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Lullaby of Birdland by George Shearing with Alyn Shipton

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Remarkably, given its brevity (a mere 240 pages), this autobiography from the blind, British-born jazz piano giant, now 85, is really three books in one. There’s Shearing the memoirist, touching all too briefly on his hardscrabble childhood, his education, his marriages and his personal relationships. Then there’s Shearing the inveterate jokester (who’s yet to meet the corny pun he didn’t like). Finally, and most fulfilling, is Shearing the musician.

His arrival in the U.S. in the 1940s, the overwhelming musical richness of his earliest days along 52nd Street as he watched the big-band era fade and bebop come of age, the massive, career-shaping success of his “September in the Rain” and the development and evolution of the trademark “Shearing sound” are described in vibrant detail. But his landmark albums with Peggy Lee, Nat Cole, Nancy Wilson and Dakota Staton are given a combined total of a mere three pages. But there is an interesting treatise on Sinatra and Shearing, and a loving account of the pianist’s long musical partnership with Mel Torme.

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