William Price King picks up the story of the powerhouse of jazz that was Sir George Shearing. Blind from birth, he never let his lack of sight deter him from achieving his ambitions in music, and as we move into the war years and the rest of the 40s it is clear that George is definitely on the way up in the music world.
Into the 40s……
Still only 20 at the outbreak of the Second World War, George began to gain a huge amount of experience by performing with some of the exiled musicians from Europe and this included the incredible Stephane Grappelli. Stephane, originally Italian but a naturalised French citizen, learned to play classical violin, but was introduced to Jazz in his early teens. Jazz violinists were rare at that time and over the next 20 years Stephane along with his various bands developed a style that the young George Shearing naturally gravitated towards.
Through the war years he also played with the Vic Lewis and Carlo Krahmer Band on several recordings for the Days Rhythm Style and HMV and Harry Parry and his Radio Rhythm Club Sextet. Eventually in 1944 he released a recording for Decca with his own sextet with that included Kenny Baker, Harry Hayes, Aubrey Frank, Tommy Bromley, and Carlo Krahmer.
Here is George Shearing performing More Than You Know in 1942 – The music was written by Vincent Youmans and lyrics by Billy Rose and Edward Eliscu. The song was published in 1929
The BBC was the driving force behind the music industry and apart from the bands that toured the country and the cinema was the only national source of news and entertainment. The BBC had been combined into one channel which was the Home Service and it only offered informational programmes, news and music. This would later be expanded into the Forces service that was broadcast to the armed forces but it had a much larger entertainment content that included dramas, quiz programmes, comedies as well as a large musical component. It was accessible by the general public and it became increasingly more popular as the years of austerity took hold. The demand for music was therefore very high and for George Shearing this meant that he was never out of work.
His fan base grew and he became a star both at home with British listeners but also with the soldiers and sailors listening to the Forces radio. He won seven consecutive Melody Maker Polls which were the UK Grammys. In 1945 he was ranked 5 in the Best Soloist category, ironically ahead of Stephane Grappelli at No. 8! He did however come in behind Stephane and his Quintette at No. 7 when he was placed at No.11 with his sextet in the Small Combo category. He was however No. 1 that year for Piano.
By 1946 although still very popular in Britain, George was aware that he was becoming limited in his audience and his friend Jazz pianist, composer and journalist Leonard Feather, now established in the US invited George to join him for a visit in 1946. Whilst there for three months he recorded an album for the Savoy label, and delighted with the music scene and the opportunities that were open to him in the US he moved across permanently in 1947.
He was the first of the post-war British Jazz musicians to arrive in the US and build a successful career. George was now heavily into bebop. The birth of bebop in the 1940’s is often considered to mark the beginning of modern jazz. This style grew directly out of the small swing groups, but placed a much higher emphasis on technique and on more complex harmonies rather than on singable melodies. Alto saxophonist Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker was the father of this movement, and trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie was his primary accomplice. Dizzy also led a big band, and helped introduce Afro-Cuban music, including rhythms such as the mambo through his work with Cuban percussionists. But it was the quintet and other small group recordings featuring Dizzy and ‘Bird’ that formed the foundation of bebop and most modern jazz.
George’s reputation grew as he gained attention as the intermission pianist at the iconic jazz venue at the Hickory House on 52nd street and as Ella Fitzgerald’s accompanist on her pianist’s night off. Eventually he landed a regular quartet engagement with clarinetist Buddy De Franco. Just before recording an album Buddy had to drop out for contractual reasons and George’s old friend Leonard Feather suggested that it was time for George to form his own group.
One of the musicians that he collaborated with was the pianist Marian McPartland and here they are with All the Things You Are. The original song was written in 1939 for the musical Very Warm for May by Jerome Kern.
In 1949 George formed the first and most famous of his quintets which included Marjorie ‘Marjie’ Hyams in the unusual inclusion of a female in the line-up. Marjie was a jazz vibraphonist, piano and arranger. For those of you unfamiliar with a vibraphone, it is similar to a xylophone. Each bar is paired with a resonator tube with a motor-driven butterfly valve mounted on a common shaft which produces a vibrato effect while spinning. It was commonly used in jazz and also in wind instrument ensembles. Marjie had played with Woody Herman, Mary Lou Williams and Charlie Ventura and was a great addition to the sextet. The group also included Chuck Wayne on guitar, John Levy on bass, and Denzil Best on drums.
From that point on George Shearing’s success was guaranteed. With his unique quintet and later sextet ‘Shearing Sound’ he had found the formula that would bring him worldwide fans and huge record sales. His 1949 ‘September in the Rain’ for MGM sold 900,000 copies and his reputation in the US was firmly established when he was booked into Birdland the legendary jazz venue in New York.
September in the Rain written by Harry Warren and Al Dubin in 1937 from the film Melody for Two by the George Shearing Quintet.
Buy his music. http://www.amazon.com/George-Shearing/e/B000APYEA2
Part one of the George Shearing Story.
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
I hope you have enjoyed today’s musical interlude and we welcome your feedback and sharing.. thank you.