By Ric Bang
Buy CD: George Shearing at Home
You know how it is; you’re cleaning out the attic, or a closet in a seldom used room, and you find something that has been overlooked for years, and it’s a treasure. That’s what happened to bassist Don Thompson, shortly after pianist George Shearing died in 2011. Thompson found tapes, in a drawer, that he and Shearing had recorded back in 1983, while working a six-week job at a New York jazz club. The two artists often spent afternoons in Shearing’s apartment, “playing just for fun.” One day they rented microphones and pre-amps and, using a four track reel-to-reel recorder that Shearing had, laid down a few tracks: no studio, no audience and no contract pressure to contend with.
This album contains the results of that session.
Shearing was one of the true jazz giants. Born blind in 1919, in England, he began to play the piano at age 3. He worked in pubs, playing both piano and accordion, and became well known in England via numerous appearances on BBC Radio. He met and recording with Leonard Feather while still in his 20s, then emigrated to the United States in 1947, where he gained immediate fame.
His style was unique, often described as “Shearing’s voicing.” He utilized a “locked hands” approach, often credited to pianist Milt Buckner. Shearing was one of the early artists to combine jazz with classical melodic lines. And my, he was prolific; he’s credited with more than 300 compositions, and he released well over 100 albums during his career. He still was working in his 90s, and his awards are legion: he was knighted in 2007.
As he put it, “The poor blind kid from Battersea became Sir George Shearing. Now that’s a fairy tale come true.”
This album contains 14 songs: four solos, and the rest duos with Thompson. Most are standards, including “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” “Can’t We Be Friends” and “I Cover The Waterfront.” Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” and Lee Konitz’s “SubconciousLee” will be familiar to jazz fans, and the program is rounded out with Thompson’s “Ghoti” and a traditional Scottish song, “The Skye Boat.”
I’ve never heard Shearing more lyrical, more relaxed, or better. No question, as well, that Thompson was part of bringing out the pianist’s best. This album is a true treasure!