Lee Shaw TrioLive in GrazARCArtists Recording Collective
It's hard to remember this in the face of accomplished players like saxophonist Anat Cohen, pianist and vocalist Eliane Elias and drummer Cindy Blackman, but it is an unfortunate fact: female instrumentalists (and female leaders, come to that) are still a fairly rare phenomenon, even in this most inclusive of musical genres. Then again, it's certainly a more conducive atmosphere than it was when Lee Shawthen studying to be a classical accompaniststarted playing jazz piano in Chicago restaurants. Fast forward 50 years to Live in Graz, where Shaw not only leads an excellent trio through a lovely mix of originals and standards, but she also walks through a most interesting journey through music and life.
Shaw's passage is detailed on an accompanying DVD, which includes interviews conducted by noted jazz historian Hal Miller. The DVD has other featuresconcert footage and still from her 2007 European tour, plus a bonus track not included on the CDbut the real gold comes from Miller's talks with Shaw, both alone and with her longtime rhythm section of bassist Rich Syracuse and drummer Jeff "Siege" Siegel. Syracuse and Siegel produced Live in Graz, and the love they have for this music (and for Shaw) is evident. The trio's chemistry on the CD is exemplary, and their affinity for each other comes through loud and clear during Miller's extended interview with the band.
For instance, when Shaw claims she doesn't dictate hard and fast guidelines for the music they play, Syracuse gently reminds her that wasn't always the case. Syracuse does go on to talk about how he and Siegel bring material to Shaw, and how it is incorporated into the group's set; Siegel describes how he adapted his "more modern" drum style to fit the overall sound of the group; and Shaw credits Syracuse with encouraging her to play and record her own compositions.
The CD also offers plenty of insight into Shaw, at least from a musical standpoint. She introduces Billy Taylor's "Easy Walker" by calling Taylor "one of the biggest advocates of jazz... since Duke Ellington." This comment is telling, given that Shaw's own playing style has the same elegant, lyrical approach shared by pianists Taylor, Errol Garner, and Ahmad Jamal. The concert footage shows how Shawlike Taylordoesn't play the notes so much as she coaxes them out of the piano, using a deft touch most safecrackers would envy. Her appreciation for Jamal comes out when she echoes an audience member's shout of "Yeah!" during her intro for Jamal's "Night Mist." Shaw also offers a glimpse of her creative process when she explains how her lilting waltz "Rain Threads" was written in Vienna during a "beautiful, fragrant, misty rain," and she shows her educator side with a historical intro to Victor Young's "Street of Dreams."
Most importantly, the interviews reveal the emotion inside the tender ballad "Stan's Song." On the CD, Shaw only says it's "a song I wrote for my husband," and Syracuse's mournful bowing is the only indicator of the pianist's heartbreaking loss. On the DVD, Lee talks about how she and Stan "Rocky" Shaw first met during her Chicago days, when the drummer was looking for relief from his day gig; how Lee atypically told him, out of the blue, "I'm going to marry you" (and, six months later, she did); and how their decades-long musical partnership wound from Chicago to Puerto Rico, New York City, and Albany, NY, working with some of the genre's major players along the way. (Stan died in 2001. In the band interview, we hear that Siegel not only replaced Stan in the Shaw Trio, but that Lee had never worked with any other drummer except Stan.)
The only flaws on Live in Graz are technical in nature: Shaw's song introductions get separate tracks on the CD, which could be annoying for iPod listeners who keep their players on shuffle; the DVD's interview section does not include a play-all function, forcing the viewer to find a new subject after every segment. Most importantly, the overall video quality is pretty shoddy. The concert stills and photographs are fine, but Shaw is slightly out of focus in her personal interviews, while the proclamations on the wall behind her are crystal clear.
Despite these minor defects, Live in Graz is a compelling portrait of an artist who has survived through decades of change in jazz, and who makes beautiful, evocative music to this day. Most importantly, Shaw is a groundbreaker who presaged the development of women as both players and leaders, and she stands as an inspiration to all those who may follow.
Tracks: Easy Walker (Intro); Easy Walker; Song Without Words (Intro); Song Without Words; Elegy; Rain Threads (Intro); Rain Threads; Street of Dreams (Intro); Street of Dreams; Foots; Stan's Song (Intro); Stan's Song; Night Mist (Intro); Night Mist.
Personnel: Lee Shaw: piano; Rich Syracuse: bass; Jeff "Siege" Siegel: drums.