Monday, April 29, 2013

Donald Shirley, Betwixt and Between

The New York Times has an interesting obituary about Donald Shirley, the son of an Episcopal priest who became "a pianist and composer who gathered classical music with jazz and other forms of popular music under a singular umbrella after being discouraged from pursuing a classical career because he was black." His parents were Jamaican and he performed Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat with the Boston Pops in 1945 when he was 18. The impresario Sol Hurock advised him that the classical public would not accept a black pianist, so
Mr. Shirley took to playing at nightclubs and invented what amounted to his own musical genre. First as part of a duo with a bassist and later as the leader of the Don Shirley Trio, featuring a bassist and a cellist — an unusual instrumentation suggesting the sonorities of an organ — he produced music that synthesized popular and classical sounds. He often melded American and European traditions by embedding a well-known melody within a traditional classical structure.

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