George Shearing Quintet
George Shearing Quintet
Playing Swedish pastry
Sir George Shearing, OBE (born August 13, 1919 – died February 14, 2011) was an Anglo–American 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, he had multiple albums on the Billboard charts during the 1950s, 1960s, 1980s and 1990s. He died of heart failure on February 14, 2011 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 atLinden Lodge School for the Blind, where he spent four years.
Though 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 even joined an all-blind band during that time and was influenced by the records of Teddy Wilson and Fats Waller. He made his first BBC radio appearance 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.
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 in the US was at the Hickory House. He performed with the Oscar PettifordTrio and led a 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) and 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, himself, would write of this hit that it was “as accidental as it could be.” Shearing credited the Glenn Miller Orchestra‘s reed section of the late 1930s and early 1940s as an important influence.
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. In 1956, he 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 discusses how to cope with blindness.