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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 December 2006, 11:02 GMT
Jazz great who bridged Atlantic
George Shearing in 1972
Shearing successfully moved to the US in 1946
George Shearing, who has been made a knight in the New Year Honours, was one the best known British jazz pianists of the post-war era.

Born in London in 1919, he overcame blindness to learn the piano with only limited tuition and a devotion to jazz records and then played hotel bars.

He found success with bands and performing on the BBC before moving to America and playing with jazz greats.

He was still performing into his 80s but suffered a serious fall in 2004.

Playing with the likes of Harry Parry's popular band and Stephane Grappelli's groups of the 1940s brought him fame in England and he topped several Melody Maker polls.

Global demand

But it was his move to America in 1946, where he subsequently became a naturalised citizen, that cemented his place in the jazz world.

Shearing, along with countrymen Victor Feldman, Eddie Thompson and Dill Jones, became accepted as equals by their American colleagues.

George Shearing
George Shearing was made an OBE in 1996
He is known for his unusual "locked hands" style of playing and was traditionally accompanied by guitar, bass, drums and vibraphone.

He worked in New York and his song about one of the more famous clubs, Lullaby of Birdland, become his signature song and a jazz standard.

Although respected by mainstream jazz musicians, an international hit in 1949 with his cover of September in the Rain led him away from pure jazz to more popular success.

In the pre-rock and roll days of popular music, Shearing was one of the best known artists and was in global demand.

Lifetime achievement

He built a reputation for melodic and accessible improvisations and despite a quiet period in the 1970s never lost his core following.

He has collaborated with singers such as Peggy Lee, Ernestine Anderson and Carmen McRae, and an album made with singer Mel Torme won a Grammy Award in 1982.

He was made an OBE in 1996 and received the lifetime achievement honour at the BBC Jazz Awards in 2003.

A fall at his Manhattan home in March 2004 led to seven months of hospital and nursing home care, but he has since returned to his family.

Speaking from New York, he said he was honoured to be made a knight "for something I absolutely love doing".

"Receiving such an honour as a knighthood might also show young people what can be achieved in life if one learns his craft and follows his dreams.

"My mind keeps flashing on my beginnings as a pianist playing in a pub for the equivalent of 5 dollars a week," he added.

"What a journey it has been from that pub to Buckingham Palace."


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