George Shearing at Home

In January 1983, George Shearing and Canadian bassist Don Thompson began a six week engagement at Michael’s Pub on East 55th St. in New York. Thompson and Shearing had been working as a duo since June ’82 and had developed a strong and trusting musical bond. During this period in early ’83, Shearing and Thompson often rehearsed at Shearing’s New York apartment, to try things out. [Pictured above: George and Ellie Shearing]

The so-called practice sessions were so lyrically deep that Thompson suggested they record themselves. Shearing agreed, and off they went to a music store to rent four mikes and some pre-amps and to buy four reels of tape. [Pictured above: Don Thompson]

With the gear set up by the apartment’s fireplace, Shearing sat at his grand piano and Thompson played his bass. Over the next several days, between pots of tea, they recorded. When the blank tapes ran out, Shearing sent the results off to a record producer. The producer said to add reverb and then send them back for another listen. Shearing grew busy and decided to pass on the extra work. [Photo of George Shearing above by Jacques Lowe]

Fortunately they were found by Ellie Shearing, the pianist’s widow, and together with Thompson, they co-produced George Shearing at Home (ProperNote). The 14 tracks feature a wide range of material—from Johnny Mandel’s A Time for Love and I Cover the Waterfront to Charlie Parker’s Confirmation and Lee Konitz’s Subconcious-Lee.

What’s fascinating about the material is how relaxed Shearing is at the piano. There’s no tension or audience awareness to worry about, and Thompson is behind him with strength and tenderness. It’s Shearing in bunny slippers, and all of his various styles are on display here—slow-motion stride (That Old Devil Called Love), block chords (Subconscious Lee) and wandering right hand above clustered voicings (The Things We Did Last Summer). And dig Thompson’s solo on Confirmation. [Photo above of Lynn Redgrave and George Shearing]

When I first listened to the album, I was waiting for the wound-tight impeccable energy that you hear on most Shearing albums. Instead, this was quite the opposite.  I was struck by how different the non-studio and stage-less Shearing was—like a model without makeup. There’s less entertainer here and a lot more introspection. And like that model, the music has a natural beauty—even without the showmanship. It’s Shearing, self-aware and at rest, and the results are as warm as that fireplace.

JazzWax tracks: You’ll find George Shearing at Home (ProperNote) with bassist Don Thompson here.

JazzWax clip: Here’s George Shearing playing Laura…

Written by Marc Myers, copyright © by JazzWax (Marc Myers LLC