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Sir George Shearing
|Born||13 August 1919|
Battersea, London, England, UK
|Died||14 February 2011 (aged 91)|
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Genres||Jazz, bebop, swing, cool jazz|
|Labels||MGM, Capitol, Concord, Savoy|
Sir George Albert Shearing, (13 August 1919 – 14 February 2011) was a British jazz pianist who for many years led a popular jazz group that recorded for Discovery Records, MGM Records and Capitol Records. Shearing was the composer of over 300 titles, including the jazz standards "Lullaby of Birdland" and "Conception", and had multiple albums on the Billboard charts during the 1950s, 1960s, 1980s and 1990s. He died of heart failure in New York City, at the age of 91.
Born in Battersea, London, Shearing was the youngest of nine children. He was born blind to working-class parents: his father delivered coal and his mother cleaned trains in the evening. He started to learn piano at the age of three and began formal training at Linden Lodge School for the Blind, where he spent four years.
Though he was offered several scholarships, Shearing opted to perform at a local pub, the Mason's Arms in Lambeth, for "25 bob a week" playing piano and accordion. He joined an all-blind band, Claude Bampton's Blind Orchestra, during that time, and was influenced by the records of Teddy Wilson and Fats Waller. Shearing made his first BBC radio broadcast during this time, after being befriended by Leonard Feather, with whom he started recording in 1937.
In 1940, Shearing joined Harry Parry's popular band. Around 1942 he was recruited by Stéphane Grappelli (domiciled in London during World War II) to join his band, which appeared at Hatchets Restaurant in Piccadilly in the early years of the war, and subsequently toured as "the Grappelly Swingtette" from 1943 onwards. Shearing won six consecutive Top Pianist Melody Maker polls from this time onwards. Around that time he was also a member of George Evans's Saxes 'n' Sevens band.
United States years
In 1947, Shearing emigrated to the United States, where his harmonically complex style mixing swing, bop and modern classical influences gained popularity. One of his first performances was at the Hickory House. He performed with the Oscar Pettiford Trio and led a jazz quartet with Buddy DeFranco, which led to contractual problems, since Shearing was under contract to MGM and DeFranco to Capitol Records.
In 1949, he formed the first George Shearing Quintet, a band with Margie Hyams (vibraphone), Chuck Wayne (guitar), later replaced by Toots Thielemans (listed as John Tillman), John Levy (bass), and Denzil Best (drums). This line-up recorded for Discovery, Savoy, and MGM, including the immensely popular single "September in the Rain" (MGM), which sold over 900,000 copies; "my other hit" to accompany "Lullaby of Birdland". Shearing said of this hit that it was "as accidental as it could be." At this time Jack Kerouac heard him play in Birdland and describes the performance in Part Two of On the Road.
Shearing's interest in classical music resulted in some performances with concert orchestras in the 1950s and 1960s, and his solos frequently drew upon the music of Satie, Delius, and Debussy for inspiration. He became known for a piano technique known as "The Shearing Sound", a type of double melody block chord, with an additional fifth part that doubles the melody an octave lower. With the piano playing these five voices, Shearing would double the top voice with the vibraphone and the bottom voice with the guitar to create his signature sound. (This piano technique is also known as "locked hands" and the jazz organist Milt Buckner is generally credited with inventing it. In Shearing's later career he played with a more conventional piano technique while maintaining his recognizable improvisational style.)
In 1956, Shearing became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He continued to play with his quintet, with augmented players through the years, and recorded with Capitol until 1969. He created his own label, Sheba, that lasted a few years. Along with dozens of musical stars of his day, Shearing appeared on ABC's The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom. Earlier, he had appeared on the same network's reality show, The Comeback Story, in which he discussed how to cope with blindness.
In 1970, he began to "phase out his by-now-predictable quintet" and disbanded the group in 1978. One of his more notable albums during this period was The Reunion, with George Shearing (Verve 1976), made in collaboration with bassist Andy Simpkins and drummer Rusty Jones, and featuring Stéphane Grappelli, the musician with whom he had debuted as a sideman decades before.
Later, Shearing played in a trio, as a soloist, and increasingly in a duo. Among his collaborations were sets with the Montgomery Brothers, Marian McPartland, Brian Q. Torff, Jim Hall, Hank Jones, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and Kenny Davern. In 1979, Shearing signed with Concord Records, and recorded for the label with Mel Tormé. This collaboration garnered Shearing and Tormé two Grammys, one in 1983 and another in 1984.
Shearing remained fit and active well into his later years and continued to perform, even after being honoured with an Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993. He never forgot his native country and, in his last years, would split his year between living in New York and Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, where he bought a house with his second wife, singer Ellie Geffert. This gave him the opportunity to tour the UK, giving concerts, often with Tormé, backed by the BBC Big Band. He was appointed OBE in 1996. In 2007, he was knighted. "So", he noted later, "the poor, blind kid from Battersea became Sir George Shearing. Now that's a fairy tale come true."
In 2004, he released his memoirs, Lullaby of Birdland, which was accompanied by a double-album "musical autobiography", Lullabies of Birdland. Shortly afterwards, however, he suffered a fall at his home and retired from regular performing.
In 2012 Derek Paravicini and jazz vocalist Frank Holder did a tribute concert to the recordings of Shearing. Ann Odell transcribed the recordings and taught Paravicini the parts, as well as being the MD for the concerts. Lady Shearing also endorsed the show, sending a letter to be read out before the Watermill Jazz Club performance.
Shearing was married to Trixie Bayes from 1941 to 1973. Two years after his divorce he married his second wife, the singer Ellie Geffert. He was a member of the Bohemian Club and often performed at the annual Bohemian Grove Encampments. He composed music for two of the Grove Plays.
Awards and honors
- Performed at Royal Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip
- Performed for US Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan
- 1975 Honorary degree of Doctor of Music from Westminster College, Salt Lake City, Utah
- 1978 Horatio Alger Award for Distinguished Americans
- 1983 Grammy Award, An Evening with George Shearing & Mel Tormé
- 1984 Grammy Award, Top Drawer
- 1993 Ivor Novello Award for Lifetime Achievement
- 1994 Honorary degree of Doctor of Music from Hamilton College in New York
- 1996 Included in Queen's Birthday Honours List, invested by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for "services to music and Anglo-US relations"
- 1998 Received the first American Music Award by the National Arts Club, New York City
- 2002 Honorary degree of Doctor of Music from DePauw University in Indiana
- 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award from BBC Jazz Awards
- 2007 Knighted for services to music
- Piano Solos with Rhythm (Savoy, 1950)
- Shearing in Hi-Fi (MGM, 1955)
- The Shearing Spell (Capitol, 1955)
- Midnight on Cloud 69 with Red Norvo (Savoy, 1956)
- Black Satin (Capitol, 1956)
- Lullaby of Birdland (MGM, 1957)
- The Shearing Piano (Capitol, 1957)
- Taking a Chance on Love with Billy Eckstine, Teddi King (MGM, 1958)
- Jazz Conceptions (MGM, 1958)
- In the Night (Capitol, 1958)
- Latin Lace (Capitol, 1958)
- Rap Your Troubles in Drums (MGM, 1959)
- Blue Chiffon (Capitol, 1959)
- Shearing on Stage! (Capitol, 1959)
- Beauty and the Beat! with Peggy Lee (Capitol, 1959)
- George Shearing Goes Hollywood (MGM, 1959)
- The Shearing Touch (Capitol, 1960)
- White Satin (Capitol, 1960)
- A Latin Affair (Capitol, 1960)
- Mood Latino (Capitol, 1961)
- On the Sunny Side of the Strip (Capitol, 1960)
- George Shearing and the Montgomery Brothers (Jazzland, 1961)
- Jazz Moments (Capitol, 1962)
- San Francisco Scene (Capitol, 1962)
- Satin Affair (Capitol, 1962)
- Smooth & Swinging (MGM, 1962)
- Soft and Silky (MGM, 1962)
- Concerto for My Love (Capitol, 1962)
- Shearing Bossa Nova (Capitol, 1962)
- Sassy Meets Shearing with Sarah Vaughan (Camay, 1962)
- Nat King Cole Sings/George Shearing Plays (Capitol, 1962)
- Touch Me Softly (Capitol, 1963)
- It's Easy to Remember (Ace of Clubs, 1963)
- Jazz Concert (Capitol, 1963)
- Out of the Woods (Capitol, 1964)
- Old Gold and Ivory (Capitol, 1964)
- It's Real George (Coronet, 1965)
- Rare Form! (Capitol, 1966)
- New Look! (Capitol, 1967)
- Shearing Today! (Capitol, 1968)
- The Young George Shearing (1968)
- The Fool on the Hill (Capitol, 1969)
- Out of This World (Sheba, 1971)
- The Heart and Soul of Joe Williams and George Shearing (Sheba, 1971)
- Music to Hear (Sheba, 1972)
- G.A.S. (George Albert Shearing) (Sheba, 1972)
- As Requested (Sheba, 1972)
- Light, Airy & Swinging (MPS/BASF 1973)
- The Way We Are (MPS/BASF, 1974)
- Continental Experience (MPS/BASF, 1974)
- My Ship (MPS, 1975)
- The Reunion with Stéphane Grappelli (MPS, 1977)
- The Shearing Piano (Capitol, 1977)
- The Many Facets of George Shearing (MPS, 1978)
- Windows (MPS, 1978)
- Two for the Road with Carmen McRae (Concord Jazz, 1978)
- 500 Miles High (MPS, 1979)
- Lullaby of Birdland (MGM, 1979)
- Getting in the Swing of Things (MPS, 1980)
- Blues Alley Jazz with Brian Torff (Concord Jazz, 1980)
- On a Clear Day with Brian Torff (Concord Jazz, 1980)
- Alone Together with Marian McPartland (Concord Jazz, 1981)
- An Evening with George Shearing & Mel Tormé (Concord Jazz, 1982)
- First Edition with Jim Hall (Concord Jazz, 1982)
- Top Drawer with Mel Tormé (Concord Jazz, 1983)
- Live at the Café Carlyle with Don Thompson (Concord Jazz, 1984)
- An Evening at Charlie's with Mel Torme (Concord Jazz, 1984)
- Grand Piano (Concord Jazz, 1985)
- An Elegant Evening with Mel Tormé (Concord Jazz, 1986)
- George Shearing & Barry Tuckwell Play the Music of Cole Porter (Concord, 1986)
- More Grand Piano (Concord Jazz, 1987)
- Breakin' Out (Concord Jazz, 1987)
- Dexterity with Ernestine Anderson (Concord Jazz, 1988)
- A Vintage Year with Mel Tormé (Concord, 1988)
- A Perfect Match with Ernestine Anderson(Concord Jazz, 1988)
- The Spirit of 176 with Hank Jones (Concord Jazz, 1989)
- George Shearing in Dixieland (Concord Jazz, 1989)
- Piano (Concord Jazz, 1990)
- Mel and George "Do" World War II with Mel Tormé (Concord Jazz, 1991)
- Get Happy! (EMI, 1991)
- I Hear a Rhapsody: Live at the Blue Note (Telarc, 1992)
- How Beautiful Is Night with the Robert Farnon Orchestra (Telarc, 1993)
- That Shearing Sound (Telarc, 1994)
- Walkin' with Neil Swainson, Grady Tate (Telarc, 1995)
- Paper Moon (Telarc, 1996)
- Favorite Things (Telarc, 1997)
- Live at the Forum, Bath 1992 (BBC Music, 2000)
- Just for You: Live in the 1950s (2000)
- Back to Birdland (Telarc, 2001)
- Out of This World (2001)
- The George Shearing Trio (2002)
- Like Fine Wine (Mack Avenue, 2004)
- The Classic Concert Live with Mel Tormé, Gerry Mulligan (Concord Jazz, 2005)
- Live Jazz from Club 15 (2006)
With Nancy Wilson
- The Swingin's Mutual! (Capitol, 1961)
- Hello Young Lovers (Capitol, 1962)
- R.S.V.P. (Rare Songs, Very Personal) (MCG, 2004)
- Guess Who I Saw Today (Capitol, 2005)
- Claude Bolling, Concerto for Classic Guitar and Jazz Piano (Angel, 1980)
- Count Basie, Blee Blop Blues (1990)
- Dave Brubeck, Young Lions & Old Tigers (Telarc, 1995)
- Michael Feinstein, Hopeless Romantics (Concord, 2005)
- Mark Isham, At First Sight (Milan, 1998)
- John Pizzarelli, The Rare Delight of You (Telarc, 2002)
- Tito Puente, Mambo Diablo (Concord Jazz Picante, 1985)
- Joe Williams, Here's to Life (Telarc, 1994)
- 2003: George Shearing – Jazz Legend
- 2004: George Shearing: Lullaby of Birdland
- 2004: Swing Era – George Shearing
- 2004: Joe Williams with George Shearing: A Song is Born
- 2005: Duo Featuring Neil Swainson
- Randel, Don Michael (1996). The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music. Belknap Press.
- Richard S. Ginell. "George Shearing". Retrieved 26 February 2007.
- "George Shearing Biography". allaboutjazz.com. Retrieved 7 March 2016.
- "George Shearing (interview with Les Tomkins): "How I Found the Sound" from the National Jazz Archive". National Jazz Archive. Retrieved 26 March 2021.
- Balmer, Paul (2003). Stéphane Grappelli: A Life in Jazz. Bobcat Books. pp. 130–134. ISBN 9781847725769.
- Gelly, Dave (2014). An Unholy Row. Equinox Publishing. p. 12. ISBN 978-1-84553-712-8.
- "Sir George Shearing". Telegraph.co.uk. 14 February 2011.
- "George Shearing". Bigredbook.info. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
- Vacher, Peter (15 February 2011). "Sir George Shearing obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
- "Jake Coyle, "Jazz Pianist George Shearing Dies at 91"". Apnews.myway.com. Retrieved 28 September 2014.
- "Jazz winners span generations". news.bbc.co.uk. 30 July 2003. Retrieved 28 September 2014.
- "George Shearing: Lullaby of Birdland". View.com. Retrieved 28 September 2014.
- "Joe Williams with George Shearing: A Song is Born". View.com. Retrieved 28 September 2014.
- George Shearing – official website
- George Shearing discography at Discogs
- George Shearing at IMDb
- George Shearing discography at VH1
- Receives Honorary Doctorate from DePauw University. 1 June 2002
- Sir George Shearing obituary. The Guardian, 15 February 2011
- George Shearing's appearance on This Is Your Life