Photograph by Monika S Jakubowska
Drummer Carl Gorham has music running through his veins, and this is no doubt partly due to his great uncle the legendary pianist George Shearing.
With the band Shear Brass the drummer has just released their debut album Celebrating Sir George Searing featuring eleven compositions associated with the pianist.
“I wanted to revisit his music and bring something fresh to it, not just recreate the Shearing sound”, explains Gorham. “I think it’s important to bring a new impetus to work from the past, not simply preserve it. I also feel that Sir George has been taken for granted down the years, partly because of his sheer technical brilliance but also maybe in part, because of his commercial success, I don’t feel he’s been fully appreciated in terms of the depth and range, the subtlety and beauty of his output. Shear Brass is all about putting that right, and, because of my family connection, I feel an extra sense of mission.”
In selecting some his personal favourite tracks, Carl has selected the following albums and compositions from George Shearing’ discography:
George Shearing & Stephane Grapelli – The Reunion Album
Favourite track – ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing’
A key early collaboration in George’s career was the one with Stephane Grappelli (though I’ve picked a later recording). I just love the sound of the violin and the piano together – exciting but also melancholic at times. Their interplay on this one is amazing as well – technically fluent, imaginative and yet tasteful.
George Shearing Quintet – Greatest Hits
Favourite track – ‘Jumping with Symphony Sid
One of the first Shearing tracks I remember hearing around the house when I was young, so it has a sentimental hold (George was my great uncle). As a drummer myself, I love the drum breaks, and the whole tune really, really swings.
George Shearing Quintet – Rare Form
Favourite track – ‘Bop, Look and Listen’
A Shearing composition and a great tune. Love the tightness of the band – the way they really nail it as a unit. An object lesson in brevity, as well. Sometimes tunes can wander – this one certainly doesn’t.
Nat King Cole Sings/George Shearing Plays
Favourite track – ‘Let There Be Love’
This track shows George to be one of the great accompanists – understated and sympathetic; every note he plays is perfectly placed. The vocal is pretty good too!
George Shearing Quintet – Shearing On Stage!
Favourite track – ‘Nothing But De Best’
There’s a great energy about this live performance of a tune written by drummer Denzil Best. Proves that the Shearing Quintet (with Armando Peraza on Percussion) could be as propulsive and exciting as any.
Mel Torme & George Shearing – A Vintage Year
Favourite track – ‘The Way You Look Tonight’
Two great artists at the peak of their powers, having fun in each other’s company. Wonderful timing and togetherness in their performances. George called them ‘Two halves of the same musical brain ‘, and it shows on this track.
George Shearing – This Is George Shearing (solo piano album)
Favourite track – ‘Children’s Waltz’
A beautiful Shearing original that shows his love of composers like Debussy (George performed whole classical concerts with some of the world’s leading orchestras), The sound he gets from the piano on this track is amazing as well. It just glitters. The melody is gorgeous; so simple, so moving.
George Shearing Quintet – original recording 1949
Track – ‘Conception’
One of the great Be Bop tunes showing his strengths as a composer. A reminder of how, when he first went to the US in 1946, he was right there in the middle of the new jazz as it was happening. The melody fizzes with excitement. Love the bridge in particular, the very boppy rhythm.
George Shearing – Out of the Woods
Favourite track – ‘Drum Fugue’
A lesser known one but really interesting. This was a quintet recording supplemented by a woodwind quartet. All the music was actually written and arranged by vibes player Gary Burton. It shows George’s generous side, one that was keen to nurture young talent. It also demonstrates his own thirst for experimentation. I love the combination of jazz and classical influences here. The whole track feels very natural and just flows.
Shear Brass – Celebrating Sir George Shearing
Favourite track – ‘Lullaby of Birdland’
I’ve picked this version, from our Shear Brass debut album, as it’s sung by George’s great, great niece (and my daughter, Romy Sipek). I think she does him proud and it’s lovely to feel a family tradition is being upheld. I also really like the trumpet solo by Jason McDermid and the way the whole band swings throughout the arrangement.