Saturday, September 28, 2013

12 by George

That's Shearing you're hearing ... the quintet in Hollywood, 1952, around the time of the recordings below. From left, Al McKibbon, George, Denzil Best, Dick Garcia (a guess) and Joe Roland. Photo from

Call this a guilty-pleasure posting. I've always loved George Shearing's music, even though much of it is – in my unbiased opinion – pop schlock. His stuff on Capitol devolved into spurts of tidy piano interspersed between tedious string arrangements and woo-woo vocal choirs. I have about thirty of his recordings on that label and I never listen to those (how I got them is a long story). But I do listen to the sessions Shearing and the quintet did for MGM. They're something else altogether.

Shearing speaks at the dedication of a new 
wing at the Hadley School in 1968. He'd briefly
attended the institution a decade earlier. At
the time, I was living a 
few blocks away in the
village of Winnetka.
By the time George Shearing got to America from his native England in 1947, he was already considered an accomplished jazz pianist. He'd already recorded for Leonard Feather, and in 1949 his performance of "September in the Rain" on MGM sold nearly a million copies. Whether he got his "locked hands" style of soloing from Lionel Hampton's pianist, Milt Bucker, or whether he thought it up himself is beside the point. Shearing soon became associated with that distinctive sound, and his many, many records for MGM serve up numerous examples of it. They are formulaic, to be sure, with the melody invariably played in unison by piano, guitar and vibes, but the tight ensemble work, light touch and succinct virtuosity convey a kind of jazz urbanity that is unique in the music.

A George Shearing record and cocktails really do seem to go together.

So here's my favorite George Shearing album. It's one of five LPs he issued on MGM, culled mostly from his earlier 78 rpm releases. It's a comfortable mix of romantic pop ballads and bop-oriented originals. The personnel varies a bit, but it's mostly Don Elliott on vibes (also an accomplished mellophone and trumpet player) and Chuck Wayne on guitar. Give a listen, and I think you'll hear why King Pleasure immortalized Shearing in his lyrics to Lester Young's "Jumpin' with Symphony Sid."

As always, these files were dubbed directly from the vinyl with just a little cleaning of the sound. Sorry for the heavy ring wear on the cover, but I was too lazy to Photoshop it out. Note that the order of the tunes is incorrect on the cover but has been fixed below.

Touch of Genius
George Shearing Quintet
MGM E3265
George Shearing, p; Don Elliott, xyl, vbs; Chuck Wayne, g; John Levy, b; Denzil Best, d. New York, NY; February 5, 7, 1951

1. My Silent Love
2. Midnight Mood (Shearing)
3. If You Were the Only Girl in the World
4. Minoration (Johnny Pate)

Marjorie Hyams, vbs, replaces Elliott.
New York, NY; June 28, 1949

5. Nothing but D Best (Denzil Best)

Personnel as above.
New York, NY; July 5, 1950

6. Geneva's Move (Denzil Best)

Personnel, date as 1.

7. I'll Never Smile Again

Personnel as 1.
New York, NY; February 7, 1951

8. They All Laughed

Al McKibbon, b, replaces Levy.
New York, NY; May 16, 1951

9. We'll Be Together Again

Personnel as 1.
New York, NY; February 7, 1951

10. Loose Leaf

Personnel as 1, Marjorie Hyams, vbs, replaces Elliott.
New York, NY; December 12, 1949

11. Carnegie Horizons (Shearing)

Personnel as above.
New York, NY; July 27, 1949

12. Conception (Shearing)

Find it here:


  1. Thanks for this! As you say, it's formulaic, but that's because he did it a lot. Any one Shearing album is likely to be very good, and this has the advantage of an interesting lineup and sympathetic musicians.

  2. Thanks for this early I didn't have.