Pianist, arranger and composer George Shearing, born August 13, 1919, in the Battersea area of London, enjoys an international reputation as a pianist, arranger, and composer. Equally at home on the concert stage as in jazz clubs, Shearing is recognized for inventive, orchestrated jazz. He has written over 300 compositions, including the classic “Lullaby of Birdland”, which has become a jazz standard.
Congenitally blind, he was the youngest of nine children. His father delivered coal and his mother cleaned trains at night after caring for the children during the day. His only formal musical education consisted of four years of study at the Linden Lodge School for the Blind. While his talent won him a number of university scholarships, he was forced to refuse them in favor of a more financially productive pursuit, playing piano in a neighborhood pub for the handsome salary of $5.00 a week! Shearing joined an all-blind band in the 1930s. At that time he developed a friendship with the noted jazz critic and author, Leonard Feather. Through his contact, he made his first appearance on BBC radio.
In 1947, Mr. Shearing moved to America, where he spent two years establishing his fame on this side of the Atlantic. The Shearing Sound commanded national attention when, in 1949, he gathered a quintet to record “September in the Rain” for MGM. The record was an overnight success and sold 900,000 copies. His U.S. reputation was permanently established when he was booked into Birdland, the legendary jazz spot in New York.
Since then, he has become of one of the countrys most popular performing and recording artists. In 1982 and 1983 he won Grammy Awards with recordings he made with Mel Tormé. Mr. Shearing was the subject of an hour-long television documentary entitled “The Shearing Touch” presented on the Southbank Show with Melvyn Bragg on ITV in the UK. It can be seen now in the U.S. on the BRAVO Network.
Three presidents have invited Mr. Shearing to play at the White House, Ford, Carter and Reagan. He performed at a Royal Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. He is a member of the Friars Club and Lotos Club in New York and the Bohemian Club in San Francisco. His awards and honors are many. In May, 1975, he received an honorary degree of Doctor of Music from Westminster College in Salt Lake City. In May of 1994, he was awarded another honorary doctorate in music by Hamilton College in upstate New York.
He received the prestigious Horatio Alger Award for Distinguished Americans in 1978 and a community recreational facility in Battersear, south London, was named the George Shearing Centre in his honor. In May of 1993, he was presented with the British equivalent of the Grammy�the Ivor Novello Award for Lifetime Achievement. In June of 1996, Mr. Shearing was included in the Queens Birthday Honors List and on November 26, 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 Arts Club, New York City, in March of 1998.
His 80th birthday was celebrated in England where he played to a sold-out house at the Birmingham Symphony Hall. Also appearing with him were the BBC Big Band, the strings of the London Symphony, Dame Cleo Laine and John Dankworth. BBC Radio presented a 2 1/2 hour “Salute to Shearing” in honor of his birthday.
Last November, another sold-out house, at Carnegie Hall was treated to another birthday celebration featuring the George Shearing Quintet with Nancy Wilson, Dave Brubeck, Dr. Billy Taylor, the John Pizzarelli Trio, Tito Puente and Peter Schickele who brought a special greeting from PDQ Bach!
Shearing and his wife, Ellie, divide their time between their apartment in New York and a cottage in the English countryside. It is in the Cotswolds where you will find him working on his biography, taking long walks, enjoying “bangers and chips” at his favorite pub or sitting in the garden listening to his beloved cricket and tennis matches. An avid fan of both these sports, he and Ellie can be seen at Lords Cricket Ground, Wimbledon or the US Open. Their favorite kind of evening? A quiet dinner at home with friends followed by a serious game of bridge! But, occasionally, in breaks in his busy schedule both at home and abroad, he follows h is own personal belief: “Why should a man work when he has the health and strength to lie in bed?”
Click to watch him playing his famous tune.