A jazz great's talent for reaching his audience

Sir George Shearing
Jazz pianist
Died aged 91

The ebullient British-born jazz pianist wrote the standard Lullaby of Birdland and had a string of hits both with and without his quintet.

Shearing, blind since birth, had been a superstar of the jazz world since a couple of years after he arrived in the United States in 1947 from England, where he was already hugely popular. The George Shearing Quintet's first big hit came in 1949 with a version of songwriter Harry Warren's September in the Rain.

He remained active well into his 80s, releasing a CD called Lullabies of Birdland as well as a memoir, Lullaby of Birdland, in early 2004. In March of that year, though, he was hospitalised after falling at his home.

In a 1987 interview, Shearing said the ingredients for a great performance were "a good audience, a good piano, and a good physical feeling, which is not available to every soul, every day of everyone's life.

"Your intent, then, is to speak to your audience in a language you know, to try to communicate in a way that will bring to them as good a feeling as you have yourself," he said.

In 2007, Shearing was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his contribution to music and said it was "amazing to receive an honour for something I absolutely love doing".

Shearing's bebop-influenced sound became identified with a quintet - piano, vibes, guitar, bass and drums - which he put together in 1949. More recently, he played mostly solo or with only a bassist.

- NZ Herald

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