Tuesday, February 15, 2011

George Shearing

A major figure in jazz died recently at 91. George Shearing was a blind piano player known for "the Shearing touch". How should I describe it? I don't play the piano, so I'm not comfortable talking about the block chords that are brought up in his obituaries. No, I associate it with elegance and nuance and sophistication. Sir George invented cool in the midst of the bebop era. He integrated vibes in his most famous composition, 1952's "Lullaby of Birdland" and was always a treat for the careful listener.

I value his work with great singers like Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee and (most memorably) Mel Torme. But there are two other singers who recorded with him memorably. I'd like to recommend these works to you.

First, in 1980 Carmen McRae recorded Two for the Road with Shearing. What a delicious set!--just that wonderful smooth deep voice cradled by warm piano on top-notch songs like "More Than You Know" and "What Is There to Say" as well as lesser-known gems like "Ghost of Yesterday" and the title track. Why, we're even treated to George singing on "Cloudy Morning"--the man was as smooth singing as he was playing!

Over two decades later, in one of his last works, Shearing worked with Michael Feinstein on a collection of Harry Warren songs, Hopeless Romantics. It is a constant joy to listen to if you're a singer and, if you're not, it will bring you endless peace as you go about your daily toil.

Boy, this has been a tough year--first Margaret Whiting, and now George Shearing! But both artists leave behind a rich catalog for listeners to mine.

Click here for George with Gerry Mulligan and Mel Torme

Click here for George and Carmen McRae performing "My Gentleman Friend"

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