A mainstay on the Northern California jazz scene for many years, pianist Dave Miller has long considered Sir George Shearing a chief influence on his playing. Considering that the release date of Just Imagine, the delightfully lyrical, free spiritedly swinging new album with his long-time trio of Chuck Bennett (bass) and Bill Belasco (drums), is just weeks after Shearing’s 100th birthday, the project could be considered a grand centennial celebration of the legend’s life and work.
As the imaginatively re-fashioned 14 track snapshots from Shearing’s life roll by, it indeed feels like an alternately reflective and rousing tribute. So it’s fascinating to learn just how organically it came about. As Scott Yanow reveals in his excellent liner notes, the Dave Miller Trio was in the studio recording with the pianist’s daughter, vocalist Rebecca DuMaine. Miller, Bennett and Belasco capped each day playing a few instrumentals just for kicks. What started out as a batch of random tunes took quick thematic shape when Miller realized that most of the tunes they were jamming on had been recorded by Shearing at some point.
This evolved into a more formal homage to Shearing’s range of music and artistry. Besides the tantalizing melodies, vamps and improvisational piano runs and crafty rhythms (perfectly epitomized by the jaunty “Careful,” featuring hypnotic keys intertwining with Belasco’s raw playing on cajon), the most appealing element of Just Imagine is the trio’s choice of material. Only one of these selections – a whimsical romp through The Gershwins’ “A Foggy Day” - appears on a 35 track Greatest Hits compilation created in 2008, a few years before Shearing’s death. All jazz tribute albums should be this thoughtful and beautifully curated.