Compatible Quotes: George Shearing

All my musical foundations go back to the age of 3. My family tell me that I used to listen to the old crystal set, then go to the piano and pick out the tune that I just heard.

On the standard “Lullaby of Birdland,” which he composed one morning at breakfast:

I always tell people, it took me 10 minutes and 35 years in the business. I get tired of playing it, but not of collecting the royalties.

You know, when you’ve established a certain thing, what can you do? You’re stuck with it.

Asked if he had been blind all of his life:

Not yet.

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  1. Dick LaPalm says

    “The trouble with quotes on the internet
    is that it’s difficult to determine whether
    or not they’re genuine.”

    -Abraham Lincoln

  2. Terence Smith says

    Shearing was so popular through the fifties that he managed ( by touring with the likes of John Levy, Al McKibbon, Armando Perazza, and so many other great musicians) to get many venues to relax their policies which then forbade featuring “mixed” bands. He was proud that he did quite a bit to promote racial integration of audiences because his popular quintets wouldn’t play any other way. And Shearing managed to use his great wit to defeat prejudices in his own little way. Despite the fact that critics, unlike fans, sometimes derided his quintets as “commercial”, “elevator music”, Shearing relished refusing very lucrative hotel jobs when hotels would refuse rooms or service to the “colored” members of his bands. On one such occasion, Shearing was checking in at a hotel when he was told that he could register but the colored members of the quintet would have to stay elsewhere. The papers quoted him as saying:

    “Well, I can’t see colors and I can’t see working here!”

    The critcs said George was too commercial, but the creme de la creme of fellow pianists seemed to know better. On Shearing’s 65th birthday, Tommy Flanagan contributed a quote, in the form of a limerick, about Shearing:

    Said a famous pianist named Shearing,
    I’ll play on though the coda is nearing
    Here on Earth or on High
    As ever- for aye-
    Out of sight, but not out of hearing!

    Thank God both Shearing and Flanagan played on and did maybe their best work after age 65. THey both still “work” for me! If I may, I’ve got my own thought about George Shearing:

    If this is elevator music, I’ll take the elevator!

  3. Terence Smith says

    How about a quote from Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, describing how Shearing’s block chords and doubletime passages sounded to fans hearing him at Birdland for the first time in about 1949:

    Shearing came out, blind, led by the hand to the keyboard. He was a distinguished looking Englishman with a stiff white collar, beefy, blond with a delicate English summer’s night air about him that came out in the first rippling sweet number he played…The music picked up…It seemed faster and faster, that’s all. Shearing began to play his chords; they rolled out of the piano in great rich showers, you’d think the man wouldn’t have time to line them up. It rolled and rolled like the sea. Folks yelled for him to “Go!” Neal was sweating; the sweat poured down his collar. “There he is! That’s him! Old God! Old God Shearing! Yes! Yes! Yes!”…When he was gone Neal pointed to the empty piano seat. “God’s empty chair” he said.

  4. says

    As most of your readers probably know, “Lullaby of Birdland”is built on the chord changes of “Love Me or Leave Me.” Re: George’s sense of humor, he used to like to substitute the word “lunch” for “love” in songs—”I Fall in Lunch Too Easily,” “Be My Lunch,” etc. I saw him at the Tiffany club in L.A. in 1950. The band was George, Al McKibbon on bass, Toots Thielemans on guitar and harmonica, Marjorie Hyams on vibes. One other time, same club, but with Chuck Wayne on guitar. OH!! And Denzil Decosta Best on drums.

    • Doug Ramsey says

      For an instance of what made Denzil Best so admired for his work with wire brushes, watch and listen to the Shearing Quintet ca. late 1950 or early ’51. The others are Chuck Wayne, guitar; Don Elliott, vibes; and John Levy, bass. Click here.

  5. Terence Smith says

    Hey, Mort Weiss, yes, George Shearing had such a droll qualiyy to such a good effect in his between-song patter and setups. On a live album, there’s a moment where, after saying “We’ve been playing around with using the word “lunch” in our song titles. Then he goes into a surreal hilarious little list before misannouncing the next number:

    “Portrait of My Lunch.” “Lunch- Is Just Around the Corner.” If you eat in the wrong place, there is “Taking a Chance on Lunch.” And the capper, “Lunch Is Better- the Second Time Around!”

    In his bio, Shearing tells the story of the tribulations of the bandleader in the Midwest whose bass player shows up very late for the gig, saying, “Sorry, boss, I got hung up on the bridge in Indiana!” Shearing answers huffily, “There IS no bridge in ‘Indiana'”

  6. says

    Splendid quotes of the man whose music helped me to understand bebop. — Here’s another, also a very funny Shearing-quote from a TV documentary on his life:

    “Mr. Shearing”, asked the interviewer, “How did all those beautiful girls get on your LP covers?”
    George: “I’ve picked them myself … with braille.”

  7. Ken Dryden says

    I’m glad that I not only got to review a number of recordings by George Shearing and amassed a good collection of his work, but I had the pleasure of seeing him lead one of his final quintets and play a memorable duo gig with his long time bassist Neil Swainson. He was also a delightful interview subject, with an impromptu wit that rivaled Steve Allen.

    On one of his live CDs, he introduces a song with “This is an Impressionist piece. It’s called ‘On a Clear Day, I Still Can’t See a Darn Thing.'”