Entertainment & Arts

Jazz pianist Sir George Shearing dies aged 91

Sir George Shearing in 2007
Sir George was still performing in his 80s

Anglo-American jazz pianist Sir George Shearing, best known for his song Lullaby of Birdland, has died in New York aged 91 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.

Made an OBE in 1996 and knighted in 2007, he was renowned for his unusual "locked hands" style of playing.

Pianist Dave Brubeck said he had lost "a dear friend".

"I consider him one of the greatest musical minds I've ever been around," he added.

Sir George played for three US presidents as well as the Queen and led his own quintet for decades.

The original George Shearing Quintet formed in 1949 and had its first big hit that year with September in the Rain.

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 would later admit he composed it in 10 minutes. "But I always tell people, it took me 10 minutes and 35 years in the business," he said in 1980.

Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan, Mel Torme and Peggy Lee were among the many music stars with whom he worked.

Sir George Shearing with an unidentified woman in 1976
He played for three US presidents as well as the Queen

He was still performing into his 80s but suffered a serious fall in 2004 that led to months in hospital and nursing home care.

The previous year he had received a lifetime achievement honour at the BBC Jazz awards.

At the time of his knighthood, Sir George spoke fondly of his early years "playing in a pub for the equivalent of $5 a week".

"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," he added.

Vocalist Michael Feinstein, who worked with Shearing in 2005, paid tribute to his "delicious sense of humour" and "endless curiosity".

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

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