George Shearing Trio
Sir George Shearing, OBE (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. The composer of over 300 titles, including the jazz standard "Lullaby of Birdland", 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 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 befriending Leonard Feather, with whom he started recording in 1937.
In 1940, Shearing joined Harry Parry's popular band and contributed to the comeback of Stéphane Grappelli. Shearing won seven consecutive Melody Maker polls during this time. 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."
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 "Shearing's voicing", a type of double melody block chord, with an additional fifth part that doubles the melody an octave lower. (This style is also known as "locked hands" and the jazz organist Milt Buckner is generally credited with inventing it.)
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, 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."
He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1992 when he was surprised by Michael Aspel.
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, who survived him.
Shearing 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 for U.S. Presidents
- Gerald Ford
- Jimmy Carter
- Ronald Reagan
- Performed at Royal Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.
- 1975, honorary degree of Doctor of Music from Westminster College, Salt Lake City, Utah.
- 1978, Horatio Alger Award for Distinguished Americans.
- 1983 – An Evening with George Shearing & Mel Tormé
- 1984 – 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 the Queen's Birthday Honours List and invested by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his "services to music and Anglo-US relations".
- 1998, 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.
- 1947: Piano Solo – Savoy
- 1947: Great Britain's Marian McPartland & George Shearing – Savoy Jazz (Released 1994)
- 1949: Midnight on Cloud 69 – Savoy
- 1949: George Shearing Quintet – Discovery
- 1950: You're Hearing George Shearing and his Quintet – MGM (E-3216)
- 1951: An Evening with the George Shearing Quintet
- 1951: Souvenirs – London
- 1951: Touch of Genius – MGM
- 1952: I Hear Music – Metro
- 1955: Shearing Caravan – MGM
- 1955: Shearing in Hi Fi – MGM
- 1955: The Shearing Spell – Capitol T-648
- 1956: Latin Escapade – Capitol T-737
- 1956: Black Satin – Capitol T/ST-858 (pop #13)
- 1956: By Request – London
- 1956: Velvet Carpet – Capitol T-720 (pop #20)
- 1957: The Shearing Piano – Capitol T/ST-909
- 1958: Blue Chiffon – Capitol T/ST-1124
- 1958: Burnished Brass – Capitol T/ST-1038 (pop #17)
- 1958: Latin Lace – Capitol T/ST-1082
- 1958: George Shearing on Stage! – Capitol T/ST-1187
- 1958: Latin Affair – Capitol T/ST-1275
- 1958: In the Night – Capitol (with Dakota Staton)
- 1959: Satin Brass – Capitol T/ST-1326
- 1959: Satin Latin – MGM
- 1959: Beauty and the Beat! (with Peggy Lee) – Capitol
- 1960: San Francisco Scene – Capitol
- 1960: On the Sunny Side of the Strip – Capitol T/ST-1416
- 1960: The Shearing Touch – Capitol T/ST-1472
- 1960: White Satin – Capitol T/ST-1334 (pop #11)
- 1961: George Shearing and the Montgomery Brothers – Jazzland
- 1961: Mood Latino – Capitol
- 1961: Nat King Cole Sings/George Shearing Plays (with Nat King Cole) – Capitol (pop #27)
- 1961: Satin Affair – Capitol (pop #82)
- 1961: The Swingin's Mutual! (with Nancy Wilson) – Capitol T/ST-1524
- 1962: Concerto for My Love – Capitol T/ST-1755
- 1962: Jazz Moments – Blue Note
- 1962: Shearing Bossa Nova – Capitol
- 1962: Soft and Silky – MGM
- 1962: Smooth & Swinging – MGM
- 1963: Touch Me Softly – Capitol
- 1963: Jazz Concert – Capitol
- 1963: Old Gold and Ivory – Capitol
- 1963: Latin Rendezvous – Capitol
- 1964: Out of the Woods – Capitol
- 1964: Deep Velvet – Capitol
- 1965: Here & Now! - Capitol
- 1966: That Fresh Feeling – Capitol
- 1966: Rare Form! – Capitol (live, recorded 1963)
- 1967: New Look! - Capitol
- 1968: Shearing Today – Capitol
- 1969: In the Mind – Capitol
- 1969: The Fool on the Hill – Capitol
- 1970: Out of This World (Sheba Records)
- 1970: It's Real George (CRS 2023 Crown Records)
- 1971: The Heart and Soul of Joe Williams and George Shearing (Sheba)
- 1972: As Requested (Sheba)
- 1972: Music to Hear (Sheba)
- 1972: The George Shearing Quartet (Sheba)
- 1973: GAS (Sheba)
- 1974: Light Airy and Swinging – MPS/BASF
- 1974: Swinging in a Latin Mood – MPS/BASF
- 1974: My Ship – MPS/BASF
- 1974: The Way We Are – MPS/BASF
- 1975: Continental Experience – MPS/BASF
- 1976: The Many Facets of George Shearing – MPS/BASF
- 1976: The Reunion – MPS/BASF (with Stéphane Grappelli)
- 1977: Windows – MPS/BASF
- 1977: 500 Miles High – MPS/BASF
- 1979: Getting in the Swing of Things – MPS/BASF
- 1979: Blues Alley Jazz (Live) – Concord Jazz
- 1979: Concerto for Classic Guitar and Jazz Piano – Angel
- 1980: Two for the Road (with Carmen McRae) – Concord
- 1980: On a Clear Day – Concord Jazz
- 1981: Alone Together – Concord Jazz (with Marian McPartland)
- 1981: First Edition – Concord Jazz (with Jim Hall)
- 1982: An Evening with George Shearing & Mel Tormé (Live, with Mel Tormé)
- 1983: Top Drawer – Concord Jazz (with Mel Tormé)
- 1984: Live at the Café Carlyle – Concord
- 1985: An Elegant Evening – Concord Jazz (with Mel Tormé)
- 1985: Grand Piano – Concord Jazz
- 1986: George Shearing & Barry Tuckwell Play the Music of Cole Porter – Concord (with Barry Tuckwell)
- 1986: More Grand Piano – Concord Jazz
- 1987: A Vintage Year – Concord Jazz (Live, with Mel Tormé)
- 1987: Breakin' Out – Concord Jazz
- 1987: Dexterity – Concord Jazz (Live, featuring Ernestine Anderson)
- 1988: The Spirit of 176 – Concord Jazz (with Hank Jones)
- 1988: A Perfect Match – Concord Jazz (with Ernestine Anderson)
- 1989: George Shearing in Dixieland – Concord
- 1989: Piano – Concord Jazz
- 1990: Mel and George "Do" World War II – Concord (Live, with Mel Tormé)
- 1991: Get Happy! – EMI Classics
- 1992: I Hear a Rhapsody: Live at the Blue Note – Telarc (Live)
- 1992: Walkin': Live at the Blue Note – Telarc (Live)
- 1992: How Beautiful Is Night – Telarc
- 1994: That Shearing Sound – Telarc
- 1994: Cocktail for Two – Jazz World
- 1995: Paper Moon: Songs of Nat King Cole
- 1997: Favorite Things – Telarc
- 1998: Christmas with The George Shearing Quintet – Telarc
- 2000: Just for You: Live in the 1950s – Jazz Band
- 2001: Back to Birdland – Telarc
- 2002: The Rare Delight of You (with John Pizzarelli) – Telarc
- 2002: Pick Yourself Up – Past Perfect
- 2002: Here and Now. New Look – with G.S. Quintet and String Choir
- 2004: Like Fine Wine – Mack Avenue
- 2005: Hopeless Romantics (with Michael Feinstein) – Concord
- 2012: George Shearing at home (with Don Thompson) – Jazzknight Records 001, New York
- Post career albums
- 1966: Live Jazz from Club 15 – Request (Live, released 2006)
- 2001: Live at the Forum, Bath 1992 – BBC Legends (Live)
- 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
- 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"". Nationaljazzarchive.co.uk. Retrieved 28 September 2014.
- 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.
- "BBC Jazz Awards". News.bbc.co.uk. 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 on 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