“A Tribute to the George Shearing Quintet” on Sunday, followed a week later by a dinner/concert event, “Big Band Extravaganza featuring Pete Christlieb and John Allred,” will fill the Westin La Paloma Resort with classic jazz presented by the Tucson Jazz Society.
Shearing’s quintet was as much a part of the 1950s as Charlie Parker, beatniks and the atomic bomb. The London-born Shearing would enjoy four more decades of popularity at the top of the jazz world, being knighted as Sir George Shearing by Queen Elizabeth in 2007. He passed away four years later.
“It is a very classy and sophisticated sound,” said vibist Charlie Shoemake, leader of the tribute quintet. “That’s what seems to attract the younger ones. We like to say our audiences are under 25 and over 55.”
Shoemake was the guy playing those tasty vibraphone phrases in Shearing’s quintet from 1966 to 1973. Then “about three years ago” Shoemake found himself backstage at a jazz festival, hanging around with two other Shearing alumni.
“We were just talking, the idea of a Shearing tribute show came up, and they asked me to get involved. So I wrote out some arrangements, we played them, people loved it, I contacted a few agents and here we are.”
Shoemake makes history sound so easy. Much easier than trying to explain why this particular combination of instruments with its distinctive chord structure remains so timelessly popular.
One of the first and most influential post-World War II artists to experiment with fusion blends, Shearing developed a harmonically complex approach combining elements of swing, bebop and modern classical influences.
“Back then, Miles Davis, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Dave Brubeck and George Shearing were the bands to hear,” Shoemake said. “Playing a more relaxed sound, George became popular in the time of those giants.
“That’s what we want to do now, re-create that original sound.”
Actually, the idea for Shearing’s signature line-up using that shimmering vibraphone lead happened by accident.
“In the beginning, George was working with the clarinet player Buddy DeFranco. Because of some conflicts in their recording contracts, Buddy couldn’t play in George’s band any longer, so George substituted a vibes player.”
The rest is … you know.
As for the music in the tribute concert Sunday, the opening half will begin with sweet memories and salutes to all of Shearing’s hits — such as “September in the Rain,” “Lullaby of Birdland,” “East of the Sun (and West of the Moon).”
“In the second half we’ll do songs that feature each of the players individually,” Shoemake added. “George used to do that, too.”
Members of the quintet are Joe Bagg, piano, Frank Potenza, guitar, Luther Hughes, bass, Colin Bailey, drums, and Shoemake, vibes.
Fat horn-section sounds and college student energy will power the “Big Band Extravaganza” on Nov. 2, with jazz veterans Christlieb on tenor sax and Allred playing trombone. Backing up these guest artists is the 18-piece University of Arizona Studio Jazz Ensemble led by Jeff Haskell.
Christlieb is best known as the West Coast bebop and hard bop saxophonist who added punch to TV’s “Tonight Show” band led by Doc Severinsen.
Allred is a third generation musician whose 30-year career includes work with Ray Charles, Johnny Mathis and Scott Hamilton.