BRATTLEBORO -- On Saturday at 8 p.m., the Vermont Jazz Center presents "Sounds of Shearing," an all-star group comprised primarily of alumni from the working bands of the great pianist, George Shearing.
Under the leadership of vibraphonist Charlie Shoemake, the ensemble pays tribute to Shearing, performing his elegant arrangements and bringing to life his legendary sound. This music typifies a refined version of jazz often called "cool jazz." His music was swinging but accessible, nimble but never loud, complex but beautiful. Shoemake and his associates take this to heart and are revitalizing Shearing’s music with passion, experience and expertise. The performers include Charlie Shoemake, vibraphone, Frank Potenza, guitar, Joe Bagg, piano, Luther Hughes, acoustic bass, Bill Goodwin, drums, and special guest vocalist Sandi Shoemake.
Born in England, Shearing made the East Coast of the United States his home. Adept at all styles including bebop, his signature piano sound was formed by harmonizing a melody from the top down in block chords and duplicating the melody note an octave below. This "locked-hands" style was pioneered by the pianist Milt Buckner and was also popularized by Nat King Cole. Simply speaking, this five-part harmonization technique was borrowed from the arrangements written for the saxophone section of the Glenn Miller Orchestra and applied directly to the piano.
Shearing put his own personal stamp on the technique after forming a quintet in 1949 that complemented the traditional piano trio with guitar and vibraphone.
According to the Grove Dictionary of Jazz: "In Shearing’s quintet the upper melody note was then doubled by the vibraphone and the lower one by the guitar" thus "tripling the melody in unison." Furthermore, the "Shearing Sound" requires that the vibraphonist refrain from using the instrument’s motor thus emitting a "dry sound that better blends with the rest of the ensemble." Shearing’s music is the epitome of the "cool," a style of jazz -- it assimilated the technical and virtuosic elements of bebop but presented them in a format that was true to his own vision and palatable to a wide audience.
According to the All Music Guide to Jazz, "Shearing had one of the most popular jazz combos on the planet -- so much so that, in the usual jazz tradition of distrusting popular success, he tends to be underappreciated."
The Guardian puts this into perspective in Shearing’s obituary: "The Quintet’s new approach caught on immediately, their recording of ‘September in the Rain,’ made for MGM in February 1949, selling 900,000 copies. Where bebop had seemed over-complex to many listeners, here was a musical style that sounded modern and new, but was easy to enjoy."
The group’s organizer/leader is West Coast vibraphonist, Charlie Shoemake. He has worked with Charles Lloyd, Art Pepper, Bill Holman, Harold Land, Phil Woods and Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars. He is a first-call studio musician who has recorded with Quincy Jones, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mandel, Nelson Riddle and Lalo Shifrin. His own recordings include Kenny Barron, Billy Childs, Ben Riley, Pete Christlieb and others. In 1966 Shoemake went to hear the George Shearing Quintet at Shelley’s Manne Hole and was informed that the vibraphone player with the group was leaving and that Shearing needed a replacement for an upcoming five-week tour. Shoemake decided to take the job. The five-week tour turned into almost seven years with the group. During this period (1966-1973) the group’s personnel would include guitarists Joe Pass, Pat Martino and Ron Anthony; bassist Andy Simpkins; drummers Harvey Mason, Stix Hooper, Vernel Fournier and others.
Frank Potenza is the guitarist. A protégé of the legendary Joe Pass, he has eight solo albums to his credit and an extensive freelance recording career. He has performed with Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Pass, Mose Allison, James Moody, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Eddie Harris and many other jazz luminaries. From 1996-99 he toured as a member of the Gene Harris Quartet.
Pianist Joe Bagg discovered jazz while in college and immediately changed his major from computer science to music. He studied with Kenny Barron for two years. He has played and/or recorded with Bobby Hutcherson, Madeleine Peyroux, Larry Goldings, Charles McPherson, Anthony Wilson, Seamus Blake, Brian Lynch, Billy Higgins, Arthur Blythe, Ralph Moore, Joe LaBarbara, Alphonse Mouzon, Jack Sheldon and many more.
Bassist Luther Hughes has performed or recorded with Quincy Jones, Joe Henderson, Carmen MacRae, Buddy Greco, Jimmy Rowles, Tal Farlow, Kenny Burrell, Hampton Hawes, Joe Pass, Joe Farrell, Horace Silver, Lionel Hampton, Joe Williams, James Moody, Richie Cole, Nick Brignola, Pat Metheny, Sweets Edison and more. He has recorded and performed on stage, and for film and television scores including Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and "Boston Legal."
Drummer Bill Goodwin has performed with many jazz instrumentalists such as Bill Evans, Dexter Gordon, Art Pepper, Jim Hall, George Shearing and Bobby Hutcherson, and singers such as June Christy, Joe Williams, Tony Bennett, Mose Allison and Manhattan Transfer. He performed, toured and recorded with vibraphonist Gary Burton for three years and then joined the Phil Woods Quartet (now Quintet) at its inception in February 1974. He was also featured on Tom Waits’ album "Nighthawks at the Diner" in 1975, and worked with Steely Dan during the mid-70s.
The special guest vocalist is Sandi Shoemake. A staff vocalist at NBC from 1965-1971, she also free-lanced with CBS and ABC, performing regularly on the Andy Williams Show, The Jerry Lewis Show, The Red Skelton Show, The Lennon Sisters-Jimmy Durante Show and on specials for Bing Crosby, Doris Day and Dean Martin. During this time she remained active as a soloist and was hired by Nelson Riddle as his featured vocalist. When husband Charlie Shoemake was performing in L.A. with George Shearing and others, she was always welcomed to the stage. Zan Stewart of the LA Times states: "Sandi Shoemake has an incredibly pure, bell-like sound with an imaginative and beautiful style of phrasing. She is one of the finest interpreters of ballad material anywhere!"
The Shearing Sound at the VJC is made possible thanks to financial support from Ed Anthes and Mary Ellen Copeland as well as the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. Hospitality provided by the Hampton Inn of Brattleboro. Underwriters are the Brattleboro Reformer, VPR and WFCR.
Tickets are $20 general, $15 for students, available at www.vtjazz.org or 802-254-9088. Tickets are also available at the door or at In the Moment, 143 Main St.