Mack the knife – Kurt Weill as played by George Shearing (sheet music)
Jazz sheet music Transcription.
Shearing was born in 1919 in the Battersea area of London. Blind from birth, he was the youngest of nine children. His father delivered coal and his mother cleaned the trains at night after taking care of the children during the day. His only formal musical education consisted of four years of study at the country house of the Linden School for the Blind.
While his talents won him a number of college scholarships, which he was forced to turn down in favor of a more financially productive pursuit, playing piano at a neighborhood bar for the handsome salary of $5 a week, Shearing joined a blind band in the 1930s.
Around this time, he developed a friendship with the well-known jazz critic and author, Leonard Feather. Through this contact, he made his first appearance on BBC radio.
A classically trained musician, George Shearing approached jazz as a teenager, after listening to some records by Art Tatum, Fats Waller and Teddy Wilson, pianists for whom he always felt admiration.
His beginnings were in some nightclubs in London with small irrelevant formations and he jumped to fame when he was invited to participate in the great orchestra of Ted Heath. Shortly thereafter he also played in the formations of Berg Ambrose and Claude Bampton.
Already affirmed as one of the most brilliant pianists in London, he was discovered by Leonard Father, who helped him record his first albums which increased his fame becoming the best British pianist of his time.
In 1939, he recorded a series of piano solos featuring the theme ‘Prety Girl is Like a Melody’ which some critics considered one of the best European jazz songs of the time. During World War II, he played and recorded in London with the violinist, Stephane Grapelli in unforgettable sessions.
In 1946, and invited by his discoverer, Leonard Father, he moved during the time the United States war lasted, later deciding to settle definitively in New York. His musical activity in America began accompanied by singer Sarah Vaughan, and he also offered some concerts with Oscar Petifford, Kenny Clarke or Buddy de Franco.
In 1949, he assembled a quintet under his name to participate in a recording for Discovery. He had such a success with that initiative that he decided to keep that formation active, consolidating his quintet among the best combos in New York.
That group consisted of vibraphonist Margie Hyams, guitarist Chuck Wayne, bassist John Levy, and drummer Denzil Best. With that group he recorded an extraordinary musical repertoire in the fifties, highlighting: “East of the Sun”, “September in the Rain” or the classic “Lullaby of Birdland”, later converted into a modern jazz standard. Musicians such as Cal Tjader, Toots Thielemans or Don Elliot passed through his quintet, among others.
His recordings were always exquisite, highlighting the album recorded with singer Peggy Lee in 1959 ‘Bauty and the Beat’ for the Capitol label. The following year, he formed a trio with double bass player Israel Crosby and drummer Vernel Fournier.
In 1961, he had a wonderful meeting with the pianist and singer, Nat King Cole, recording one of Cole’s last albums in a jazz key. Earlier, in 1960, he too had another extraordinary encounter with a singer; It was on the album recorded with Nancy Wilson entitled: ‘The Swingin’s is Mutual’ for Capitol. With the passage of time, his jazz facet was declining little by little, and he is currently retired from all activity.
In May 1975, he received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the University of Westminster in Salt Lake City. In May 1994, Hamilton College in upstate New York awarded him another honorary doctorate of music.
DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana awarded him an honorary doctorate of music on June 1, 2002. He received the prestigious Horatio Alger Award for Distinguished Americans in 1978 and a community recreation center in Battersea, south London, the George Shearing Center was named in his honor.
In May 1993, he was awarded the British equivalent of the Grammys, the Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement Award. In June 1996 Mr. Shearing was inducted into the Queen’s Birthday Honors List and on 26 November 1996 he was invested by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his ‘service to music and Anglo US relations. ‘He was presented the first American Music Award by the National Club of the Arts, New York City, in March 1998.
In 1999, George Shearing celebrated her 80th birthday in England, where she performed to a sold-out house at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall. Dame Cleo Laine and John Dankworth also appeared with him, in the BBC Big Band, the London Symphony Strings. BBC Radio 2 presented a 2 1/2 hour ‘salute to Shearing’ in honor of his birthday.
The following year another sold-out house at Carnegie Hall was treated to his birthday party featuring George Shearing’s quintet with Nancy Wilson, Dave Brubeck, Dr. Billy Taylor, John Pizzarelli Trio, Tito Puente and Peter Schickele who brought a special greeting from PDQ Bach! Mr. Shearing’s popularity continued to rise.
In November 2006, a letter arrived from the Prime Minister’s office in London reading, in part, ‘The Prime Minister has asked me to inform you, in strict confidence, that he has you in mind, on the occasion of the next New Year’s honors list, to send your name to the queen with a recommendation that her Majesty may be graciously to approve that the honor of chivalry be conferred upon you.’
When the letter was read to him, George simply said: ‘I don’t know why I am receiving this honor. I’ve only been doing what I like to do.’ And, when asked by the press how he felt about receiving the highest honor the Queen can give, he replied:
‘My mind keeps flashing back to my beginnings as a pianist playing in a bar for the equivalent of $5.00 a week. What a journey it has been from that Buckingham Palace pub. Receiving such a great honor as chivalry can also show young men what can be achieved in life if one learns their craft and follows their dreams.’
Following the ceremony, Sir George and Lady Shearing hosted a luncheon for some of their closest friends, including Dame Cleo Laine and Sir John Dankworth, BBC personality and interviewer, Michael Parkinson (who defended George receiving a knighthood in his radio and television shows), and actress Julia McKenzie.
The following week, Sir George’s relatives came for dinner, including his 97-year-old sister, Dolly. She was the life of the party, leading the singer between the plates of food! And the celebrations didn’t stop there.
The Shearings hosted a tea for Member of Parliament and former Home Secretary, David Blunkett, together with the Dean of Canterbury, the Very Reverend Robert Willis. Mr. Blunkett was also born blind and lived for ten years right next door to the Linden Lodge for the Blind.
Shearing, who had been largely inactive since 2004 after a fall in his New York apartment, died of congestive heart failure at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York on February 14, 2011.
1952 – I Hear Music (Metro).
1956 – Black Satin (Capitol).
1958 – In the Night (Capitol).
1961 – Nat King Cole Sings/George Shearing Plays (Capitol).
1976 – The Reunion (Pause).
1979 – Blues Alley Jazz [live] (Concord Jazz).
1979 – Concerto for Classical Guitar and Jazz Piano (Angel).
1980 – On a Clear Day (Concord Jazz).
1982 – Evening with George Shearing & Mel Tormé [live] (Concord Jaz).
1994 – Great Britain’s Marian McPartland & George Shearing (Savoy Jazz).
Browse in the Library:
and subscribe to our social channels for news and music updates: