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Ian Shaw: From Free Jazz to Noel Coward

By Published: December 1, 2009
Despite Shaw's friendship with Fran Landesman, they have never talked about "Scars," its history or its meaning: "Over the years Fran has pushed songs towards me, and that was one of them. I was presented with it five or six years ago, and I was singing it at gigs before I recorded it. "Scars" is the apology for the other two songs—it's saying, "Whatever happens, don't worry about it. We're all in the same boat, we all shit and piss, we all cut ourselves, we all die, ha ha." It's full of nocturnal imagery: Somewhere Towards Love is a very nocturnal album." The album has, in fact, been marketed as Shaw's ballads album, but the songs go far beyond simple balladry, as he stresses: "God, no, none of that nonsense. The only song that really is like that is [Andy Razaf and Eubie Blake
Eubie Blake
Eubie Blake
1883 - 1993
's] "Memories of You." It's such an exquisite melody that you can't do anything with it except sing it once through, then that's it, goodbye."

Ian Shaw

There's more to the genesis of Somewhere Towards Love, and again it's characteristically unusual, as Shaw explains: "Three years ago, I gave my piano to a club called the Black Gardenia, on Dean Street in London. I used to go there in the 1980s when it was a drinking club called the Pink Panther. When I downsized my flat, I didn't have room for a piano, so I gave it away to the club. I go there occasionally to play the piano, and inevitably there are people there and at 5 o'clock in the morning when everybody is drunk, I sing those songs—"Memories of You," "Scars"—and they go down really well, because no one wants to click their fingers at that time in the morning. So the album is really the result of the last three years hanging out in the Black Gardenia."

Shaw is busy working on a number of potential projects. He is an Artist In Residence at London's South Bank Centre, and as part of that role, he is writing a work for a 70-piece choir, to be premiered at the Royal Festival Hall. His other plans are more in line with what jazz singers are expected to do: "I'll continue to work with a big band, and I'll be returning to the States. I'll also be going back to Canada: I have a regular audience there simply through radio play. I can play in 800 seat theatres there because of radio exposure. One guy in particular, Ross Porter from JazzFM in Toronto, has been really supportive. I just keep going, really." Another album is already planned, according to Shaw: "Recording will start in January 2010. It's an album I've been planning for the last five years or so, with [drummer and producer] Jeremy Stacey. He and I have been trying to do an album of Stephen Sondheim songs for ages. We'll choose eight or ten and try and knit them together."

A planned new project with singer Claire Martin

Claire Martin
Claire Martin
is particularly interesting. Shaw and Martin have gigged together for 17 years and are good friends. Their new project promises to appeal to fans of jazz and glam-rock alike: "Songs of David Bowie" laughs Shaw. "We start preparing that in January. It was Claire's idea, and she's very excited about it. Everything Bowie writes is just totally singable. We'll tour it, but we probably won't record it. We have this sort of perverse refusal to record together, so we'll probably never do an album."

There's plenty of work ahead, but Shaw again emphasizes that there's no master plan: "I'm a bit of a workaholic; I hate not working, and as long as I can do it I'll keep doing it." "It" has many and varied meanings when applied to the work of Ian Shaw—an unpredictable and unmissable performer.

Selected Discography

Ian Shaw, Somewhere Towards Love (Splash Point Records, 2009)
Ian Shaw, Lifejacket (Linn Records, 2008)
Ian Shaw, Drawn To All Things: The Songs of Joni Mitchell (Linn Records, 2006)
Ian Shaw, A World Still Turning (441 Records, 2003)
Ian Shaw, Soho Stories (Milestone, 2001)
Ian Shaw and Cedar Walton, In A New York Minute (Milestone, 1999)
Ian Shaw, The Echo Of A Song (Ronnie Scott's Jazzhouse, 1996)
Ian Shaw, Famous Rainy Day (EFZ Records, 1995)
Ian Shaw, Taking It To Heart—The Songs Of Rodgers And Hart (Ronnie Scott's Jazzhouse, 1995)
Ian Shaw, Ghostsongs (Ronnie Scott's Jazzhouse, 1995)
Carol Grimes and Ian Shaw, Lazy Blue Eyes (Offbeat Records, 1990)

Photo Credits

Page 1, 4: John Haxby

Page 2: John Abbott

Page 3: Johann Wolf

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