Are You Sure, Bobby?
Sir George Shearing, the well-loved pianist who wrote the classic jazz standard "Lullaby of Birdland," died on St. Valentine's Day, February 14, at age 91. Shearing, blind since birth, arrived in the U.S. from his native England in 1947, and two years later scored a big hit with his quintet's version of the standard "September in the Rain." Shearing remained active well into his 80s, recording a CD, "Lullabies of Birdland," and releasing a memoir, Lullaby of Birdland, in 2004. In 2007, Shearing was knighted for his many contributions to music. Shearing and his quintet worked with many stars over the years including Nancy Wilson, Mel Torme (with whom he recorded twice), Marian McPartland, Peggy Lee, Billy Taylor, Don Thompson, Stephane Grappelli, Sarah Vaughan and, perhaps most notably, Nat King Cole. Shearing wrote "Lullaby of Birdland" (in ten minutes, he later said) in 1952. Introducing it during his 80th birthday celebration at Carnegie Hall, he said, "I've been credited with writing 300 songs. Two hundred and ninety-nine enjoyed a bumpy ride from relative obscurity to total oblivion. Here's the other one." Of all Shearing's well-known and oft-repeated quips, my favorite has always been his response to a reporter who asked if he'd been blind all his life. "Not yet," Shearing replied.
Drummer Joe Morello, another musician who had sight problems from an early age, died March March 12 at his home in Irvington, NJ. He was 82 years old. Morello was best known for his 12-year association (1955-67) with the Dave Brubeck Quartet whose trademark was varying time signatures. At his suggestion, alto star Paul Desmond wrote the jazz classic "Take Five" in 5/4 time. The song sold more than a million copies, rising to No. 25 on Billboard magazine's Hot 100 chart in 1962. After Brubeck's quartet disbanded, Morello worked mainly as a drum clinician and teacher. He returned to performing in the 1970s and '80s, including reunions with Brubeck in 1976 and 1985. Later, he led his own group that featured tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama. By that time, Morello was playing virtually blind, an affliction that never stopped him or lessened his love for the music.
And that's it for now. Until next time, keep swingin' . . . !
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