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Lee Shaw, 2015 Jazz Hero

Lee Shaw

Lee Shaw is the consummate, internationally-known pianist who, Owen McNally of the Hartford Courant observed, is an “artist who [has] had a virtually religious calling for jazz.” However, her place in our local community transcends her professional virtuosity, intensity and mastery of this great music, which has been well documented in countless articles and reviews over the years -- and is detailed in “Lee’s 88 Keys,” a documentary about her life by filmmaker Susan Robbins receiving its world premiere immediately before the presentation of her Jazz Hero award (at 3 pm on Sunday, April 12, 2015, at Proctor’s GE Theater). What we value just as much if not more than her beautiful music is Shaw’s selfless, indefatigable support of our jazz community and jazz education since she relocated from Long Island/metropolitan New York City to New York’s Capital Region in the 1970s.

Her life of unselfishly giving of herself through jazz is embodied by a practice she started the year after her husband died. For the next decade, Lee played concerts on Thanksgiving and Christmas days for every patient unit at the 11-story Albany, New York, Veteran’s Administration Medical Center. The piano was moved via elevator from floor to floor.

Lee’s professional students are a who’s who of musicians who have gone on to successful international and local careers, often returning to our area to play and learn more from her. John Medeski, Peg Delaney, Joe Barna, Keith Pray and Theo Hill are among her students who have become professionals. Her mentorship has not been limited to the piano; drummers, saxophonists, trumpeters, guitarists and at least one chromatic harmonica player have responded to her much coveted invitation to “Come play for me sometime.” The Village Vanguard, the Apollo, Minton’s Playhouse and the Blue Note are some of the prestigious venues Lee has performed in; she has also enjoyed European residencies, receiving high acclaim. We in the Capital Region are profoundly grateful that she always returns home to us!

Now 88, Lee was making her regularly scheduled local performances and had just negotiated a new gig with her trio when she was felled early in 2015 by a stroke. While she continues rehabilitative therapy and is temporarily unable to live alone, her recovery has been miraculous. Having regained most of the use of her right hand, she has begun practicing again, while her fellow patients gather and call out requests. Their responses may be particularly gratifying, as Lee has never stopped reaching out to those around her and cultivates new audiences passionately. With humor and delight she instructs listeners about the origins of tunes, answers questions, fills in blanks in our histories of the music and interacts offstage with those she charms, in many instances converting the jazz-averse.

For several weeks of Lee’s recent hospitalization she was very ill, and much to her consternation unable to play. In her hospital room she began collaborating with a fellow pianist and former student who took up the challenge of making charts of her original music that although recorded, had not been transcribed. This music is the very essence of her being and sharing it is her life. She has been our secret weapon for building audiences and teaching jazz. There is no one who more exemplifies the spirit and life dedication of a true jazz hero than Lee Shaw.

Lee Shaw Scholarship Fund


Read the
article about Lee Shaw in the April 1, 2015 Times Union.

Watch the trailer for "Lee's 88 Keys"

 Other Jazz Heroes: 2012   2013   2014   2016