LIVE: “Remembering Lee Shaw” @ Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady’s Whisperdome, 12/11/15
Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Rudy Lu
John Medeski proposed that Lee Shaw be given the posthumous title of Jazz Saint. And it seemed as though everyone in the jam-packed audience at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady’s Whisperdome was in total agreement.
Lee Shaw – the Capital Region’s undisputed Queen of Piano Jazz – died in October at the age of 89, and she kept playing right up until the week before her death. Earlier this month, friends, neighbors, students and fans gathered together to celebrate her life and her music, although, in fact, the two were inseparable.
Shaw was a musician, composer, teacher, friend and perhaps most importantly a great listener. And she would have loved what she would have heard at her memorial concert, featuring 21 musicians – literally a who’s-who of the local jazz scene.
The marathon evening, which stretched beyond the four-hour mark without an intermission, was organized by drummer Jeff “Siege” Siegel and bassist Rich Syracuse, the longtime rhythm section in the Lee Shaw Trio, who played with five of the seven bands, including John Medeski (of the popular jazz-jam band Martin Medeski & Wood). He became a piano student of Shaw’s at the age of 11, and his set was highlighted by Shaw’s composition “Prairie Child,” a nostalgic ode to her childhood home state of Oklahoma, fueled by Siegel’s syncopated wood-block, echoing the sound of a horse dancing clippety-clop down the road.
Pianist Peg Delaney helmed the opening set and was joined by vocalist Patti Melita for Shaw’s spirited “Holiday,” while John Esposito and bandmates fired up his original tune, “Sweet Memories.” And Woodstock jazz piano veteran Pete Levin led “the Lee Shaw Big Band” (also featuring tenor saxman Brian Patneaude and trumpeter Chris Pasin) through the closing set, featuring Shaw’s Latin-tinged “Blue Hyacinth,” as well as his own wistful composition, “Waltz for Lee,” before wrapping up the night the same way that it began, with “Holiday.”
But Shaw’s musical influence extended well beyond pianists. Sarah Pedinotti (of the alt-rock band Lip Talk) grew up listening to Shaw at her parents’ One Caroline Street Bistro in Saratoga Springs, and she served up a swinging rendition of “A Slow Boat to china.” Drummer Joe Barna and his group Sketches of Influence – sparked by the hauntingly honeyed sound of saxman Adam Siegel and pianist Nick Hetko – offered a set of sparkling selections from his upcoming CD, Suite Lee, most of which he composed in the week following Shaw’s death.
But the show-stopper of the night was by Hetko (another of Shaw’s piano students), who melded passion, precision and imagination into a masterful performance of “Little Friend,” written by Shaw as a musical eulogy after the death of her beloved beagle, Beans. Hekto’s performance earned a well-deserved standing ovation – the only one of the night. And it served as a very fitting eulogy for Shaw, as well, a bona fide national treasure in our midst for so many years.
More of Rudy Lu’s photographs from the concert at RudyLuPhotos.com and AlbanyJazz.com
Excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Fans, friends, students and colleagues spoke in person or by Skype. And everybody who hit the bandstand played as if Shaw were there in person, as she so clearly was in spirit, and was holding a kick-ass master class, listening close and taking names. Four of the seven groups featured Shaw’s longtime super-solid trio partners bassist Rich Syracuse and drummer Jeff ‘Siege’ Siegel. They co-starred in perhaps the best trio distillation of Shaw’s muscular/lyrical approach all night; with young pianist Nick Hetko, in the classic ‘I Thought About You’ and Shaw’s own ‘Little Friend,’ about one of her beloved dogs. Fearless and fluid in this fast company, Hetko dazzled, like other former Shaw students. Pianist John Medeski of Medeski Martin & Wood and probably the best-known player on the bill is another grad of the Lee Shaw Keyboard College of Musical Knowledge. Like Hetko, Medeski also played — really well! — with Syracuse, Siegel and, on one number, with harmonicat Jason Rogers.”