Sir George Shearing, the legendary jazz pianist and composer, sadly passed away aged 91.
The young George was born congenitally blind, the youngest of nine children, in 1919 Battersea. The only formal music education he ever received was four years training at the Linden Lodge School for the Blind. While his talent won him a number of university scholarships, he was forced to turn them down in favour of a more financially productive pursuit – namely playing in the local pub for just a few pounds a week.
Through his performances, he met a jazz critic who helped George get his first airtime on BBC radio. However, George’s fortunes turned when he moved to America in 1947.
Within a couple of years he had established himself state-side with his famous ‘Shearing Sound’.
The Shearing sound — which had the harmonic complexity of bebop but eschewed bebop’s ferocious energy — was built on the unusual instrumentation of vibraphone, guitar, piano, bass and drums. To get the “full block sound” he wanted, George had the vibraphone double what his right hand played and the guitar double the left. That sound came to represent the essence of sophisticated hip for countless listeners worldwide who preferred their jazz on the gentle side.
After the overnight success of ‘September in the Rain’ which was recorded by the George Shearing Quintet for MGM, George became one of America’s most popular performing and recording artists.
He went on to lead a full life with his wife, singer Ellie Geffert, and continued performing in to his 80s (including for three US Presidents!) and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BBC, a GRAMMY and was knighted in 2007 for ‘Services to Music’.
After a fall, George had been living in a nursing home, and his passing was due to heart failure. He leaves behind his devoted wife Ellie and a musical legacy.
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