Memories of Sir George

Musician and organiser of the Scarborough Jazz Festival Mike Gordon has paid tribute to pianist Sir George Shearing, who has died aged 91.

The Anglo-American jazz pianist, best known for his song Lullaby of Birdland, has died in New York of heart failure.

Blind from birth, he began his career in London before moving to the US in 1947 and becoming one of the best known jazz pianists of the post-war era.

“British-born Shearing had a great influence on jazz pianists particularly after he moved to America,” said Mike.

“I remember memorising his composition Lullaby of Birdland and his arrangement of it in my 20s. I was knocked out by the tight, harmonic block chords he played and it was a standard part of my repertoire.

“Shearing backed great singers like Nancy Wilson, Nat King Cole and Peggy Lee and Gary Burton and Toots Thielemans were amongst the members of his famous quintet.

“He also helped to popularise jazz and, unusually in this genre, achieved considerable commercial success. Not bad for someone who was born blind,” said Mike.

In 1952 he wrote Lullaby of Birdland, an ode to the famous New York jazz club named after legendary saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker.

Sir George is survived by his second wife, singer Ellie Geffert.

l Scarborough Jazz Festival runs from September 23 to 25.