BY PATRICIA DUFF
Whidbey Life Magazine
April 10, 2013
It took some courage for 79-year-old Larry Shafer to approach the band.
He had followed jazz Trio Nouveau around town as they played the Langley circuit: O&M Tasting Room, Prima Bistro, Useless Bay Coffee Company. He was building his nerve to do something he left behind more than 50 years ago.
Trio Nouveau’s bassist Kristi O’ Donnell said she sees Shafer as a conduit for the community’s muse.
“At the end of the first set, he introduced himself and invited us to discuss a proposal and dream; to back him singing his favorite songs,” O’Donnell said.
One thing led to another and now Shafer will realize a long-shelved dream. He’ll appear at Ott & Murphy Tasting Room Cabaret in Langley from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, April 13 with singer Nancy Nolan accompanying him at the piano. Trio Nouveau will also play, featuring guitarists Keith Bowers and Greg Beck, accompanied by bassist O’Donnell and percussionist Roger Bennett for a dreamy evening at the cabaret by the sea.
Shafer tells an inspirational story of how he began to sing. By the time he was 8 years old, he had been given up to foster care by his migrant worker parents, who eventually broke up and went their separate ways. Luckily, the smart and resourceful boy had been given over to the care of several generous foster mothers who nurtured his education and love of singing, along with several teachers who mentored him.
It was 1941 when his foster mom, Mrs. Sarment, taught Larry how to grow a Victory Garden where they lived in California. It was while working in his garden when he began to sing.
“I just started to sing. I liked the way it made me feel,” Shafer said. “It was surprising. I thought, ‘Wow!’ It was like hearing a bird with a beautiful call.”
From the time he was 8, he always had a job. Shafer worked to earn his keep and there were times as a boy when he wasn’t sure where he would sleep. His father moved him around to various foster homes throughout California, to Phoenix, Ariz., and eventually, he followed his dad to Chicago and enrolled in Amundsen High School, where he would excel.
During the Chicago years, Shafer took every chance he could to sing. He sang in every school variety show and joined the Madrigal singers and the barbershop quartet and even performed a song he co-wrote with a buddy titled, “The Summer is Gone.” His high school choir teacher taught him to love Cole Porter songs and he became a bit of a crooner and even sang once in a nightclub on Rush Street with his father’s girlfriend, Delores Geyser, a professional singer who taught Larry, “How Deep is the Ocean” and “Danny Boy,” among other tunes. Shafer even found himself singing on the ship heading to France after enlisting in the army.
That’s where the singing ended for the young man who had a wife and family to support. Shafer went on to become a reputable lawyer in Seattle, who worked hard for social justice, passed the first national bill on poverty and saved the Pike Place market from demolition.
Fast forward to the present, where now the retired widower has discovered music again. After donating a piano to Ott & Murphy Tasting Room recently, Shafer decided to tune up the old pipes again and began voice lessons with Nolan, a talented jazz singer who often performs on the Seattle jazz circuit, as well as in Langley.
Nolan said not only is she touched by the man’s pulling-himself-up-from-the-bootstraps story, but is floored by Shafer’s passion and talent for singing.
“He sings like a dream; with a brilliant, lyric, warm sound, and with perfect pitch,” she said.
“He has told me so many times in so many different ways, that all he wants in his remaining years is music and song. He is so driven, so focused, sincere and passionate,” she added.
One of Shafer’s goals is to record a CD for his family; a goal that Nolan is helping him to realize.
“It humbles me. I’m so honored that he’s put his dreams in my hands,” Nolan said.
“I hope I can guide him to full freedom of expression where he’s not thinking about the architecture of the mechanics and craft anymore, and just hear him let go and simply soar.”
Shafer’s favorite Kurt Weill song reflects his feelings about this period of his life.
“Time is so old, and love so brief. Love is pure gold and time a thief. We’re late, darling we’re late, the curtain descends, everything ends, too soon, too soon.”
Luckily, Shafer is surrounded by Whidbey Island folks who have similar dreams and talent.
Look for Shafer onstage Saturday evening and to sing regularly with Nolan during a new series at Ott & Murphy Tasting Room Cabaret from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursdays, beginning May 2. Nolan hopes to present Thursdays at the cabaret as a “Singers Showcase” where people can come and sign up to sing.
Reservations are recommended for the Saturday, April 13 cabaret evening at Ott & Murphy. Visit the website or call 360-221-7131.