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Mon February 14, 2011
George Shearing 1919-2011
Sad to report the passing of British jazz pianist George Shearing, who died Monday from congestive heart failure in New York. He was 91.
He came to the U.S. in 1947 and quickly established himself as a popular instrumentalist and composer. His recording of "September In The Rain" sold nearly a million copies, and his tune "Lullaby of Birdland" became a popular jazz favorite.
I saw him perform with Mel Torme in the 80's; he played with a lot of zest and clarity; I was impressed by his voicings and rhythmic skill. He and Torme had a grand old time on stage.
Jim Wilke, host of Jazz Northwest on KPLU notes:
Despite (or due to) his popular acclaim, I don't think he ever got his due from the jazz community. He and Bud Powell were close friends and they played each others tunes e.g. "Conception", and he was a genuine bopper He also introduced all kinds of talent to a wider audience. I was fortunate enough to become acquainted with him when I did some live broadcasts with him in the 60s. I first heard Joe Pass and Gary Burton with him (I think Joe was just out of rehab, and Gary was 19 at the time!) Other talent he introduced included Cal Tjader, Mongo Santamaria, and Toots Thielemans just to mention a few. He was also a very funny guy. He loved introducing the members of his quintet, and then himself as "Erroll Garner" after which he'd play a perfect imitation of Erroll Garner complete with grunts. Miles Davis learned Shearing's "Conception" while sitting in with him one night, and later wrote a tune of his own based on Shearing's called "Deception". George Shearing claimed he wrote his most famous composition "Lullaby of Birdland" in about ten minutes when the club need a new theme song for its radio broadcast. He had a great memory for voices and always greeted me by name when he heard me speak to him even if we hadn't "seen" each other for months. When we parted he often said "See you later" instead of goodbye.
He was a very special guy with an incredible touch and great musicality. Hank Jones was one of his greatest influences after he came to the US in the later 40s, but he soaked up all the bop scene, Bird, Bud, Diz and all - he distilled it in his music. He could be considered one of the originals of the "Cool Jazz" movement
If you have stories to tell regarding Shearing's music, or seeing Shearing in concert, please feel free to share in the comments.
The Washington Post has a detailed obit here.
And here's a very cool video of Shearing and his Quintet from his early days.