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Ian Shaw

Ian Shaw, Kidderminster Jazz Club, Corn Exchange Room, Kidderminster Town Hall, Kidderminster, Worcs., 11//11/2021.

by Ian Mann

November 12, 2021


The evening was a triumph, one of the most memorable to date at Kidderminster Jazz Club. There was definitely a feeling that we had just witnessed something special.

Ian Shaw, Kidderminster Jazz Club, Corn Exchange Room, Kidderminster Town Hall, Kidderminster, Worcs., 11//11/2021.

Ian Shaw – vocals, piano

November’s event attracted Kidderminster Jazz Club’s largest attendance since the end of lockdown, a further sign of the growing confidence being felt by audiences.

But the impressive turnout was also a tribute to the reputation of the brilliant Ian Shaw, jazz vocalist, pianist, raconteur, political activist and all round entertainer.

Shaw has appeared on the Jazzmann web pages on numerous occasions and I have reviewed previous live performances at the Brecon, Lichfield and Wall2Wall (Abergavenny) Jazz Festivals.

I have also covered two of his more recent album releases,  beginning with 2018’s excellent “Shine, Sister, Shine”, his tribute to the women who have had an influence on his life and his music. The material includes songs by celebrated female musicians and composers alongside a clutch of Shaw’s originals. Review here;

In 2020 he released “What’s New”, a trio collaboration with saxophonist Iain Ballamy and pianist Jamie Safir, which focussed on ‘standard’ material sourced from the ‘Great American Songbook’ and beyond. I have to admit to having some reservations about this recording due to the sheer familiarity of the material, but suggested that the natural habitat for this music would be the live environment, very much Shaw’s second home. Album review here;

Born in North Wales in 1962 Shaw is something of a polymath. In addition to being a highly accomplished jazz vocalist and pianist he’s been an actor, comedian and an Alternative Cabaret entertainer. In jazz terms he’s a highly skilled improviser who sings with great technical facility and is prepared to criss-cross genres and take musical risks. Shaw is also an artist with strong political convictions and is a trustee of the Side By Side With Refugees organisation. He has done much to raise public awareness of the refugee crisis through his fund raising concerts and has also been a frequent visitor to the camps in Calais.

Since making his recording début in 1990 Shaw has enjoyed a long, varied and fruitful career working with musicians and vocalists from both sides of the Atlantic including the late, great American pianist and composer Cedar Walton. A frequent award winner he has been named ‘Best Jazz Vocalist’ at both the BBC and Jazz FM Jazz Awards as well as being nominated in the Downbeat Annual Readers’ Poll in the US.

Like so many of the acts scheduled to appear on Kidderminster Jazz Club’s 2021/22 programme Shaw is a personal favourite of vocalist and club organiser Annette Gregory. His show followed recent appearances by vocalist Tina May, saxophonist Alan Barnes and vibraphonist Roger Beaujolais, all musicians who fall into that same ‘favourites’ category.

I have seen Shaw perform with other musicians, notably pianist Barry Green, but to many listeners he’s probably best known as a solo performer, one man alone with a piano, or electric keyboard if needs must.

Tonight’s one man show came with the bonus that Shaw was able to utilise the services of Kidderminster Town Hall’s splendid grand piano. He clearly relished the opportunity to play this magnificent instrument and seemed to very much enjoy his first ever visit to Kidderminster. The presence of an attentive and supportive audience, plus Shaw’s own brilliant performance, also helped to ensure that this was a hugely successful and enjoyable evening for everyone concerned and a triumph for Annette Gregory.

A piano / scat vocal intro led into the first tune, “Everyone’s Gone To The Moon”, which highlighted Shaw’s fluent and flexible vocal style, effortlessly switching between the singing of the lyrics and further scat vocal episodes. And although Shaw may underplay his instrumental abilities it also revealed him to be a highly accomplished pianist, his left hand rhythms bringing a real sense of swing to the music.

Shaw is a genuine raconteur with a ready, and sometimes salty, wit and loves to spark off his audience. Noticing that my wife was knitting he was keen to know if it was in his size, before declaring that “it’s not my colour”. Other musicians have admired Pam’s knitting abilities, among them Tina May and violinist Faith Brackenbury, but Shaw’s the only one to have referenced it from the stage.

The audience banter continued into a playful and good natured rendition of “If I Were A Bell”, with Shaw encouraging the crowd to sing along with the chorus and go “ding dong, ding dong, ding”.

But there’s more to Shaw than just a formidable singing technique and a sense of levity. Introduced by a passage of unaccompanied singing his rendition of the Stephen Sondheim song “Nothing’s Going To Harm You” exhibited a real sense of tenderness and empathy. This was a song choice inspired by the recent events of the pandemic and lockdown. An instinctive performer Shaw was clearly delighted to be playing in front of a live audience again as he recounted the soulless experience of playing a livestream event in an empty Ronnie Scott’s - “there wasn’t even anyone behind the bar”, he lamented.

Shaw’s highly witty original “Quinoa” was a song that lampooned the pretensions of London’s hipster community and had the audience laughing out loud.

Prior to tonight’s event we had been promised that the evening would have something of a Joni Mitchell theme. Mitchell is clearly a great heroine for Shaw, “I love doing things with her songs” he revealed, “but for some reason she’s never done anything with mine”.
A superb Mitchell segue featured the rapid fire lyrics of the early Joni song “Night In The City”, a more respectful and emotive “A Case Of You” and a final romp through “Big Yellow Taxi”, with Shaw hamming it up for all he was worth, calling “guitar solo”, and then falling briefly silent. Great stuff.

Each season of events at Kidderminster Jazz Club has a specific theme, the current one being Charlie Parker. Each act is encouraged to incorporate at least one Parker tune into their performance. Like most jazz musicians Shaw is a big Parker fan and recalled the impact that hearing the album “The Genius of Charlie Parker” for the first time had had on him. For his piece tonight he sang the standard “East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon”, replicating Parker’s sax solo in the form of a scat vocal.

Before closing the first set Shaw recalled his days of working in an Amsterdam piano bar, an experience that inspired an original song satirising the much requested “The Girl From Ipanema”. Again this was laugh out loud stuff, performed with wicked wit, exquisite comic timing and an admirable technical skill.

The second set commenced with an audience request, a version of the Burt Bacharach / Hal David song “Alfie”, a piece that appears on the “What’s New” trio album. This was performed with considerable tenderness and respect and was very well received by the audience as a whole.

Shaw also performs the songs of writers such as Leonard Cohen and Paul Simon, the contemporaries of Joni Mitchell. Thus we heard superb versions of Cohen’s “Dance Me To The End Of Love” and Simon’s “Still Crazy After These Years”, both movingly and reverently performed.

Rather more light hearted was Shaw’s interpretation of the 1937 Rodgers & Hart song “I Wish I Were In Love Again” with the singer relishing the witty barbs of the lyrics and delivering a vocalised ‘trumpet’ solo. Interestingly Joni Mitchell has also covered this song, her version of it appearing on the album “Both Sides Now”, so this may have provided the inspiration for its inclusion here.

Shaw then returned to the Bacharach / David repertoire for a moving rendition of “A House Is Not A Home”.

Another of Shaw’s musical heroes is Al Jarreau and next up was a stunning rendition of Jarreau’s vocalese adaptation of the celebrated Chick Corea composition “Spain”, re-cast as “I Can Recall” for Jarreau’s 1980 album “This Time”. This was a stunning performance, with Shaw exhibiting great vocal and pianistic facility on this demanding piece.

“Would you like to hear a song by Stevie Wonder or one by Tom Waits?” Shaw asked the crowd. “Both!” we answered emphatically, and, remarkably this is what we got.

First we heard Wonder’s “If It’s Magic” from the “Songs In The Key Of Life” album, “still a song for now” remarked Shaw.

This segued into Waits’ “Take It With Me” from the “Mule Variations” album, one of Waits’ most beautiful love songs. Like Shaw Waits is a musician capable of combining a sometimes savage wit with considerable tenderness.

Shaw remained at the piano as the Kidderminster audience shouted for more. The encore was another segue from two great American songwriters, Randy Newman and Fran Landesman.

Newman’s “You Got A Friend In Me” is well known to audiences from the Toy Story films, but even better was Shaw’s genuinely moving performance of Landesman’s much covered “Ballad Of The Sad Young Men”, with its all too perceptive lyric.

Even now the evening wasn’t over. As Shaw exited the stage such was the audience response that he was called back a second time, a rare occurrence at jazz events. This time he chose to perform an original song “Forty Two”, one that he wrote for fellow pianist/vocalist Liane Carroll. The song appears on Shaw’s 2008 album “Lifejacket” and celebrates forty two as the perfect age to be, beyond the follies of youth but before the gradual decline into the decrepitude of old age. I remember seeing him sing this before at some of those Festival shows, I’m long past forty two and can relate to where he’s coming from. Even on this original piece the audience were encouraged to sing along with the chorus, and did so lustily.

At the close several audience members rose to their feet to applaud Shaw, probably the first time I’ve seen a standing ovation at KJC. This was a tribute to the quality of Shaw’s performance during what must be one of the best shows I have ever seen from him. Of course that wonderful piano helped, but Shaw has a way of drawing audiences in with his blend of wit and pathos and, of course, his superb vocal and pianistic skills. I, for one, was totally absorbed by his performance.

Tonight we got a lot of music for our money, I’ve seen shows where Shaw has been cast more in the role of comedian but tonight it was the music that really mattered.  As witty as the banter was between songs the focus was really on the musical performances. Even the political commentary was limited, other than a dig at the “granite hearted” Priti Patel. The quality of the singing and playing was enhanced by the quality of the material, which spanned several eras and featured the cream of American songwriting. And, of course, one shouldn’t forget Shaw’s own songs, which were consistently witty and occasionally poignant. The sheer warmth and humanity of his presentation was also a huge plus, audiences just love Ian Shaw.

The evening was a triumph, one of the most memorable to date at Kidderminster Jazz Club. There was definitely a feeling that we had just witnessed something special.


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