The George Shearing Quartet and Joe Williams, with the Junior Mance Trio, British Tour - September October 1962 005
Pages 6 and 7 of a programme for the George Shearing Quintet, Joe Williams and Junior Mance Trio tour of Great Britain September - October 1962. Both pages continue to profile the career of George Shearing, particularly after he moved to America.
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ï»¿who had become a factor to reckon with on the American jazz scene. And as the years went by and Shearing consolidated his success, increased his range, and made album after album, I kept asking myself another question.
If Shearing had been as good as all that, why had the British trade press not said so? At first I put it down to a villainous conspiracy on the part of our jazz critics. But then I realised that nobody had written about Shearing being gifted because none of the jazz writers of the period knew a good player when they heard one. They were still at the stage where they judged a jazz musician by his environment. I made a resolve there and then that if ever 1 got the chance to influence readers I would go baldheaded for those who scoffed at the idea that there is no such thing as a British jazz musician, and that I would plug talented British musicians at every available opportunity. (This was in the days when I still thought that critics influenced public taste.)
A few years ago George Shearing became an American citizen, which was after all only consummating legally what had been a moral fact for a long time. But he remains a product of the London jazz scene of fifteen years ago, and for that reason is a fascinating study of the process whereby one can assimilate completely what is generally conceded to be an alien culture. Recently George has been involved in yet another hit record. Oddly enough, the tune is British, too. It is called Let There Be Love and features Georgeâs piano playing and the singing of Nat Cole. There is one moment, after the vocal, where George plays some brief jazz phrases on piano One of these phrases hangs on to the keynote for a couple of bars before flowering into one of THE definitive phrases of the prewar Swing Age. Transfer the phrase to trumpet and Roy Eldridge might have played it twenty-five years ago.
Now, it is my firm opinion that, had George never emigrated, he would never have come to play that phrase, or, if he had, he would only have played it in the last year or two. The reason for my eccentric view is that musicians in the United States, being far less era-conscious and style-conscious, are much less inhibited about what kind of phrases they play, and that George's coining of this phrase is a vivid example of the influence of the American environment on a
British player. It is natural that European musicians should be more hidebound by the theories of the game. They are thousands of miles removed from the source and have therefore to be that much more meticulous in studying how the music works. And so they become caught in one or another of the stylistic cages, and are inclined to be slightly more puritan in their views as to which kind of phrase ought to be permissible in which kind of musical context.
Because the truth is that Shearing today is not quite the same kind of jazz musician as he was when he left Britain, nor the same as when he recorded September In The Rain. He sounds less mannered today, closer to the roots of the business, a freer, less obviously academic jazz player, somebody who sounds much closer to the main highroad of jazz piano playing than ever he did before. Fifteen years in the American environment has matured his jazz beyond question and beyond measure. He sounds like the real thing, none the less because much of his success has been commercial rather than specialised. The point about his commercial success is that it has been achieved by the deployment of jazz methods, and that is all that should trouble us.
Shearing and I have never met. But although he does not know it, we have worked together. Two years ago a friend of mine on the administrative side of the jazz world returned from a New York trip with a sheet of manuscript. â Here,â he said, â take this. Itâs a piece of music by George Shearing. See if you can put words to it. If you can. Iâll send it back to him.â
The piece was called Poodle Mambo, and I wondered whether I was obliged to stick to that title in my lyric. As Shearing was too far away to answer my question, and as I found it good for the ego to be working on one of his songs, I did nothing about it, but instead sat and thought about it. I am still thinking. But the point is that I have been involved in a collaboration with George Shearing for two years already, and the association looks like continuing indefinitely. As he is a partner of mine, I have derived great pleasure from the compilation of this note, not least because Shearing has become the most dazzling proof of the proposition1 that the British musician can, at least in theory, and now and again in practice, go to the United States and score a complete triumph.
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