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In Passing: George Shearing (1919-2011)

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George Shearing, a master of what can be best called light jazz, passed away February 14th at the age of 91.

He was born blind in the greater London area, August 13, 1919. He began playing the piano at the age of three and by his late teens had joined George Evans’ Saxes ‘n Sevens as their keyboardist.

He settled in the United States during his late 20’s and for the next 60 years released over 100 albums as a solo artist, with small ensembles, as the leader of large orchestras, and in a duet setting with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Billy Eckstine, Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, and Nat King Cole.

While his jazz sound may have been more approachable and mainstream than that of many of his contemporaries and veered toward easy listening late in his career, it was precise, well-constructed, and innovative through its exploration of chord progressions.

He composed in the neighborhood of 300 songs during his career, and his albums consistently charted during the 1950s through the 1980s, selling tens of millions of copies. Some of his more memorable releases were Black Satin, Shearing On Stage, Satin Brass, The Shearing Touch, and White Satin.

Late in his career he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. He was amused at being told not to shake her hand unless she offered hers first. He responded by suggesting they put a bell around her wrist as he was blind.

He would continue to perform regularly into his late 80’s. So tonight, one last tip of the hat to a master of a music generation quickly passing away.

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About David Bowling

  • NewsFlash is a misnomer. Mr. Shearing’s obituary was published three days ago in The New York Times. His passing has been the subject of many subsequent posts in the jazz blogosphere, such as AllAboutJazz and I Witness. Mr. Shearing is also the subject of an ongoing week-long tribute at JazzWax. So in what sense it this a NewFlash? I suppose your next such entry will report that Hosni Mubarak has resigned as president of Egypt. Keep up the good work.

  • Boeke

    Geez, Kurtz, take it easy. Not everyone would have been to those other sources. I’ve got several Shearing CDs and this is the only obit I’ve read, tho I heard Terry Grosses 20 yr old interview on NPR.

    Shearing could swing, which is the essential ingredient of jazz, as the song says. His recordings with Mel Torme were tasty classics.

    Shearing became Charlie Parkers pianist after the war, and he composed “Lullaby of Birdland” which was played every hour at Birdland. One of the best compositions for jazz Vibes, I suggest Lionel Hamptons recording.

  • El Bicho

    David’s last Newsflash was about what was a #1 hit on the charts 50 years ago, so he’s making progress