We begin a new series today with William Price King talking about one of the most important British Jazz musicians of the 20th century.
“Can anybody be given a great degree of creativity? No. They can be given the equipment to develop it – if they have it in them in the first place.” George Shearing.
Sir George Shearing is remembered as an outstanding jazz pianist, arranger and composer who wrote over 300 original compositions and arranged and performed hundreds of the classic jazz standards of the century. This included Lullaby of Birdland commissioned in 1952 as the theme music for a radio show based on the famous Birdland club in New York. Here is a recording of that song with Peggy Lee.
His career was all the more remarkable and inspiring for the fact that George was born blind. This never fazed this outstanding musician however and he would develop an international career and a fan base of the finest artists of the era and millions of music lovers around the world.
He began life in 1919 in the Battersea area of London and was the youngest of nine children. His father was a coalman and his mother worked at night cleaning trains. However it was not long before the youngest member of their family made his decision about which direction in life he would follow and by age three he began playing the family piano. By listening to the old crystal set wireless, George would pick up tunes by listening to them and going over to the piano and playing them. He did have some lessons from a local teacher but then went on to the Linden Lodge School for blind children in Wandsworth for four years.
He credits Fats Waller and Teddy Wilson as his influences in his teen years and he was considered an accomplished musician in his own right to be offered a university musical scholarship but he turned it down.
Fats Waller playing I’m Going to Sit Down and Write Myself a Letter from 1935 showing the style that would have spoken directly to George’s growing fascination with jazz.
The times were hard in the mid 30’s in London and George opted to make a living playing piano in the local pubs in Battersea. At first he played the popular songs of the day but then began to perform jazz. As a lucky break he came to the attention of Claude Bampton who had recently formed an all-blind orchestra and George joined as second pianist.
The orchestra was funded by the National Institute for Blind People in 1936 and was made up of 20 musicians of which 18 were sight impaired. Claude Bampton who was sighted used an oversized baton that made sounds to direct the musicians and one of the first performances was broadcast by the BBC in 1937. The orchestra toured all over the UK until well into the 1940s before being disbanded. Six grand pianos were part of the finale and included the young George Shearing who was only 17 when he joined these accomplished musicians.
George was lucky enough to perform with another orchestra member, drummer Carlo Krahmer born in Shoreditch in London in 1914 as Max Geserick. Carlo encouraged George’s Jazz ambitions and they would spend their spare time at Carlo’s house where he would play piano for hours introducing George to the music of the Jazz greats of the day. To absorb this music even further George would frequent the London after-hours club scene and when opportunity presented itself play alongside the visiting American musicians and also managed to see one of his heroes Fats Waller perform first hand.
By the age of 18 George was playing professionally with the Ambrose dance band and also as a solo performer. His first recordings were in 1937 under the guidance of Leonard Feather a jazz pianist, composer and producer. George played on Leonard’s Classic recordings until 1945.
Here is Life with Feather written by Leonard and later recorded by the George Shearing Quintet on their 1949 album Discovery
Next week George becomes an established star in Britain and in the mid-40s accepts Leonard Feather’s invitation to join him in America.
Buy his music. http://www.amazon.com/George-Shearing/e/B000APYEA2
William Price King.
William Price King is an American jazz singer, musician and composer. Originally he studied classical music and opera but over the years his style has evolved to what many refer to as the ‘sweet point’ where music and voice come together so beautifully.
His vocal mentors are two of the greatest giants in jazz, Nat King Cole and Mel Torme. His debut jazz album is called ‘Home,’ a collection of contemporary songs and whilst clearly a homage to their wonderful legacy it brings a new and refreshing complexity to the vocals that is entrancing.
William is currently in France where he performs in popular Jazz Venues in Nice and surrounding area. His album ‘Home’ is available to download from his website.
Links to website – http://www.williampriceking.com/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/WilliamPriceKing
Twitter – @wpkofficial
Regular Venue – http://cave-wilson.com/
William Price King in concert
Links to the stories on all Jazz Royalty.. Nat King Cole, Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald and Roberta Flack and Nina Simone