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Lullaby of Birdland – The Shearing Touch, Blu-ray (1994/2016)

A fine documentary rather than just a concert performance by the artist.

Lullaby of Birdland – The Shearing Touch, Blu-ray (1994/2016)

Cast: George Shearing, piano & vocals
Director: Jill Marshall
Studio: Monarda/ ArtHaus Musik [3/25/16] (Distr. by Naxos)
Video: 4:3 color, 1080i HD color & b&w
Audio: English PCM stereo
Subtitles: English, German, French
No region
Length: 50 min.
Rating: ****

Shearing was a phenomenal jazz pianist and composer some of whose music took the world by storm. Like Marion McPartland he was also British, but in addition had been blind from birth. The nice thing about this documentary is that it is not just a concert performance, but a fascinating mix of commentary by Shearing himself plus excerpts drawn from from the six decades of his long career in music. It’s a pleasure to hear him telling about how he encouraged his mother to throw empty glass bottles out the window so he could hear the various frequencies as they hit the brick walkways.

He sat next to me at a composition class in music school and mentioned how he always wanted to write a fugue in the style of Bach, but he often used familiar classical tunes as intros to his arrangements of popular tunes. (Later I was supposed to do a slide show for Guide Dogs for the Blind for which Shearing would have been the star, but then he decided he didn’t need a guide dog anymore.) Some of his classic tunes such as September in the Rain and Lullaby of Birdland are included in the film. The new sound that he got in his quintet by doubling with the vibes is analyzed and discussed. One of the most enjoyable documentaries on a musician I think I’ve ever viewed.

—John Sunier

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