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JAZZ REVIEWS : Rules of Thumb Put the Finger on Don Shirley

December 11, 1987|A. JAMES LISKA

One rule of thumb might be "Beware of pop concerts with a printed program." A second rule might be "Beware of pop concerts with a printed program featuring works of Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Bacharach, Dylan, Gershwin and Ellington."

The pretense established by either situation just about guarantees a performance like the one pianist Don Shirley gave Wednesday night at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena. To say it was pretentious is to say the least; to say it was an uneven performance by an emotional lounge pianist is to get closer to the truth.

Credited in the program notes with being as much at home with classical music as he is with jazz and pop, Shirley is actually not very comfortable in any setting--each of which he makes sound like the others. Where he was most at home Wednesday was in taking any piece of music and lavishing so many notes and overwrought emotions as to make it something of an unfunny parody.

Accompanied by cellist Marisol Espada and bassist Kenneth Fricker, Shirley overplayed with bombast and Las Vegas showiness in every tune. His cohorts' contributions were minimal.

The best--or worst--example was "Divertimento for Duke by Don." During what turned out to be a medley of Ellington pop tunes, Shirley glissandoed and trilled and pounded his way through an overarranged mess that could well serve to turn anyone away from Ellington.

On the solo side, he offered an arrangement of "Rhapsody in Blue." Technically the pianist was at his best, but the piece was lacking in musicality and spirit.

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