Making good on Kerouac’s promise

I remember as a teenager reading this account of a George Shearing concert , in Jack Kerouac’s classic “On the Road:”

Dean and I went to see Shearing at Birdland in the midst of the long, mad weekend. The place was deserted, we were the first customers, ten o’clock. Shearing came out, blind, led by the hand to his keyboard. He was a distinguished-looking Englishman with a stiff white collar, slightly beefy, blond, with a delicate English-summer’s-night air about him that came out in the first rippling sweet number he played as the bass-player leaned to him reverently and thrummed the beat. The drummer, Denzil Best, sat motionless except for his wrists snapping the brushes. And Shearing began to rock; a smile broke over his ecstatic face; he began to rock in the piano seat, back and forth, slowly at first, then the beat went up, and he began rocking fast, his left foot jumped up with every beat, his neck began to rock crookedly, he brought his face down to the keys, he pushed his hair back, his combed hair dissolved, he began to sweat. The music picked up. The bass-player hunched over and socked it in, faster and faster, it seemed faster and faster, that’s all. Shearing began to play his chords; they rolled out of the piano in great rich showers, you’d think the man wouldn’t have time to line them up. They rolled and rolled like the sea. Folks yelled for him to “Go!” Dean was sweating; the sweat poured down his collar. “There he is! That’s him! Old God! Old God Shearing! Yes! Yes! Yes!” And Shearing was conscious of the madman behind him, he could hear every one of Dean’s gasps and imprecations, he could sense it though he couldn’t see. “That’s right!” Dean said. “Yes!” Shearing smiled, he rocked. Shearing rose from the piano, 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. On the piano a horn sat; its golden shadow made a strange reflection along the desert caravan painted on the wall behind the drums. God was gone; it was the silence of his departure. It was a rainy night. It was the myth of the rainy night. Dean was popeyed with awe. This madness would lead nowhere.”

I didn’t know who Shearing was at the time, but I do remember thinking that was quite a compelling piece of writing. Fifty years after Kerouac’s night of bliss, I was at the Blue Note in Manhattan to see Toots Thielemans, a gifted jazz harmonica player. Toots had a great combo with him, including a young guy at the piano who was really pounding it out. Then Toots paused, gestured toward the audience and out came an ancient, tottering George Shearing. He was led to the piano and he sat down and began to play.

I was maybe 10 feet away, and from the very first note you understood that however good the young pianoman may have seemed, Shearing totally outclassed him. It was the most impressive example of genius making itself known that I have ever seen. It vindicated Kerouac, who has a well-deserved reputation for being grandiose about such things.

Here’s a taste:

31 comments Add your comment

I Rule You :-) / You Whine :-(

May 22nd, 2009
4:35 pm

Man, you must be older than hell.

I Rule You :-) / You Whine :-(

May 22nd, 2009
4:36 pm

J/K, it’s Friday and tis time to start the Memorial Day party, what would it be without a good laugh?

eagle scout

May 22nd, 2009
4:43 pm

Geez… Whiner! You must lead the most pitiful, lonely life of anyone on this planet. You don’t seem to like anyone, anything or for tht matter yourself. You don’t have to be old to enjoy george Shearing or for that matter Bach or Beethoven … It’s music Asshat….If you don’t like it .. too freeking bad!

I Rule You :-) / You Whine :-(

May 22nd, 2009
4:52 pm

scout- When did I say I didn’t like it?

jeez, put words in my mouth and then burst into tears over them, get a grip man.

getalife

May 22nd, 2009
4:53 pm

Kamchak

May 22nd, 2009
4:59 pm

Two jazz pieces in a row! Thanks Jay.

Hillbilly Deluxe

May 22nd, 2009
5:02 pm

Great pianist but don’t overlook how the rhythm section drives this oiece. Gotta love the tone of those hollow body, f-hole guitars too.

Mrs. Godzilla

May 22nd, 2009
6:25 pm

Hillbilly Deluxe

May 22nd, 2009
6:34 pm

Stars and Stripes Forever-You old timers around here will recognize that as the theme music from “Live Atlanta Wrestling” back in the day. Daddy used to cuss everytime that came on and when I asked him why he said, “Cause that’s what I had to march to on the parade ground and I hated marching”. o-D

Hillbilly Deluxe

May 22nd, 2009
6:35 pm

:-D maybe thats it

Taxpayer

May 22nd, 2009
6:54 pm

Mr. Wrestling I and II. Those were the days.

Mrs. Godzilla

May 22nd, 2009
7:10 pm

Wrestling?

My “big brudders” used to watch the Bruiser and the Crusher – and it was silly then. Soap operas for testosterone based life forms.

Byte Me

May 22nd, 2009
7:14 pm

Good story, Jay. That is one tight group in the video.

And everyone should leave Andy alone. Having Asperger’s is hard enough on him.

I Rule You :-) / You Whine :-(

May 22nd, 2009
7:19 pm

FIAT already concerned for ‘deteriorating’ CHRYSLER…

Now isn’t this the ultimate insult?

Fiat sells cars that you would expect to see Bozo The Clown emerge from, the most foolish things on 4 wheels, here they are dissing a formerly proud US auto manufacturer that Obozo has totally trashed.

The clowns of the world joke about us.

I’m so embarrassed.

eewwwwww

AmVet

May 22nd, 2009
7:27 pm

Mrs. G. loved both of those. Always have…

Here’s another work by another amazing American composer, George Gershwin.

Summertime – Janis Joplin

jt

May 22nd, 2009
7:34 pm

Taxpayer

May 22nd, 2009
7:40 pm

DB, Gwinnettian

May 22nd, 2009
8:02 pm

Never read On The Road. Probably should one of these days.

I have, however, read I see by my outfit. Hopefully others here have as well.

rcs

May 22nd, 2009
8:51 pm

thanks DB, i’m putting that on my reading list.

@@

May 22nd, 2009
9:00 pm

How in the world do they do that without movin’?

Hillbilly:

don’t overlook how the rhythm section drives this oiece.

This is a blog, Hillbilly….we can’t see your “oiece.”

(IW&SH)

@@

May 22nd, 2009
9:04 pm

Mail call four flights down, jewcowboy.

An (ISH) for you too.

TnGelding

May 22nd, 2009
9:05 pm

RIP:

Wash. state has first death under new suicide law

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) – A 66-year-old woman with terminal cancer has become the first person to die under Washington state’s new assisted suicide law, an advocacy group said Friday. Linda Fleming, of Sequim, died Thursday night after taking drugs prescribed under the “Death with Dignity” law that took effect in March, said Compassion & Choices of Washington.

TW

May 22nd, 2009
9:17 pm

“ANNAPOLIS, Md. – President Barack Obama promised graduating midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy on Friday that, as their commander in chief, he will only send them “into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary.”

Sad is the day when the CIC needs to reassure the military of what was once a given.

Hillbilly Deluxe

May 22nd, 2009
9:29 pm

This is a blog, Hillbilly….we can’t see your “oiece.”

Maybe I should start my own website for that?

An old 40’s country song that touches on what Memorial Day is really all about.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRaRxSN4V2M

Ray

May 22nd, 2009
9:58 pm

Shearing was very good but my favorite of all time is Bill Evans. He died in 1980. One of the greatest jazz pianists in our time. Saw him live in a smoke filled dive in San Francisco in 1978. The jazz piano man in the Fabulous Baker Boys was Dave Grusin, another of the great ones.

jewcowboy

May 22nd, 2009
10:14 pm

Mrs. Godzilla,

I LOVE YOU! Aaron Copland’s Hoedown From Rodeo is one of my all time favs! Damn Beef Council! Thanks for an uplifting evening.

jewcowboy

May 22nd, 2009
10:24 pm

@@,

“Mail call four flights down, jewcowboy.”

If you don’t have the fortitude to stick to a conversation, and just do a hit and run, I’ve no time for you.

This, “I’m done with you,” garbage then responding back is not credible. We all have things that go on; the blog is not our life. But if you close a conversation, have the decency to let it stay closed. After all, it’s rodeo time!

Bud Wiser

May 23rd, 2009
7:32 am

I Rule You :-) / You Whine :-(

May 23rd, 2009
7:52 am

The nation has lost 5.7 million jobs since the recession, the longest since World War II, began in December 2007. The nationwide unemployment rate stands at 8.9 percent, the highest in a quarter-century.-Urinal

It’s a good thing for us that Obozo saved 4 million jobs, we are so blessed!

Yay, Obozo!

@@

May 23rd, 2009
9:33 am

jewcowboy:

Fortitude? make that limited time.

Had you simply ended by saying “I have” that’s one thing. It was the false accusation that invited my return.

Your 10:24 is the thanks I get for conceding?

This reaching across the aisle stuff isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Oh well…

N.J.

May 24th, 2009
12:11 am

Yup, Shearing has not only been a major force in jazz, but in jazz/classical fusion, bringing jazz to a lot of the classical community that would often turn up their nose at jazz, in the same way that Segovia took an instrument that most classical musicians thought was a quaint and odd folk instrument and turned it into a common classical instrument, that originally had to rely on transcriptions of music written for other instruments, to having a rather large amount of classical music written for it alone. There are few people who dare to cross lines in music, and Shearing is one of them.