By Skip Heller
On July 3, Philadelphia pianist/vocalist Eric Spiegel, sometimes known as Eric Shaw, passed away after years of generally horrible health brought on by a drunken car accident about fifteen years ago.
If anyone were to write Eric's life story, it would read like an implausible version of Art Pepper's autobiography Straight Life. Eric was not as fortunate as was Pepper--the car accident that took him off the front lines was his own fault. Drunk on his way to play a wedding in a Philadelphia suburb, Eric hit a median strip at high speed, and emerged with partial brain damage, a limp, and a cornocopia of various crippling pains. Amazingly, he still managed to play gigs, but as time went on, his manner and appearance indicated that hiring him had become a risk--he showed up to at least one job wearing only one shoe.
In the seventies and eighties, Eric--often with singing partner Wendy Simon--was one of the workingest players (not to mention finest vocalists) Philadelphia has to boast. Old line heavyweights such as Philly Joe Jones and Slide Hampton used him on many live dates. And his group with Wendy--first called Tuxedo Junction, then renamed 52nd Street (under which name they released their only album, on Inner City) -- was deservedly a very popular favorite around Philly.
Eric was also a great teacher and mentor. Bassists Daryl Hall and even moreso Steve Beskrone gave it up to Eric for that as well as for his superior command of the piano. His style combined the harmonic sophistication and subtle touch of Bill Evans with the sure swing of Wynton Kelly and the outright blues of Ray Charles. Eric never felt like he was all that, and, in the mid-1980's, went back to school -- taking lessions in harmony from legendary Philly teacher Dennis Sandole
To me, he was very much a father, who taught me how to play over chord changes and who also gave me my first (second and third) drink of hard liquor, advice about women, and did everything he could to deepen and further my love for playing jazz and being a proponent of the tradition.
He was, unfortunately, under-recorded and very few photos seem to be drifting around. The Inner City LP has been out of print for decades.
At present, there is no funeral planned. He is survived unofficially by a brother, sister, and daughter, and unoffically by a style that influenced probably three generations of musicians who were lucky enough to have shared his bandstand. He will be missed.