A Tribute to George Shearing

On Saturday, June 7th at 8:00 PM, the Vermont Jazz Center presents "Sounds of Shearing," an all-star group comprised primarily of alumni from the working bands of the great pianist, George Shearing. Under the leadership of vibraphonist Charlie Shoemake, the ensemble pays tribute to George Shearing, performing his elegant arrangements and bringing to life his legendary sound. This music typifies a refined version of jazz often called "cool jazz." His music was swinging but accessible, nimble but never loud, complex but beautiful. Shoemake and his associates take this to heart, they've distilled the essence and are revitalizing Shearing's music with passion, experience and expertise. The performers include Charlie Shoemake, vibraphone; Frank Potenza, guitar; Joe Bagg, piano; Luther Hughes, acoustic bass; Bill Goodwin, drums and special guest vocalist Sandi Shoemake

In Jazz there have been only a few great players on the vibraphone, Charlie Shoemake is one of them. -- Artie Shaw

Although he was born in England and toured the world numerous times, George Shearing made the east coast of the United States his home. Adept at all styles including bebop, his signature piano sound was formed by harmonizing a melody from the top down in block chords and duplicating the melody note an octave below. This "locked-hands" style was pioneered by the pianist Milt Buckner and was also popularized by Nat King Cole. Simply speaking, this 5-part harmonization technique was borrowed from the arrangements written for the saxophone section of the Glenn Miller Orchestra and applied directly to the piano. Shearing put his own personal stamp on the technique after forming a quintet in 1949 that complemented the traditional piano trio with guitar and vibraphone. According to the Grove Dictionary of Jazz: "In Shearing's quintet the upper melody note was then doubled by the vibraphone and the lower one by the guitar" thus "tripling the melody in unison." Furthermore, the "Shearing Sound" requires that the vibraphonist refrain from using the instrument's motor thus emitting a "dry sound that better blends with the rest of the ensemble." Shearing's music is the epitome of the "cool," a style of jazz -it assimilated the technical and virtuosic elements of bebop but presented them in a format that was true to his own vision and palatable to a wide audience.

According to the All Music Guide to Jazz "Shearing had one of the most popular jazz combos on the planet - so much so that, in the usual jazz tradition of distrusting popular success, he tends to be underappreciated." The Guardian (a British daily newspaper), puts this into perspective in Shearing's obituary: "the quintet's new approach caught on immediately, their recording of September in the Rain, made for MGM in February 1949, selling 900,000 copies. Where bebop had seemed over-complex to many listeners, here was a musical style that sounded modern and new, but was easy to enjoy." Shearing was unapologetically popular. He had the self-confidence to play the repertoire and styles he enjoyed, but he also authentically connected by his humble upbringing to the "common man." Although he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, Shearing was far from elitist and he never forgot his roots.

Shearing's music is the epitome of "cool," a style of jazz that assimilated the technical and virtuosic elements of bebop but presented them in less edgy format. Nonetheless, he was true to his own vision and aesthetic, a sophisticated music that was palatable to a wide audience. Shearing was thirsty for knowledge and a consummate transcriber of other's ideas. He explored the less mainstream but vital directions in music and used those techniques in his own forays, always crediting those responsible for new developments. In most of his early interviews Shearing celebrated the advances of Lennie Tristano and in his own performing freely "integrated many facets of Bud Powell's style." His brilliant compositions include a Tristano influenced piece called Conception that was featured by Miles Davis in his first great Quintet. His most enduring tune however is "Lullaby of Birdland," a bebop anthem dedicated to the 52nd Street club that capitalized on the popularity of Charlie Parker.

The group's organizer/leader is West Coast vibraphonist, Charlie Shoemake. Amongst many others, he has worked with Charles Lloyd, Art Pepper, Bill Holman, Harold Land, Phil Woods and Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars. He is a first-call studio musician who has recorded with Quincy Jones, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mandel, Nelson Riddle and Lalo Shifrin. His own recordings include Kenny Barron, Billy Childs, Ben Riley, Pete Christlieb and many others. In 1966 Shoemake went to hear the George Shearing Quintet at Shelley's Manne Hole and was informed that the vibraphone player with the group was leaving and that George was in great need of a replacement for an upcoming five-week tour of the Midwest. Charlie decided to take the job. The five-week tour turned into almost seven years with the group. During this period (1966-1973) the group's personnel would include guitarists Joe Pass, Pat Martino, and Ron Anthony; bassist Andy Simpkins; drummers Harvey Mason, Stix Hooper, Vernel Fournier and others. Scott Yanow noted in the LA Jazz Scene, "He is a major voice on his instrument."

Frank Potenza is the guitarist. A protégé of the legendary guitarist Joe Pass, Frank has eight solo albums to his credit and an extensive freelance recording career. He has performed with Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Pass, George Van Eps, Mundell Lowe, Terrell Stafford, Joe Diorio, John Clayton, Bud Shank, Mose Allison, James Moody, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Rob MCConnell, Benny Green, Eddie Harris, Marvin "Smitty" Smith, Dr. Lonnie Smith and many other jazz luminaries. From 1996 to 1999 Frank toured as a member of the Gene Harris Quartet. He is the author of several texts on jazz guitar.

Pianist Joe Bagg discovered jazz while in college and immediately changed his major from computer science to music. Joe studied with jazz master Kenny Barron for two years. He has played and/or recorded with Bobby Hutcherson, Madeleine Peyroux, Larry Goldings, Charles McPherson, Anthony Wilson, Seamus Blake, Brian Lynch, Billy Higgins, Arthur Blythe, Ralph Moore, Marvin "Smitty" Smith, Joe LaBarbara, Alphonse Mouzon, Jack Sheldon and many more.

Bassist Luther Hughes has performed or recorded with jazz legends such as Gene Harris, Quincy Jones, Joe Henderson, Carmen MacRae, The Crusaders, Buddy Greco, Frank Wess, Teddy Edwards, Terry Gibbs, Buddy DeFranco, Jimmy Rowles, Tal Farlow, Bob Cooper, Kenny Burrell, Hampton Hawes, Willie Bobo, Dorothy Donegan, Rob McConnell, Mundell Lowe, Dave Pell, George Van Eps, Joe Pass, Joe Farrell, Horace Silver, Jack McDuff, Lionel Hampton, Joe Williams, David Matthews, Gloria Lynn, Jack Sheldon, Poncho Sanchez, James Moody, Scott Hamilton, Richie Cole, Karyn Allison, Bud Shank, Nick Brignola, Al Gray, Bill Watrous, Joe Diorio, Pat Metheny, Sweets Edison, Cat Anderson, Barney Kessel, Laurindo Almeida, David Benoit, Ernestine Andersen, Harold Land and Charlie Shoemake. A veteran of LA studios, he has recorded and performed on stage, and for film and television scores including Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and "Boston Legal."

Drummer Bill Goodwin has performed with many jazz instrumentalists such as: Bill Evans, Dexter Gordon, Art Pepper, Jim Hall, George Shearing and Bobby Hutcherson, and singers such as June Christy, Joe Williams, Tony Bennett, Mose Allison and Manhattan Transfer. He performed, toured and recorded with vibraphonist Gary Burton for three years and then joined the Phil Woods Quartet (now Quintet) at its inception in February 1974. He was also featured on Tom Waits' album Nighthawks at the Diner in 1975, and worked with Steely Dan during the mid-70's.

The special guest vocalist is Sandi Shoemake. A staff vocalist at N.B.C. from 1965-1971 she also free-lanced with C.B.S. and A.B.C., performing regularly on the Andy Williams Show, The Jerry Lewis Show, The Red Skelton Show, The Lennon Sisters-Jimmy Durante Show and on numerous specials for Bing Crosby, Doris Day, and Dean Martin. During this time she remained active as a soloist and was hired by the legendary Nelson Riddle as his featured vocalist. When husband Charlie Shoemake was performing in L.A. with George Shearing and others, Sandi was always welcomed to the stage. She continues to perform and record and has appeared on all of Charlie Shoemake's recordings and two of her own. Leonard Feather claims that Sandi Shoemake is "one of the most underrated vocalists on the contemporary scene." Zan Stewart of the LA Times states: "Sandi Shoemake has an incredibly pure, bell-like sound with an imaginative and beautiful style of phrasing. She is one of the finest interpreters of ballad material anywhere!"

Join the VJC in celebrating the music and life of the pianist, George Shearing. Hear the "Shearing Sound" as it was intended to be heard: with piano, vibes, and guitar over bass and drums to create a shimmering texture unlike any other.

The Shearing Sound at the VJC, Saturday, June 7, at 8 p.m., is made possible thanks to generous financial support from Ed Anthes and Mary Ellen Copeland as well as the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. Hospitality provided by the Hampton Inn of Brattleboro. Underwriters are the Brattleboro Reformer, VPR and WFCR.

Saturday, June 7th
8:00 PM
Vermont Jazz Center
General Admission $20.00, Students $15.00
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