George Shearing

Sir George Shearing, OBE (born August 13, 1919) is an AngloAmerican jazz pianist who for many years led a popular jazz group which recorded for MGM Records and Capitol Records. The composer of over 300 titles, he has had multiple albums on the Billboard charts during the 1950s, 1960s, 1980s and 1990s.[1]

He became known for a piano technique known as Shearing’s voicing, a type of double melody block chord, with an additional fifth part that doubles the melody an octave lower. George Shearing credits the Glenn Miller orchestra’s reed section of the late thirties and early forties as an important influence.

Shearing’s interest in classical music resulted in some performances with concert orchestras in the 1950s and 1960s, and his solos frequently draw upon the music of Debussy and, particularly, Erik Satie and Frederick Delius for inspiration.

Born in Battersea, London, Shearing was the youngest of nine children. He was born blind to working class parents: his father delivered coal and his mother cleaned trains in the evening. He started to learn piano at the age of three and began formal training at Linden Lodge School for the Blind, where he spent four years.[2]

Though offered several scholarships, Shearing opted to perform at a local pub, the Mason’s Arms in Lambeth, for “25 bob a week”[3] playing piano and accordion. He even joined an all-blind band during that time and was influenced by the albums of Teddy Wilson and Fats Waller.[1] He made his first BBC radio appearance during this time after befriending Leonard Feather, with whom he started recording in 1937.[2] In 1940, Shearing joined Harry Parry‘s popular band and contributed to the comeback of Stéphane Grappelli. Shearing won seven consecutive Melody Maker polls during this time. Around that time he was also a member of George Evans‘ Saxes ‘n’ Sevens band.

George Shearing’s and the Quintet playing his own composition, “Lullaby of Birdland” Shearing’s arrangement of piano and vibes playing in unison created a sound that set Shearing.

I thought it might be interesting to listen to two other vocal versions of “Lullaby of Birdland” Also, another interesting fact about the song is that the chord progression was borrowed from an older song more closely identified with Doris Day; “Love Me Or Leave Me” The melody is unique but the progression is not.

Here’s Ella’s version

And my favorite version. Here you get to hear George (not known for his singing) play and sing and then the master, Mel Torme.

Oh, lullaby of birdland that’s what I
Always hear, when you sigh,
Never in my wordland could there be ways to reveal
In a phrase how I feel.

Have you ever heard two turtle doves
Bill and coo when they love?
That’s the kind of magic music we make with our lips
When we kiss

And there’s a weepy old willow
He really knows how to cry
That’s how I’d cry in my pillow
If you should tell me farewell and goodbye

Lullaby of birdland whisper low
Kiss me sweet, and we’ll go
Flying high in birdland, high in the sky up above
All because we’re in love

Lullaby, lullaby, lullaby

Have you ever heard two turtle doves
Bill and coo when they love?
That’s the kind of magic music we make with our lips
When we kiss

And there’s a weepy old willow
He really knows how to cry
That’s how I’d cry in my pillow
If you should tell me farewell and goodbye

Lullaby of birdland whisper low
Kiss me sweet, and we’ll go
Flying high in birdland, high in the sky up above
All because we’re in love

In 1947, Shearing emigrated to the United States, where his harmonically complex style mixed swing, bop and modern classical influences. One of his first gigs in the States was at the Hickory House. He performed with the Oscar Pettiford Trio and led a quartet with Buddy DeFranco, which led to contractual problems since Shearing was with MGM and DeFranco was with Capitol Records. In 1949, he formed the first “George Shearing Quintet”, a band with Margie Hyams (vibraphone), Chuck Wayne (guitar), later replaced by Toots Thielemans (billed as John Tillman), John Levy (bass) and Denzil Best (drums) and recorded for Discovery, Savoy and MGM, including the immensely popular single, “September in the Rain” (MGM), which sold over 900,000 copies; “my other hit” to accompany “Lullaby of Birdland“. Shearing himself would write of this hit that it was “as accidental as it could be.”[3]

In 1956, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.[3] He continued to play with his quintet, with augmented players through the years, and recorded with Capitol until 1969. He created his own label, Sheba, that lasted a few years. In 1970 he began to “phase out his by-now-predictable quintet”[1] and disbanded the group in 1978. One of his more notable albums during this period was The Reunion, With George Shearing (Verve 1976), made in collaboration with bassist Andy Simpkins and drummer Rusty Jones, which featured Stéphane Grappelli, the musician with whom he had debuted as a sideman decades before. Later, Shearing played with a trio, as a solo and increasingly in duo. Among his collaborations have been sets with the Montgomery Brothers, Marian McPartland, Brian Q. Torff, Jim Hall, Hank Jones and Kenny Davern. In 1979, Shearing signed with Concord Records, in particular working with Mel Tormé. This collaboration garnered Shearing and Tormé two Grammys, one in 1983 and then another in the following year.

Recorded Dec. 19th or 20th, 1961, Nat conceded the piano playing to the marvelous George Shearing (who tried to mimic Nat’s own style of playing) and provided one of his best vocals on “Pick Yourself Up”.

Shearing has also collaborated with singers including Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Ernestine Anderson, Dakota Staton, Carmen McRae, Nancy Wilson and, most notably, Mel Tormé, with whom he performed frequently in the late 80s and early 90s at festivals, on radio and for recordings.

In the 1990s and 2000s, Shearing performed and recorded extensively in a duo format with the Canadian bassist Neil Swainson. Shearing also made a recording with the classical French horn player Barry Tuckwell.

Shearing collaborated with the John Pizzarelli Trio to create the album The Rare Delight of You, which garnered extremely good reviews. The album cover, featuring Pizzarelli and Shearing posing in front of a solid blue background, was designed to resemble the cover of Nat King Cole Sings, George Shearing Plays, a legendary jazz recording with which it shares some similarities in style.

The first three songs from the album “Beauty and The Beat!” by Peggy Lee and George Shearing.
Song 1: Do I Love You (Cole Porter)
Song 2: I Lost My Sugar In Salt Lake City (Rene-Lange)
Song 3: If Dreams Come True (Sampson-Goodman-Mills)
Recorded live on April 28th, 1959
Vocals: Peggy Lee
Piano: George Shearing
Guitar: Toots Thielemans
Vibes: Warren Chaisson
Bass: James Bond
Drums: Roy Hanes
Conga: Armando Peraza

Copyright Capitol Jazz

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube,

Quick Bio Facts:

George Shearing – AKA George Albert Shearing

Born: 13-Aug1919

Birthplace: London, England
Occupation: Jazz Musician, Pianist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: George Shearing Quintet

Father: James phillip Shearing
Mother: Ellen Amelia Brightner
Sister: Mary
Sister: Dolly
Sister: Lilly
Sister: Margaret
Brother: James
Wife: Beatrice Gladys Bayes (m. 1-May-1941, one daughter)
Daughter: Wendy Ann
Wife: Ellie (m. 1984)

High School: Linden Lodge School for the Blind, London

George Shearing Quintet (1949-78)
Oscar Pettiford Trio
Hollywood Walk of Fame 1716 Vine St. (recording)
Officer of the British Empire
Knighthood 2007
Naturalized US Citizen 1956

Jazz on a Summer’s Day (28-Mar-1960) Himself

Official Website:

Author of books:
Lullaby of Birdland (2005, memoir, with Alyn Shipton)




1 Comment

  1. […] Courtesy Paul Roth’s Music Liner Notes […]

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