I started high school in suburban California riding a skateboard and running a music fanzine for which I scored an interview with Metallica, back when Metallica was still accessible to 15-year-olds with fanzines.
But change comes rapidly in those years, and by my senior year I was wearing sportcoats to school and listening to classic vocalists on the local AM radio station.
One of my favorite singers was Mel Tormé. I dug his style and thought he looked really cool on his album covers, and my interest in him increased even more when he became a routine reference, and occasional guest, on the ’80s sitcom “Night Court.”
So when Tormé came to the outdoor amphitheater at the Paul Masson Winery, I jumped at the chance to see him perform live. He was accompanied by a man I’d never heard of: George Shearing.
I rediscovered Shearing a decade later when I got interested in the “space-age bachelor” phenomenon of the ’50s and ’60s (eventually writing about it for L’Uomo Vogue), and had several albums of his urbane cocktail music.
Many of Shearing’s records had appropriately seductive covers, like this one below. Her eyes I adore so, and her torso, even more so:
When Shearing died last month, I sighed as we all do when another legendary performer departs this world. But I perked up in church last Sunday when the rector announced that this Wednesday’s evensong would be a memorial to Shearing, who had been a parishioner of St. Thomas for decades.
The service was a mixture of the somber and mirthful. During the homily, the rector told us that Shearing, like myself, had been drawn to the church for its famed music program and choir, which performed a sublime rendition of “Pie Jesu” by Fauré, my favorite composer.
Humorous anecdotes were also shared, such as one recounting when a reporter asked Shearing if he’d been blind all his life. “Not yet,” was the pianist’s retort.
I feel obligated to make a passing reference to sartorial matters. Shearing wasn’t the most trad of dressers, but he’s shown above in 1961 in a fine natural-shouldered suit. Perhaps it kept his arms free to let his fingers traverse the keyboard with a delicacy that makes you think of pixies tiptoeing over rose petals.
Below is Shearing performing his best-known composition, “Lullaby of Birdland.” Thanks, Sir George, for my first jazz concert. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD