Elegant and playful, light-fingered and crafty, the blind pianist George Shearing qualifies as a genuine jazz perennial. He made his first record in 1939 in his native London, but it was a series of events in mid-40s New York that established his popularity: his immigration to the U.S., his adoption of bebop, and finally the creation of his signature quintet. This band–playing a close-cropped blend of similar-sounding instruments, with piano, guitar, and vibraphone sharing the front line–established what became known as “the Shearing sound”; and in adapting bebop to this elegant chamber format, the pianist did more than almost anyone else to bring the idiom (or at least a version of it) to the American public. That’s not to say that the Shearing sound, with its tightly woven block chords, lacked originality or its own intricate charms. (Nor does it mean that the hard-core beboppers ignored him: Miles Davis included the Shearing composition “Conception” on one of his earliest records, and the pianist’s “Lullaby of Birdland,” dedicated to Charlie Parker, remains a well-known bop anthem.) In later years, the Shearing sound came to mean all kinds of things, from quieter duet albums with such compatriots as Mel Torme and guitarist Jim Hall to sentimental mood music that found Shearing’s piano attached to overblown symphonic arrangements. But two years ago he reestablished the vibes-and-guitar quintet of his early successes for a Telarc album (That Shearing Sound), and that’s the band on hand tonight. It stars Steve Nelson, one of three noteworthy vibraphonists to come along in the last 25 years, and it returns Shearing–who retains an encyclopedic command of keyboard styles and a flair for clever arrangements–to the format in which he has always shone most brightly. The Chicago quintet known as the Jazz Masters, fronted by the silvery tenor saxist Eddie Johnson and featuring trumpeter Odies Williams, will open the show. Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/ Christian Steiner.