George Shearing: Move

15 Feb


If you read On The Road, you know who Dean Moriarty is. If you read it multiple times, or have a liking for music, you know who George Shearing is.

If you didn’t or didn’t, Shearing is the blind pianist who was the subject of one of the great passages of a book filled with great passages. Or, Shearing is God,  as Moriarty called him, just as a later generation referred to Eric Clapton as God.

Shearing died Monday at 91. He was preceded in death by Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, the real-life men whom the book’s characters were named after, by 42 and 43  years, respectively.

Here’s the passage Kerouac penned as 1948 turned into 1949 (pages 127-129 in my old copy of On The Road). Be forewarned — Kerouac wasn’t a great believer in paragraphs:

George Shearing, the great jazz pianist, Dean said, was exactly like Rollo Greb. 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. The madness would lead nowhere. I didn’t know what was happening to me, and I suddenly realized it was only the tea that we were smoking; Dean had bought some in New York. It made me think that everything was about to arrive — the moment when you know all and everything is decided forever.

There’s another short passage on Shearing more than 100 pages later, when they see him in concert again. “Sal, God has arrived,” Moriarty says when he sees Shearing.

Below is a link to a Shearing number, although it may be after he “became cool and commercial.”


Next: Nat King Cole


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