Programme notes

Songs and Sonnets, George Shearing (1919-2011)

George Shearing was a Londoner, born blind in 1919, who became a renowned jazz pianist, and wrote a piece, Lullaby of Birdland, that became famous world-wide and has been called 'the anthem of the jazz movement'.

He moved to the USA in 1947, enthralled by the jazz he’d heard on record, and his George Shearing Quintet became very popular and a commercial success. He lived to be 92 and never lost touch with England even though he became an American citizen. In his later years he had houses in both New York and Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. Born to working class parents—his father was a coalman, and his mother had the unusual and probably less than endearing job of cleaning trains—he was knighted in 2007. After the investiture he remarked ‘I started my professional life playing piano and accordion in a London pub for 25 bob a week. So the poor blind kid from Battersea became Sir George Shearing.’

Shearing’s Songs and Sonnets published in 2001 are a blend of swing, jazz harmonies and the UK choral tradition. Shearing’s tunes were set for four-part choir by the eminent choral composer John Rutter, with the influences of swing and two-handed piano chordal harmonies just as strongly felt. Each of the seven pieces explores a different style, from the unison singing of Live with me and be my love, via the swinging Lover and his Lass to the twisting harmonies of Spring. And then, through the sumptuous Schubertian harmonies of Who is Sylvia, sped on by the drive of Fie on Sinful Fantasy to the bouncy dancing of the Hey, ho, the wind and the rain, which ties up the sequence finally, and finely.

Mike Torbe

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