RIP: Lee Shaw, renowned jazz pianist
The music world has lost one of its preeminent forces in the elegant, tirelessly devoted Lee Shaw. With both her infectiously obvious love of the form and professional yet intuitive chops, those of us who’ve been lucky enough to see her perform will miss her dearly. She wasn’t just one of the key redeeming entities of New York’s capital district; she was also a reminder that you’re able to do what you love and thrive anywhere if you’ve taken the time to refine your talent.
After learning classical piano at college in her home state of Oklahoma, Shaw pursued her Masters at Chicago’s American Conservatory of Music. Due to a solid repertoire of popular songs of the time, Shaw was able to get regular solo work in Chicago. Although she’d intended to land a gig as a classical accompanist, a Count Basie concert had her making a hard left toward jazz (she claimed she never heard the word till she went to college). She met drummer Stan Shaw and the two became collaborators and eventually husband and wife. It is said that Oscar Peterson saw her play just once and offered to be her teacher. After studying with Peterson and honing her craft with years of countless gigs, she went on to teach John Medeski, whom she made a concert recording with in 2009.
After her husband fell ill in the mid 90s, the pianist, composer, and band leader formed a new trio with bassist Rich Syracuse and drummer Jeff Siegel. Shaw played right up to the end (sometimes with an oxygen tank) with remarkable poise, grace, and good humor. It’s a shame jazz only gets mainstream attention when it has to do with excess or tragedy. Here is someone who lived the demanding life of a touring musician and came out with nothing but gratitude. We need more stories like hers, lest we forget that passionate hard work can be its own reward.