The man who Jack Kerouac once referred to as God, has died. George Shearing, at 91, was a jazz piano legend. After taking classical piano lessons for six years or so, I wanted to try other forms of music. My father, who was a musician himself, bought me some fake books, and I learned to play jazz and pop standards. Self-taught. One of the most innovative song books I had, was one from George Shearing. I’ve still got it around here somewhere. George taught me some lovely dissonances, styling the art of playing two notes side by side – together. He was the first true master that got me playing my own style – such as it was.
I learned that beautiful music, with a groove, could also be simple to play – if you had the natural feel. I never did see Shearing in concert, but I always enjoyed listening to him – and there’s lots to listen to. But even more I got a kick out interpreting his interpretations. I knew George wouldn’t mind.
This from On The Road.
The place was deserted, we were the first customers, ten o’clock. Shearing came out, blind, led by the hand to his keyboard. He was a distinguished looking Englishman with a stiff white collar, slightly beefy, blond, with a delicate English summer’s night air about him that came out in the first rippling sweet number he played as the bass player leaned to him reverently and thrummed the beat. The drummer, Denzel Best, sat motionlessly except for his wrists snapping the brushes. And Shearing began to rock; a smile broke over his ecstatic face; he began to rock in the piano seat, back and forth, slowly at first, then the beat went up, he began rocking fast, his left foot jumped up with every beat, his neck began to rock crookedly, he brought his face down to the keys, he pushed his hair back, his combed hair dissolved, he began to sweat. The music picked up. The bass player hunched over and socked it in, faster and faster. 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!” And Shearing was conscious of the madman behind him, he could hear every one of Neal’s gasps and imprecations, he could sense it though he couldn’t see. “That’s right” Neal said. “Yes!” Shearing smiled; he rocked. Shearing rose from the piano dripping with sweat; those were his great days before he became cool and commercial. When he was gone, Neal pointed to the empty piano seat. “God’s empty chair” he said. On the piano a horn sat; its golden shadow made a strange reflection along the desert caravan painted on the wall behind the drums. God was gone; it was the silence of his departure…
RIP Sir GS.