George Shearing: Introduction and Farewell

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

42 Comments on "George Shearing: Introduction and Farewell"

  1. Now THAT’s a woman!

    Oh, and the music is nice, too.

  2. Big Daddy Man | March 25, 2011 at 8:09 pm |

    You’re lucky to attend such a cool church. Be in the world not of the world, right?

  3. We Brits have produced only a handful of jazz artists with any real claim to greatness – and for my money Shearing tops that list. A great loss.

  4. Ahhhh……..let’s hit the elevator and blast off, destination – top floor
    penthouse where a dame waits. Offer her a scotch and soda and
    hopefully she reclines. Torme and Shearing are the one of the best
    musical cocktails ever concocted.
    You might want to tune in to a lesser known underrated gentleman
    by the name of Johnny Costa as well, CC. Did all the piano work
    and jazz numbers for Mr Roger’s Neighborhood. Yeah, kids show,
    but if you know and appreciate jazz piano, some might say Costa
    was number one, or at least near it. Also you might want to
    give a listen to Jackie Gleason’s Lounge music he produced
    way back when if you haven’t already.Watching them Pink
    Elephants march on by ain’t so bad after all.

  5. *ahem* That’s “offer her a scotch and SOFA” then hopefully she reclines.
    Just don’t be a lazy boy about it.

  6. Nice one-liners, Jinx.

  7. Scooby Dubious | March 26, 2011 at 1:37 pm |

    Jinx almost made sense there. I’m used to his fragmented, disjointed racist rightwing rants.

  8. Sir George was truly, as the phrase goes, a man for all seasons. His early quintet recordings are not only innovative and imaginative, but fiery examples of bebop instrumental prowess set within a cool, modern framework. Plus he had one swingin’ rhythm section. His Latin recordings introduced some of the most important names in Latin Jazz to the record buying and concert going public and inspired such greats as Cal Tjader to follow their own paths. His later career which took a more serious turn towards the sacred only serves to round out the picture. This is not even mentioning the records he made with Nancy Wilson, the Montgomery Brothers, etc.

  9. And were all used to your reactionary leftist nonsense, Scooby.
    It is your philosophy that is fragmented and disjointed.
    You lefties are gonna force us all to get along for your
    “equality”…….no you’re not.
    Thanks for your Shearing contribution, by the way.
    You see Scoob, life has many things to enjoy, music
    being one of them. The beauty of nature ,outdoor related
    activities, travel, the pursuit of knowledge,……but that’s
    not good enough. Day in and day out leftist mouth after
    leftist mouth telling us we are basically not allowed to
    enjoy the pursuit of happiness till we FIX this “problem”
    of “inequality”. Well, keep protesting till your old and grey
    Scoob , a miserable old empty shell of nothingness.
    Wait and see who’s happier at the end of life’s journey.
    Hint- it’s never those who constantly turn left at the
    crossroads of life….
    Now back to Shearing and our regularly scheduled post.

  10. Scooby Dubious | March 27, 2011 at 12:31 am |

    @Jinx

    I take it all back. Your medication briefly kicked in, but you’re back on the crazy train.

    I don’t recall espousing anything overtly “leftist”, I prefer the word “rational”.

    Love how “equality” is in quotes. Speaks volumes.

  11. FYI, reactionary and leftist are opposite ends of the spectrum.

    I don’t think there’s such a thing as a reactionary leftist.

    Except maybe someone who wants to go back to the Summer of Love.

  12. If the allusion to “Summer of Love” is not immediately familiar, see:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summer_of_Love

  13. Leftist are not reactionary…….oh they never protest in reaction to
    everything conservative……..no they NEVER organize “civil disobedience”
    No, they never react to the Christian respect for Jesus, of course not.
    They never reject authority.

    Lying , cheating, stealing, murder are to be forgiven at all costs…..
    Race or socio- economic factors can lead one to forgive a murderer….
    maybe they were oppressed…”love” your fellow man, trust your brother.

    OK, Mister,enough. Now, right in -your face.
    YOU DON’T LIKE AUTHORITY -TOUGH.
    Hurts your pride,and burns you through and through.
    ITS humiliating. 24/7. Liberalism is an escapist and
    reactionary philosophy that says,no judging, all equal,
    complete freedom, ,…what’s wrong with that???
    Perhaps you failed to note humanity lies, cheats and steals
    and murders one another all day long??
    But put your faith in humanity, God’s authority is too
    humiliating to accept, self righteousness gives you peace.
    There is no hell to fear.
    Tell me how “great” and trustworthy humanity is.
    Convince me mankind deserves any benefit of any doubt.
    And pick up your daily newspaper and watch reality stomp
    your beliefs into the ground with MORE lying, cheating
    stealing, murder….”equal” rights for allllllll.
    Yeah, humanity you’re a wonderful law abiding,
    self respecting ,self governing people…….
    Liberalism IS nothing but a reactionary philosophy.
    Without conservative principles to REACT TO….
    it doesn’t exist. Take your pride and shove it.
    FU- humanity. The majority of you are an absolute disgrace.

  14. In everyday speech you’ll sometimes here people described as “reactionary” because, for example, they cannot control their temper.

    Jinx is using it to mean “reacting” by means of civil disobedience, when in fact, of course, it means the exact opposite:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reactionary

    Wikipedia, Jinx. It’s only a click away.

  15. Yeah, the verb -to react. Which existed in the vocabulary before whomever
    decided to coin the term “reactionary” with a specific political definition.
    Webster’s Unabridged CC. Only a click away.

    And might we point out , it is Scooby doo be doo who “reacted”
    here in this George Shearing thread. Nothing political was said, but
    bigmouth couldn’t resist. Again.

  16. I’m quite familiar with Webster’s, which is why I know reactionary means ultra-conservative, not radical.

  17. “which is why I know reactionary means”………..can you believe this….
    The verb ,to react, to be….reactionary……is perfectly legit.
    Oh, only radical is allowed to be used for the left?
    ONLY reactionary is allowed to be used towards the right….
    Says who? The words conservative and liberal are used in
    ways that have nothing to do with their political meanings.
    The world of Semantics. Oh how it helps the discourse
    and enables all to see and understand clearly.

  18. Words have meanings. There are standards of punctuation and carriage returns, too.

  19. Which is why Mommy and Daddy must be punctual in returning the
    carriage to its rental center. Someday junior grows up and is able
    to achieve skills of simple comprehension that do not require
    strict standards of limitations in expressing oneself.

  20. Well I’ll give you credit for a nice play on “carriage return.”

  21. Scooby Dubious | March 27, 2011 at 4:01 pm |

    @Jinx

    I think there must be a Wikipedia entry that goes something like this:

    Ironic: When Jinx calls someone else “bigmouth”.

  22. Touche dear Scoobious one. Touche. All points of view have “bigmouths”
    about them. Now, is there something wrong with serious contributions
    to Sir George Shearing and refined class taste in music which is practically
    lost and becoming an archaeological find in today’s pop culture?

  23. Linguistic Conservative | March 27, 2011 at 6:20 pm |

    In all my years of using the English language, this must be the first time that I have ever encountered “reactionary” being used to refer to leftists. One would expect a self-styled conservative to be conservative with regard to his use of language.

  24. The “-re” in “reactionary is the “-re” in “regress, “revert”, not the “-re” in “respond”.

  25. Indeed, LC, or that a conservative would be familiar with terminology pertaining to his point of view.

  26. Scooby Dubious | March 27, 2011 at 7:30 pm |

    @Linguistic

    That would be expecting conservatives to base their decisions on logic and reason rather than just “gut feeling”.

    Not gonna happen.

    Whoops, was that “leftist”, or just rational?

  27. 50 percent of Ivy Style’s readership is going after you for that one, Scooby. The other 50 will concur, of course.

    But more blank verse from Jinx, I’m afraid.

    Have you noticed his comments scan in iambic pentameter?

  28. And how come I drop all these personal reveals and this thing turns into a political and linguistic discussion? Nobody wants to talk about skateboarding in the ’80s, like who was better, Mark Gonzales or Natas Kaupas, or about Metallica or Fauré?

    Or how about that album cover versus the odalisque by Ingres?

  29. Apparently there is something wrong with more contributions about
    the subject at hand. Mr Shearing. Let’s instead nitpick semantics to…death!
    I – know – the – damn – term – referred to conservatives, traditionally.
    Precisely why I used it more fittingly, be glad to go back to 1840
    and give John Stuart Mill a hearty reprimand.

    Uh, Scoob? Yeah leftism is emotion before thinking, conservatism
    is reason before emotion. The liberal defense attorney seeks to pull
    at the heart strings of the jury to win his case. The conservative says,
    fact, the criminal did it. Reason and logic say punish him accordingly.
    No, says leftism. Feel for his “humanity”………liberalism is backwards
    reason and backwards logic to have humanity be self -congratulatory
    self praising ,self righteous and secular. Blank verse indeed.
    The “re” in this is not the “re” in that, nor the “re” in the other,
    a ratt a tat tat…………….

    Well, CC, like I said check out Johnny Costa ,you will more than pleased
    with his work I’m guessing.

  30. Liberalism, however, was born in the Age of Reason.

    We could go around in circles forever.

    I’ll check out Johnny Costa, Jinx.

    Fred Rogers: now there’s a guy you can’t imagine leaving anonymous snarky comments on the web.

  31. Scooby Dubious | March 27, 2011 at 8:22 pm |

    @Jinx

    You got that backwards I’m afraid.

    The conservative mindset is to decide on a course of action, theory, or opinion and then proceed with that despite all evidence of it’s failure, falseness, or lack of logic.

    Hence the fanatical rightwing religious faction. Religion is nothing if not irrational devotion to “feeling” and unprovable ideas based on fantasy.

    Hence the fanatical devotion to trickle-down (supply side) economics after 10 years of proven failure.

    The conservative decides things first, and then tries to shape and distort reality and “facts” to fit his decision.

    Hence the Downing Street Memo wherein it stated that the US “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” to invade Iraq.
    The decision to invade was made first. THEN they tried to shape reality to fit what they wanted. We all know how that turned out.

    I could go on, but I fear I’ll just start a shitstorm.

  32. Does Bean make a jacket for that?

  33. Hello there innocent passerby who googled “George Shearing” recently.
    Isn’t this amazing?

    Scoob? The invasion of Iraq was self righteous liberalism of neo-cons.
    Rejecters of Christ deserve whatever they get or find themselves
    under, whether a Hussein or some other like him. It is America’s
    self righteous faith in humanity that says the USA has a moral
    obligation to police the world and free the “oppressed”. No,we don’t.
    Watch now, as all of a sudden, Scooby will argue in favor of the
    war he just mislabeled “conservative”….

  34. Scooby Dubious | March 27, 2011 at 8:59 pm |

    @Jinx

    Not defending any middle-east war here. I find it humorous how you admit it’s a neo-con debacle yet feel compelled to throw the word “liberalism” in there as some sort of modifier.

    I haven’t “rejected Christ”. Never met the guy. I’m sure he was very nice.
    I reject religion and all the horrors that accompany it.

    J.Crew and Barbour are teaming up for a “shitstorm jacket”. Should cost about $1500.00

  35. “Reactionary” is the euphemism polite egalitarians use when they want to be nice to fascists.

  36. Richard Meyer | March 28, 2011 at 3:12 am |

    Enough of the rants.

  37. Hey, you two: The notion of associating political philosophy with psychological make-up is footling. You’re both wrong.

    Fwiw the rational vs. emotional argument is strained as well. David Brooks’s recent column has a good summary of the new research.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/08/opinion/08brooks.html

  38. My non political response to this posting, I liked Shearing’s version of Geshwin’s “Summertime”, but I prefer Basie or Ellington piano playing.

  39. Charlie Davidson told me he and George Frazier used to play the duende game, based on Frazier’s recurring “duende” columns.

    They sit around, have a drink, and start comparing things that were similar.

    One of Charlie’s examples was “Ellington has duende, Basie not so much.”

  40. Scooby Dubious | March 28, 2011 at 11:48 am |

    @Sartre

    While David Brooks is vastly more reasonable (less odious) than many conservative pundits, he is nevertheless an avowed conservative journalist and not a psychiatrist.

    He mentions these attributes/talents/characteristics as affecting behavior and decision making. I find them all to be lacking and/or flawed in the typical hardcore conservative mind:

    “Attunement: the ability to enter other minds and learn what they have to offer.

    Equipoise: the ability to serenely monitor the movements of one’s own mind and correct for biases and shortcomings.

    Metis: the ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations.

    Sympathy: the ability to fall into a rhythm with those around you and thrive in groups. ”

    Empathy is not a strong conservative trait. Perhaps Jinx could expound.

    (oh yeah, mumble mumble something about Shearing, Ivy etc…)

  41. Friend and comrade Bruce Boyer has just suggested Shearing’s collaborations with Peggy Lee and Joe Williams, as originally recommended by Charlie Davidson.

    Here’s George and Joe:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYt21lvrHV8

  42. david wintersgill | April 2, 2011 at 12:45 pm |

    i have the jazz album. play it again – “melvie”.

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