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Live in Graz
Lee Shaw Trio | Artists Recording Collective (2008)
By Jeff Dayton-Johnson

Live in Graz gives listeners a chance to catch up with one of the more improbable second
acts in jazz: that of eighty-something pianist Lee Shaw. A poised Shaw usefully recounts
the biographical details in the accompanying DVD (which is unfortunately somewhat
shoddily produced): she acquired a broad musical education in tiny Ada, Oklahoma; later
continued that schooling, playing requests in Chicago nightclubs; then, for many years,
she backed up "horn players from the city" at clubs in Albany, New York, with her late
husband, the drummer Stan Shaw. Along the way, it turns out Shaw was the missing link
between Oscar Peterson, who offered her sporadic lessons well into her professional life
and John Medeski (later of Medeski, Martin & Wood), who was her student as a Florida
adolescent.

Overall, an unusually prosperous living for the jazz world, and not without its flashes of
artistry. In Shaw's gracious testimony, however, one detects the faintest trace of regret, of
a longing for a different kind of jazz life. For example, Shaw, a prodigious composer for
years, never performed her own tunes. Meanwhile, over the years, headline jazz stars-like
Lionel Hampton-asked Shaw to join their groups, but she never succumbed to these
invitations.

And now, finally, the prodigiously gifted pianist is living that other jazz life, entering the
international jazz circuit with this sympathetic trio. This live CD mixes her idiomatic
originals in with well-chosen covers, both celebrated and obscure: Ahmad Jamal's "Night
Mist Blues," in which Shaw wittily alludes to the set's opener, Billy Taylor's "Easy
Walker" and Leonard Bernstein's "Lonely Town," an affecting solo number from the
DVD.

The record reveals Shaw the soloist to be squarely in the Peterson-Medeski lineage, but
that hardly begins to describe her gifts. Bold and strong, her playing lavishes attention on
the lower and middle ranges of the keyboard, and-metaphorically-on the architectural and
emotional resources of the compositions. An emblematic case in point is her solo on
Vincent Young's "Street of Dreams," a harmonic edifice carefully constructed, brick by
brick. Shaw's impressionist compositions, meanwhile, are song-like, deceptively simple,
but with vast musical reserves lurking just beneath the surface.

These are long takes, allowing all three musicians plenty of time to develop ideas in
unhurried solos. Bassist Rich Syracuse and drummer Jeff Siegel are well-matched to the
leader's strengths: each plays well inside the tradition but with a bracing, percussive
boisterousness.

Let's hope that Shaw's second act is a long one: between the growing Shaw songbook and
the hundreds of songs by others that the pianist has played hundreds of times, she quite
clearly has a lot to communicate to a wider audience.
Lee Shaw Trio at All About Jazz.
Visit Lee Shaw Trio on the web.

Track listing: CD: Easy Walker; Song Without Words; Elegy; Rain Threads; Street of Dreams; Foots; Stan's
Song; Night Mist Blues. DVD: Easy Walker; Lonely Town; Crazeology; Blues Eleven; plus interviews.
Personnel: Lee Shaw: piano; Rich Syracuse: bass; Jeff "Siege" Siegel: drums.