George Shearing was more than just a legendary blind British jazz pianist. He was a Chautauquan and Jared Jacobsen’s former housemate.
At 12:15 p.m. Tuesday in the Hall of Christ, Jacobsen will lead this week’s Tallman Tracker Organ recital, which will pay tribute to Shearing by playing pieces from his “Sacred Sounds for Organ.”
Shearing was one of the great jazz musicians of the 20th century, and he used to frequent Chautauqua Institution.
“He was invited here periodically to give jazz workshops and to teach people how to use the interesting patterns of chords that were his signature,” said Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music. “His was not rowdy, intensive, in-your-face jazz — his was a very sleek, kind of sophisticated, cocktail-party jazz.”
When Jacobsen was a kid, his family built a new apartment at the Institution, and someone recommended it would be a great place for Shearing to stay when he visited. The Jacobsen family then found themselves in the home-renting business; Shearing and his wife stayed in their downstairs for about six summers.
At that point in his life, Jacobsen was a student of the piano and organ. Even though it was against the Institution’s rules, he said, his family had a piano upstairs that Jacobsen would practice on.
Shearing soon discovered the secret upstairs piano, and asked Jacobsen if they could play some Mozart together. Summers of music lessons and arranging — and a friendship — quickly followed.
“He was a fabulous player of Mozart because Mozart demands very subtle, delicate touch,” Jacobsen said. “And sitting with George on that piano bench, on the piano I grew up with, playing Mozart, are some of the happiest memories I have in Chautauqua.”
Shearing wrote a popular collection called “Sacred Songs for Piano,” and one day decided to rework them for the organ. He asked Jacobsen to help him with the rewriting.
In today’s recital, Jacobsen will play songs from “Sacred Sounds for Organ” to pay tribute to his old friend.
“It’s a window into my friend George’s brain,” Jacobsen said. “He was such an amazing musician — he used his ears better than anybody I know.”