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Paul Dean

Good Vibes at Laguna Festival

August 15, 1987|Paul Dean

There are art festivals, cheek to cheek, craft to craft in Laguna Beach this month and their spectrum is sculpted bronze upon swirled acrylic beside ceramic contours.

Their essence is Oliver Shearer and his travel-dented vibraphone.

They've been together as long as Shearer has been playing vibes. That, he says, is more than 30 years through 11 countries and across Europe. They studied at the Juilliard, he says, on a Duke Ellington grant. There were jazz cellars in Paris and big concerts from New York's Philharmonic Hall to Stockholm's Dramatiska Institute.

Shearer carries his notices in an old vinyl folder, photocopies of reviews, photocopies of photos. Shearer with Duke Ellington. With Count Basie. With Ella Fitzgerald. With Peggy Lee and she is hugging his face.

If the big time ever came close it likely has passed Oliver Shearer. Because he was never a virtuoso on vibes. No Milt Jackson. But definitely a solid journeyman. As he says: "I'm the music man who can go anywhere in the world and make music with one man or an orchestra. And have it accepted as everything but boooooor-joi-zeee."

These days, Shearer is making soft, solo music at public beaches and fashion shows and private parties. He chooses tunes never written for, but always improved by a velvet vibraphone. "Moonglow." "Misty." "Clair de Lune." "That Man of Mine."

He's playing this month at the Sawdust Festival, maybe the less serious of Laguna Canyon's annual trilogy--the venerable Festival of Arts, the Art-A-Fair for entry level culturists and the Sawdust for musicians and handicrafters.

It's not much of a booking. He's playing for tips and small sales of his car-wash quality tapes. In this age of electric guitars and keyboards, some listeners even have to ask about vibraphones.

But they do ask. And that involves them with Shearer and his philosophy. He asks them to see fine music as a form of therapy. He says if music changes mood and produces peace among the able, imagine what it may do for the disturbed and the disabled. Especially if they are taught to make that music.

"In Stockholm and in Germany I've formed groups of regular musicians with the mentally retarded on drums, on tambourine," he explained. "I watched these handicapped people become a part of something for once in their life. They contributed. They were accepted and for a moment they had normalcy.

"That's the message of the music. Of all art. May it speak louder."

In New York in 1978, Shearer demonstrated another humanitarian potential of music. He built an 80-piece orchestra with musicians from various disciplines, jazz to classical, pop to rock. Plus half a dozen adults and six underprivileged teen-agers.

They played "Full Circle Symphony," composed by Shearer.

"That's one thing I want to achieve again, to bring people together by their music. If they can see the differences in music, work with it and form a harmony, why not see the differences among people and work with them?"

Shearer has formed Making Music Together Inc., a company he carries in his hat. That's until he can find the break, the backer, maybe some lucky meet at the Sawdust that could build a center which, according to its brochure, will "establish programs of music and related arts for the educational, motivational and therapeutic development of the disabled, handicapped and socially disadvantaged."

Right now, the facility is wherever Shearer plays.

So it exists as his impossible dream.

But without dreams, he says, there can be neither good music nor true artists. Yet in the end, it doesn't really matter.

"For if I'm playing and just one little kid looks into my eyes and smiles at me . . . well, I'm doing it."

Festival of Arts/Pageant of the Masters, 10 a.m to 11:30 p.m. (714) 494-1145. Sawdust Festival, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (714) 494-3030. Art-A-Fair, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (714) 494-4514. All on Laguna Canyon Road through Aug. 30.

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