George Shearing has written an autobiography entitled Lullaby of Birdland. To coincide with its release, Concord has issued a 2-CD set of the pianist's recordings, entitled Lullabies of Birdland. Most of the selections are from Shearing's 1980s Concord canon, but works from other labels are also here, including three early recordings from MGM and two 1990s items from Telarc. The songs are presented in chronological order.
Shearing is not known as a father of the cool school, but the three quintet recordings from the MGM vaults argue that he should be. "September in the Rain" was recorded in 1949, the same year that Miles Davis recorded some of his Birth of the Cool tracks. This set includes the original quintet's "September in the Rain," "Lullaby of Birdland" and "Mambo Inn." Of course, Shearing's locked hands technique are in full view.
Jazz fans might not be aware that Shearing dispensed with the locked hands throughout the 1980s, the period which makes up 17 of this set's 25 songs. Shearing supports singers Joe Williams, Carmen McRae, Ernestine Anderson and Mel Torme here, and in every case he is enough in the background to provide accompaniment but enough in the foreground to be interesting in his own right.
Shearing duets with bassist Brian Torff, pianist Marian McPartland, guitarist Jim Hall, French hornist Barry Tuckwell, bassist Neil Swainson and pianist Hank Jones. Four songs are solo piano. The absence of percussion on these tracks does not result in a lack of swinging tempo, although calmness is much in evidence. One also notes the absence of horns.
Shearing recreates the quintet sound with Wes Montgomery and his brothers on one track, and employs the reconstituted '90s quintet for another. Three examples of "Lullaby of Birdland" are here, including one with Tito Puente's Orchestra.
Because Shearing's early work for Savoy and his popular recordings for Capitol are not present, Lullabies of Birdland should not be considered a complete overview of Shearing's career. The set is rather a recap of his decade with Concord with additional material included. The music is light and swinging, and it will appeal to the general public as well as to jazz fans. It's a great collection.