The George Shearing Quartet and Joe Williams, with the Junior Mance Trio, British Tour - September October 1962 003
Pages 2 and 3 of a programme for the George Shearing Quintet, Joe Williams and Junior Mance Trio tour of Great Britain September - October 1962. Both pages profile the career of George Shearing.
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ï»¿FIFTEEN years ago this coming December, George Shearing packed his things and went to New York. The obvious question inspired by that statement is â Why? â and thereby hangs a tale. When Shearing went to try his luck in the United States, such a thing was unheard of in British jazz circles. Today it is still rare, but done from time to time. With George Shearing there was virtually no precedent, certainly not in the modern era. Why did a gifted jazz musician have to pull up his roots and look for work three thousand miles away? Why could not the British public have supported him?
The truth runs as follows. In the years just after the end of the last war there was even less of a jazz life in this country than there is today. An instrumentalist confining his playing to unadulterated, uncorrupted jazz goes hungry today, but at the time George Shearing said farewell, he would have starved. There was literally no jazz
work. The idea of a modern jazz club, where people pay to listen to musicians doing their best, was only in its infancy in 1947, and people like Shearing, talented jazz musicians, had to take work in night clubs, those curious places of musical compromise which promise so much to the musician in love with jazz and really offer him less than nothing at all. A few recordings nobody heard of, perhaps an occasional broadcast on one of the BBC jazz programmes, and for the rest, some private playing for one's own enjoyment. That was about the sum total of the jazz work in this country, unless some intrepid lunatic could be dug up who wanted to try his hand at promoting a Sunday concert or two.
The choice before George Shearing was at least uncomplicated. Either continue to live by kind permission of the West End night clubs, or try to start again on another continent. I remember Shearing while he was working in London,
although I never met him, being at that time little more than a devoted beginner myself. His reputation was exceedingly high with musicians and almost non-existent with the public-at-large. Indeed, there were hardly any musicians at all who had any kind of a public reputation. Hardly any jazz musicians, that is. Shearing was one of dozens of potentially talented men whose environment was crushing any chance they might have of fulfilling their promise. 1 think 1 remember seeing Shearing once at the Feldman Club, although at this distance of time I cannot be sure. That whole period blurs into a confused smudge, but I do know that he was considered one of the handful of British jazz musicians who mattered.
His background was, I suppose, typical in most ways of the aspiring British musician of the time. He had been born in 1919, one of eight children in a London working-class family. At Shillington Street School for the Blind he had learned the academic rudiments and then, at twelve, he had moved on to the Linden Lodge School, where his musical ability first began to impress his instructors. At sixteen came the inevitable engagement in a London public house, followed by the equally inevitable abandoning of the pub in favour of the night clubs.
Then he joined Claude Bamptonâs Orchestra for Blind Musicians, with whom he toured Britain for nine months and moved gradually into professional circles. He made a few jazz records, appeared on some BBC programmes, and later joined Stephanne Grappellyâs Band at Hatchett's Restaurant. In 1941, George joined the Ambrose Octet as part of a two-piano team, sharing duties with Ronnie Selby, who was later to follow his example and try his luck in New York. It was in 1941 that George headed the piano section of the Melody Maker Annual lazz Poll for the first time, and although such polls are usually a mark of public awareness of a musicianâs existence rather than of his inherent musical ability, a success like this at least proved that Shearing was as big a fish as he was ever likely to be in the small pond of British jazz.
Up to this point, the musical biography of George Shearing is very similar to that of many other British jazz musicians of the period who worked in the same clubs as George and appeared on the same programmes. After 1947, however, he became as if a different species, and we find
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