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17

Meet Don Shire

Tessa Souter and Andrea Wolper By

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I go out to hear live music about four times a week. On occasion, I'll hear more than one gig a night ... It's my drug of choice. When I had hard times at work, going out to hear music was a stress-reliever; I always said, 'It's a lot cheaper than going to a shrink.'
Don Shire's club-hopping habit started in Pittsburgh, but his introduction to the capital of jazz was a 1971 Freddie Hubbard gig at New York jazz institution, the Village Vanguard. And he's still going strong 45 years later. One concert particularly stands out. "When it was over, the people just looked at each other. The feeling was, 'Why go out anymore? We'll never hear anything to equal this!'" There is one jazz great that got away, though not for Don's lack of trying!

Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in New York City, but forcibly dragged to the suburbs at eight months old. I went to school in Pittsburgh, and returned to the city after college. I got two master's degrees, one in history, and one in labor-industrial relations, which eventually got me into working in human resources for the City of New York. I worked for the City for 24 years.

How old were you when you got your first record, and what was it?
My first records were 45s, mostly rock; I had an older brother, so when I was little I was listening to whatever he was listening to. Early LPs I remember were the Kingston Trio, Ian and Sylvia, and Peter, Paul and Mary. About a year before going to college, I was given a portable stereo and I got more interested in music for which it made a difference to hear it in stereo. My early jazz LPs were Jimmy Smith's Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Modern Jazz Quartet's Django. I still use "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" from the Jimmy Smith album as the ringtone on my cell phone.

Was there one album or experience that was your doorway to jazz?
The Modern Jazz Quartet was probably my doorway to jazz. But Cal Tjader's Warm Wave and Several Shades of Jade albums were very influential. They were relaxing, and the music had various international influences that caught my ear.

What was the first concert you ever attended?
The first concert I attended was probably the New York Philharmonic. My mother had tickets for their Friday matinee concert series and she took me a few times, but I was probably too young to appreciate Leonard Bernstein. In the summer of 1966, and summers after that, I went to concerts at Wollman Rink in Central Park—mostly folk music, like Judy Collins and Tom Paxton. I also remember a great Janis Joplin concert with Santana as the opening act at the old Civic Arena in Pittsburgh. It was one of the first rock and roll concerts I'd been to. Hearing Santana was amazing. I didn't know them, and I guess I wasn't prepared for such a good opening act. Later I went to a number of the Newport Jazz Festival-New York concerts with my Pittsburgh jazz mentor, who turned me on to a lot of musicians and showed me a lot of the New York clubs.

How long have you been going out to hear live music?
Not counting the New York Philharmonic concerts, I started going to hear live music in 1966. My first experience going to a jazz club was as a student in Pittsburgh at the legendary Crawford Grill, seeing the likes of Grant Green and Brother Jack McDuff. My first club in New York was of course the Village Vanguard, where I saw Freddie Hubbard in 1971.

How often do you go out to hear live music?
I go out to hear live music about four times a week. On occasion, I'll hear more than one gig a night. In addition, I go to the theater four to six times a month, and follow my sports teams at local bars on a regular basis. Overall, I'm usually out five to six night a week.

What is it about live music that makes it so special for you?
Live music, as well as live theater, is special because every event is unique, and you don't know what is going to happen. Though mostly good—and sometimes great—things happen, there are also events that fall flat. But there are also those gigs that take you out of the zone and will always be remembered. Live music takes you out of yourself. It's my drug of choice. When I had hard times at work, going out to hear music was a stress-reliever; I always said, "It's a lot cheaper than going to a shrink." And it's always special to run into people I know at gigs.

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