First, some free verse:
We smile when he plays the piano,
The Maestro who comes from Milano,
He thinks it endearing
To honor George Shearing,
Go hear him as soon as you can. Oh!
— Author unknown, 2013
Rossano Sportiello, one of the most brilliant pianists (and one of the most genial of men) has put together a tribute to one of his idols, the late George Shearing. “The Smiling Piano” will take place at the Cafe Carlyle, 35 East 76th Street, New York City — for a two-week run, June 11-15 and 18-24, 2013. The trio features Frank Tate (bass, 11th-15th), Joel Forbes (bass, 18th-22nd) and Dennis Mackrel (drums), and the music begins at 8:45pm. For reservations: Tel. 212-744-1600.
If you’ve never been fortunate enough to hear the young Maestro play, let me remedy this immediately. Here he is, recorded in 2012 at a concert at Dominican University in San Rafael, California, playing O SOLE MIO / A TIME FOR LOVE / CHOPIN IN JAZZ:
That would convince anyone.
Here’s what Rossano has to say about Maestro Shearing:
A Smiling Piano is what I think of as soon as I listen to any George Shearing recordings, when I hear the most beautiful piano playing that makes everybody smile. His music is in tune with the way I felt since I became a professional performer at only 16. I felt I wanted to play music that could always be enjoyable and make people feel good.
When the possibility of performing at the Café Carlyle became real, I was asked to find a theme for the show, which would run for two weeks. Without any hesitation I came up with this idea. A tribute to George Shearing means a tribute to jazz piano in general. Early in his career his style was first inspired by Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson, and Art Tatum. But Shearing soon became one the masters of that revolutionary music, be-bop. When he moved to New York City in 1946, Hank Jones and Errol Garner became his mentors and good friends and he absorbed their styles as well. Later he formed the George Shearing Quintet and the “Shearing Sound” became one of the inspirational elements for generations of musicians, and it still is.
A Shearing tribute is also naturally a tribute to “The Great American Song Book,” because he was one of its greatest interpreters and one of the most remarkable improvisers of all time — as well as a very prolific composer. Once he chose a song, he could improvise endless variations in any style: he could play a popular song and make it sound like Bach or Rachmaninoff or many others. He might start playing the second movement of the Ravel Piano Concerto and use it as an introduction to a ballad or the reverse! In the sixties he used to tour the USA playing classical concertos with local symphony orchestras in the first set of the show and bringing on his jazz quintet for the second half.
So stride piano, swing, be-bop, the Great American Song Book and classical music are the leading ingredients that will shape my tribute to George Shearing, pianist, composer, interpreter, and improviser.
I’ll be appearing with Dennis Mackrel on drums, Frank Tate on bass (the first week), and Joel Forbes on bass (the second week). In 1983, Count Basie personally selected Dennis Mackrel to join his band, known for having the finest rhythm section in jazz. Dennis has been a sideman of choice for scores of jazz greats. George Shearing himself said, “If I ever have a record date coming up that calls for a drummer and Dennis is not available, I’ll postpone the session. He’s that good.” Dennis is currently one of the greatest jazz drummers and arrangers as well as the Musical Director of The Count Basie Orchestra. Since the late 60’s, Frank Tate has been the sought-after accompanist for legendary musicians. Marian McPartland, Benny Goodman, Hank Jones, Dave McKenna, Wild Bill Davison, Teddy Wilson, Joe Venuti, Milt Jackson, Zoot Sims, and dozens of other jazz greats all have turned to Frank for his brilliant bass lines. Frank worked at the Cafè Carlyle every night with Bobby Short for the last 9 years of Bobby’s career until 2004. Joel Forbes, currently a member of the Harry Allen Quartet and the Rebecca Kilgore Quartet, is one of New York best bass players, well known for is incredibly rich acoustic sound.
JAZZ LIVES suggests, quietly but fervently, “Go!”
May your happiness increase!