Although jazz piano master Sir George Shearing died in 2011 at the age of 91, along comes George Shearing At Home and it turns out we haven’t heard the last of him. It turns out there’s still more of his music out there for fans to savor. In this case, what we have is a duo album recorded back in 1983 where the pianist works with Canadian bassist Don Thompson.
Thompson explains: the two men began collaborating in 1982, when after many years working with his quintet, Shearing looked to the greater freedom of the duo format. In a CBC Music, interview Thompson says: “The duo situation was really a liberating experience for George after so many years of being confined to the rigidity of the quintet. In the quintet, every note is played exactly the same every night. . . .” In 1983, the pair had a six week gig in Manhattan and they would get together in the afternoons in the living room of Shearing’s apartment and play. One afternoon, he says in the liner notes, he suggested that they “lay down a few tracks ‘just for fun.’” Shearing agreed and the result is George Shearing at Home from Jazzknight Records.
As Thompson tells it the reason it took all these years for the album to be released was because Shearing was under contract to Concord Jazz at the time and they were not interested in anything that wasn’t recorded by their engineer in their own studio. Recently when Shearing’s wife was visiting in Canada, he gave her copies of the recordings, and she agreed they needed to be made available to the public. Shearing fans will be forever grateful. This is one great pianist at the top of his game.
The album’s 14 tracks are a mix of standards and jazz classics. There is one original composition: Thompson’s own “Ghoti,” a tune with a bebop flair that features some swinging interaction between the bass and the piano. There are also four solo piano tracks. The album opens with a syncopated version of the Rogers and Hart tune “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” followed by a moody take on “A Time For Love.” The traditional “Skye Boat Song” is perhaps an unusual choice for a jazz album, but it certainly adds variety. Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” and Lee Konitz’s “SubconsiousLee” are more likely fodder, and the duo rips them.
The solo highlights include a lovely dramatic version of that old chestnut, “Laura.” Shearing gives it new life. There is an atmospheric impressionistic take on “I Cover the Waterfront.” In the liner notes, Thompson says that when they played it at the club, Shearing would joke that it was “a beautiful piece written by Marlon Brando.” “Can’t We Be Friends?” gets a bluesy treatment that comes off as a duet between the pianist’s right and left hand. Thompson says that this is the only time Shearing played “Beautiful Love” which concludes the album.
George Shearing belongs in the piano pantheon with the likes of Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson and Dave Brubeck, and this is an album that makes that very clear.