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George Shearing, English-born jazz pianist whose 'Lullaby' became a standard, dies at 91
He performed in a band of blind musicians in the 1930s and in his teens often played jazz accordion. He quickly became recognized as England's top jazz pianist and often worked alongside French violinist Stephane Grappelli in London during World War II.
After coming to the United States in 1947, Mr. Shearing quickly adopted the new bebop vocabulary in jazz and joined groups led by bassist Oscar Pettiford and clarinetist Buddy DeFranco. He often worked on the same bill with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and, in 1950, went on a national tour with singer Billy Eckstine, culminating in a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall in New York.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, he recorded top-selling albums with singers Peggy Lee, Nat "King" Cole and Nancy Wilson while continuing to tour with his own group.
Mr. Shearing disbanded his quintet in 1978, saying, "I found I could put myself on autopilot in the quintet. I'm now addressing myself more to being a complete pianist."
Mr. Shearing appeared at the White House for presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and in command performances at Buckingham Palace. He retired from the stage after being hospitalized in 2004 after a fall.
His first marriage, to Beatrice "Trixie" Bayes, ended in divorce. A son died in infancy during World War II.
Survivors include his second wife, Ellie Geffert, and a daughter from his first marriage.
In "On the Road," Kerouac described Shearing and his group at the Birdland nightclub, while the protagonists of the novel, Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, sat close to the piano and the heat of the music.
"Shearing rose from the piano," Kerouac wrote, "dripping with sweat; these were his great 1949 days before he became cool and commercial. When he was gone Dean pointed to the empty piano seat. 'God's empty chair,' he said."