, wonderfully trained in the classics, and started out by performing the famous Tchaikowsky concerto with several of the world's most acclaimed orchestras.
Along the way, he moved into the world of pop music, and is chiefly known for his work in that aspect of the art.
He is the only major musician I know of who has three earned doctorates, only one of which is in music, which to me demonstrates the nature and breadth of his genius.
We know of the attainments of the great British pop pianist, George Shearing, who was also thoroughly grounded in the classics, and we are all familiar with the way he can take a tune, and play it in the style of a Mozart, or Bach, or Delius, or Schumann, etc. You may remember in one of my previous blogs about Shearing's having stated to me that he thinks of himself as "a classical pianist who happens to play jazz."
Well, in the case of Don Shirley, this musician takes a different road in his knowledge of the classics, as he utilizes that aspect within the pop field. Unlike Shearing, Shirley has found a way to create a true fusion; a complete synthesis in the binding of the classical techniques with various pop styles; and, for me, a new language has been formed by this phenomenal man.
I am not stating that he is 'better' than Shearing - I am merely pointing out that in some arcane way Shirley has discovered new tactics through a unique imagery that produces musical ideas which simply cannot be replicated. My words, or any written or spoken description of what Shirley produces are veritably hapless in hopes of clarity. The only way one can come up with any kind of understanding of Shirley's incarnations - is to listen.
There are recordings available.
By the way, Don Shirley is one of only three pianists to have performed at the La Scala Opera House; the other two - Artur Rubinstein and Sviatoslav Richter.

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