The silence of his departure
February 14, 2011 10:39 AM   Subscribe

Jazz piano great Sir George Shearing has died at 91.

Born blind in London, Sir George was perhaps best known for his signature composition, Lullaby of Birdland but, over the course of his 60-year-long career, he created several iterations of the George Shearing Quintet (Conception, I'll Be Around,Swedish Pastry, Move), and collaborated with the likes of Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole, Nancy Wilson and Mel Torme, among others.

His trademark graceful style is characterized by the block chords that came to be called "Shearing's voicing."

If his music weren't enough, he was also immortalized in On the Road:
George Shearing, the great jazz pianist, Dean said, was exactly like Roll Greb. Dean and I went to see Shearing at Birdland in the midst of the long, mad weekend. The place was deserted, we were the first customers, ten o’clock. Shearing came out, blind, led by the hand to his keyboard. He was distinguished-looking Englishman with a stiff white collar, slightly beefy, blond, with a delicate English-summer’s-night air about him that came out in the first rippling sweet number he played as the bass-player leaned to him reverently and thrummed the beat. The drummer, Denzil Best, sat motionless except for his wrists snapping the brushes. And Shearing began to rock; a smile broke over his ecstatic face; he began to rock in the piano seat, back and forth, slowly at first, then the beat went up, and he began rocking fast, his left foot jumped up with every beat, his neck began to rock crookedly, he brought his face down to the keys, he pushed his hair back, his combed hair dissolved, he began to sweat. The music I picked up. The bass-player hunched over and socked it in, faster and faster, it seemed faster and faster, that’s all. Shearing began to play his chords; they rolled out of the piano in great rich showers, you’d think the man wouldn’t have time to line them up. They rolled and rolled like the sea. Folks yelled for him to "Go!" Dean was sweating; the swear poured down his collar. "There he is! That’s him! Old God! Old God Shearing! Yes! Yes! Yes!" And Shearing was conscious of the madman behind him, he could hear every one of Dean’s gasps and imprecations, he could sense it though he couldn’t see. "That’s right!" Dean said. "Yes!" Shearing smiled; he rocked. Shearing rose from the piano, dripping with sweat; these were his great 1949 days before he became cool and commercial. When he was gone Dean pointed to the empty piano seat. "God’s empty chair," he said. On the piano a horn sat; its golden shadow made a strange reflection along the desert caravan painted on the wall behind the drums. God was gone; it was the silence of his departure.
posted by Bromius (27 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I had no idea he was still alive.

posted by phrontist at 10:41 AM on February 14, 2011

On a personal note, I was lucky enough to grow up in the Manhattan apartment building where he lived. Every Christmas, at the Holiday Party, he would treat the assembled tenants to a set or two of holiday tunes, punctuated with witty observations and occasionally awful jokes. He radiated kindness and optimism.

posted by Bromius at 10:41 AM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

What an amazing artist he was. I hope his long and productive life was a happy one for him.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:41 AM on February 14, 2011


Just the other day I found a thrift store copy of In The Night, which is a great album.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:47 AM on February 14, 2011

What a great musician George Shearing was. Here's to a fine, fine pianist and a wonderful human being.

posted by koeselitz at 10:49 AM on February 14, 2011


What an amazing musician.
posted by ob at 10:52 AM on February 14, 2011

Possibly the best jazz show I've ever seen was George Shearing & Mel Torme at the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival in 1987. I hope those two are tearing it up wherever they are.

posted by catlet at 10:58 AM on February 14, 2011

Stunning, brilliant musician.

posted by trip and a half at 10:58 AM on February 14, 2011

Too bad he was really great, his work with the Montgomery Brothers is fantastic.
posted by Dick Laurent is Dead at 11:01 AM on February 14, 2011

posted by tommasz at 11:06 AM on February 14, 2011

posted by philokalia at 11:16 AM on February 14, 2011

posted by cookie-k at 11:20 AM on February 14, 2011

posted by IjonTichy at 11:21 AM on February 14, 2011

Was just listening to Beauty and the Beat! the other night. RIP.
posted by blucevalo at 11:25 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by Seekerofsplendor at 11:30 AM on February 14, 2011

posted by motty at 11:38 AM on February 14, 2011


God was gone.
posted by tigrefacile at 11:38 AM on February 14, 2011

His cover of Aquarius is phenomenal.

posted by Challahtronix at 12:14 PM on February 14, 2011

Well, I know what's playing chez Jones for tonight's dinner hour.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:03 PM on February 14, 2011

posted by nj_subgenius at 1:10 PM on February 14, 2011

I was fortunate enough to see George Shearing live at the Montreal Bistro (sadly gone now) here in Toronto many years ago. He was a musician of consummate grace and style--too few like him today.

posted by Go Banana at 5:10 PM on February 14, 2011

posted by Mr.Me at 8:17 PM on February 14, 2011

posted by paulsc at 10:44 PM on February 14, 2011

posted by monkey closet at 1:15 AM on February 15, 2011

Little side note: Spike Milligan's war diaries (can't remember which volume) talk about him, as a young soldier, winning a BBC competition and getting to record with Shearing. I always wanted to hear that session...
posted by monkey closet at 1:17 AM on February 15, 2011

"Jazz piano great Sir George Shearing has died at 91."

His free iPod just arrived.
posted by markkraft at 7:14 AM on February 15, 2011


Rest in peace, my dear friend. I knew you only through your music - but you, through your music, brought countless hours of joy and fulfillment to my life. Thank you! Now, the universal harmonies that you brought to our lives meld with all time. You remain with all of us, Mr. Shearing, and we will continue to meet, again and again, here, in this dimension, when we experience your music, and after we're gone, side-by-side, in a heavenly garden enriched by your chords.
posted by Vibrissae at 11:41 PM on February 15, 2011

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