Pianist, composer, and bandleader Lee Shaw is a youthful octogenarian who has more energy, passion, and intellectual curiosity than many people a fraction of her age. She has had her own swinging, acoustic jazz piano trio for more than 40 years, during which time she performed in numerous clubs, concerts, and festivals in the United States and Europe. Her latest CD/DVD, Live in Graz, brings us face to face with this genius of jazz who is finally receiving her due.
Lee Shaw has laser-like musical intensity, true mastery of the piano, and her tonal palette is huge. Owen McNally of The Hartford Courant notes that Lee Shaw is, “a modest, irresistible person of immodest, irrepressible talent. She comes across both in the interview and at the keyboard as an artist who had a virtually religious calling for jazz, come what may.” Bill Milkowski, in Jazz Times, observes , "her harmonic language is expansive, her time impeccable, her touch divine."
Born in Cushing, Oklahoma in 1926, she grew up in Ada,Oklahoma. Shaw learned the "American Songbook" tunes when they were new. She had a voracious appetite for music of all kinds: "I loved music, and I wanted to carry it with me wherever I went. That's why I was really happy when tape recorders came along!" She graduated from the Oklahoma college for Women and earned her Master’s Degree in piano from the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, but the lure of jazz came strong, and soon she was playing in clubs all over the city.
It was in Chicago that she met drummer Stan Shaw, and they formed a piano trio. Shortly after their marriage in 1962, the couple moved to Puerto Rico, and while there Lee studied with Jesu Maria Sanroma at Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico. She credits her club and concert playing during this period for the influence Latin music has had on her composing and playing. A year later the couple moved to New York, playing their first gig at The Embers. Other city engagements included the Village Vanguard, the Half Note, Minton's Playhouse and other clubs in Harlem.
The trio also performed at the Apollo theatre, the benefit for the Dr. Martin Luther King march on Washington.
Over the years, Shaw studied with Oscar Peterson, taught piano to John Medeski, and worked with countless jazz luminaries including Arnie Lawrence, Frank Foster, Pepper Adams, Zoot Simms, Al Cohn, Al Grey, Richard Davis, Slam Stewart, Eddie Jones, Eugene Wright, and Jymie Merritt. Bandleaders such as Lionel Hampton, asked her to join their groups, but she turned down these offers in order to focus on the trio. In 1993 she was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.
Eventually Lee and Stan moved to Albany, New York as they continued to play with big name musicians near home and on the road. In the mid 1990s, Lee and bassist Rich Syracuse began playing as a duo because of Stan's increasing disability. Jeff (Siege) Siegel joined as drummer after Stan's death in 2001, and a new incarnation of the trio formed.
The Lee Shaw Trio has appeared at the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. New York state performances include Hyde Museum, Saugerties Pro Musica, Adirondack Community College, Wall Street Jazz Festival, North Pointe Cultural Arts Center, Spencertown Academy, and two appearances at the Lake George Jazz Festival, and Rensselaerville Institute. Capital District concert dates include Schenectady Museum, SUNY Albany, the concert series A Place for Jazz, and their CD release concert in the new Massry Center for the Arts. In Oklahoma, the trio has played at Oklahoma Central University, and twice at the East Central University, and University of Science and Arts. In 2006, Lee Shaw and bassist Rich Syracuse played a concert at Steinway Hall in San Jose, California. Lee has also appeared on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz program, and NPR hailed her, along with McPartland, and the late Mary Lou Williams, as “one of jazz’s premier pianists.”
In 2007 the trio embarked on their three country tour in Europe, where they performed concerts in Austria, Switzerland, and Germany. One of the Austrian concerts was recorded by the Austrian Broadcast Company and became the centerpiece of their 2008 release "Live in Graz" CD/DVD. The German concert, held at the art gallery and concert hall, World of Basses in Reutlingen, prompted owner and musical instrument dealer Tobias Festl to organize the Lee Shaw Jazz Festival for September of 2008. This unique venue draws together an eclectic mix of visual arts and jazz, and in performance allows for a cultural exchange of musicians from around the world. Guest appearances at the Lee Shaw Jazz Festival included noted European musicians Nils Wogram, Torsten Goodes, Julian Wasserfuhr, Cecile Vendry, and Harry Sokol. The trio returned to Europe in May of 2009 playing concerts in Vienna, and various venues in Germany. They also recorded with three European musicians from their 2007 tour, and this will be released as their newest CD in 2010.
Area dates within the last year include the Tribute to Nick Brignola at The Van Dyke, Albany Jazz Festival, concert at The Egg with John Medeski, and Tribute to Lee Shaw at the Cohoes Music Hall. The trio’s latest CD “Blossom” was released in June.
Since 1983, Lee has been adjunct faculty at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York, and also instructs privately. Lee is an ardently passionate teacher. "So many jazz musicians have been so generous to me in the past. The only way I can truly thank them is to pass on to my students what I learned from them. "
During the Lee Shaw Jazz Festival in Reutlingen, Germany in 2007, Armin Knaver noted in a profile of Lee that “playing before the public is not a stressor for her, but a wellspring of pure energy.” Lee Shaw herself adds “As long as it’s so much fun for me, I’ll keep on.”