Creative Person of the Week

17 Feb

Sir George Shearing, (August 13, 1919 – February 14, 2011) was an 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 at Linden 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 albums of Teddy Wilson and Fats Waller. He made his first BBC radio appearance during this time 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 Pettiford Trio and led a quartet with Buddy DeFranco. In 1949, he formed the first ‘George Shearing Quintet’, a band 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’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.

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). Later, Shearing played with a trio, as a soloist and increasingly in a duo. Among his collaborations were sets with the Montgomery Brothers, Marian McPartland 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 the UK, where he’d bought a house with his second wife, singer Ellie Geffert. This gave him the opportunity to tour the UK, giving concerts, often with his long-time friend and collaborator, Mel Tormé, backed by with 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.”

 

(Excerpt taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Shearing#Early_life)

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