×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Read Variety’s 1957 Review of ‘Green Book’ Pianist Don Shirley

Our critic called his music "far out" and "progressive."

Green Book” viewers who are not totally versed in the ways of ’50s and ’60s jazz may come away from the heavily Oscar-nominated movie wondering just how well known and respected the film’s central musical figure, Don Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali), really was in his heyday. The answer: revered enough to have picked up a concert review in Variety that assumed its hepper readers might already be familiar with his prowess.

Shirley was described as “one of the more progressive elements in modern jazz” by Variety‘s critic, who also used the term “far out” to describe his contemporary take on the art form.

The report appeared in the “Nightclub Reviews” section on May 8, 1957 — five years before the events portrayed in “Green Book,” in which the classical and jazz pianist hires Tony Vallelonga (portrayed by Viggo Mortensen) as his driver and bodyguard for a tour of the Mid-West and Deep South.

When Variety caught up with the Don Shirley Duo, its namesake was 30 years old, just shy of releasing his fifth album, “Don Shirley with Two Basses,” and performing in Manhattan at a club called the Embers, “the stronghold of the eastside jazz cult,” which “even has the westsiders crossing over the Fifth Ave. border.” Variety‘s account of that gig:

CREDIT: Variety

“Shirley is one of the more progressive elements in modern jazz. Working with Jimmy Bond on bass, the duo brings a chamber music effect and a Bach sound to its jazz improvisations. You have to listen closely to get all of Shirley’s keyboard nuances but it’s worth the effort. In his repertoire, in addition to a far out contemporary jazz piece, are such faves as ‘I Can’t Get Started,’ ‘Our Love is Here to Stay,’ ‘Gentleman Friend,’ ‘What Is There to Say’ and a medley from ‘New Faces of 1952’ which highlighted his first album for Cadence Records.”

“Green Book,” directed by Peter Farrelly, is up for five Academy Awards, including best picture, actor, supporting actor and original screenplay. Previous Oscar winner Ali has already taken home the Golden Globe for best supporting actor and has been heavily favored to repeat that honor on Sunday’s telecast.

Shirley was a prodigy whose main residence was at Carnegie Hall, “jazz cult strongholds” like the Embers notwithstanding. Born in Pensacola, Florida, Shirley learned piano at age 2, eventually studying theory at the age of 9 with Mittolovski at the Leningrad Conservatory of Music. He later earned a doctorate of music, psychology and Liturgical Arts. He recorded many albums in the ’50s and ’60s for Cadence Records, including “Orpheus in the Underworld.” He died in 2013.

More Music

  • David Furnish, Bryce Dallas Howard, Taron

    'Rocketman': Paramount Previews Footage of Elton John Biopic

    “Rocketman” is ready for lift off. Paramount Pictures threw a cocktail party Monday night to preview 15 minutes of the upcoming Elton John biopic, set for release on May 31, at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, the legendary rock club where John made his U.S. debut nearly 50 years ago. The footage featured pieces of [...]

  • Songtrust’s Joe Conyers III Slams Streaming

    Songtrust’s New Chief Strategy Officer, Joe Conyers III, Slams Streaming Services’ CRB Appeal

    Songtrust, the digital rights-management platform cofounded by Downtown Music Publishing’s Justin Kalifowitz, today announced that Joe Conyers III has been elevated to Chief Strategy Officer. According to the announcement, as co-founder and GM of Songtrust for the past eight years, Conyers has led the company from prototype to servicing over 20,000 publishers to collect their [...]

  • J BalvinJ. Balvin in concert at

    J. Balvin, Ozuna, Deadmau5 Among New Artists Launching 2019 Vegas Residencies

    The list of artists heading to Vegas this year is getting a little longer. Reggaeton stars J. Balvin and Ozuna and DJ heavyweights Armin van Buuren, Deadmau5 and Eric Prydz are among the new artists who have announced residencies this spring at the Palms Casino Resort. The performers join previously announced residencies by Cardi B, [...]

  • mark Beaven

    If Spotify Is Holding Town Halls for Songwriters, They Must Be Open (Guest Column)

    Earlier this month, Amazon, Google, SiriusXM and Spotify challenged the Copyright Royalty Board’s decision to increase the compulsory mechanical rates paid to songwriters by 44% over the next five years. The streamers have come under fierce criticism for the move, which they claim is over the complexities of the CRB’s rules but is widely assumed [...]

  • iHeartMedia Promotes Angel Aristone to Executive

    iHeartMedia Promotes Angel Aristone to Executive VP of Communications

    Angel Aristone has been promoted to executive vice president of communications for iHeartMedia, the company announced today. According to the announcement, Aristone will continue to position iHeart as a media and entertainment leader through proactive strategic communication efforts on both a local and national level. She will also continue to oversee media relations and external [...]

  • Grammy Awards60th Annual Grammy Awards, Press

    Recording Academy Narrows Search to Replace Neil Portnow

    The Recording Academy has narrowed its pool of candidates to succeed outgoing chairman/president Neil Portnow to a shortlist of “three to five” finalists, with the Academy now focusing exclusively on executives at the CEO level, sources tell Variety. The next Recording Academy chief is expected to be named in late May, with Portnow staying on through [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content