Posted by: Jim E | February 23, 2011

Chicago…Mel Torme…George Shearing…And me…

The lower case “me” in the title of this post is not a mistake…I just feel when I put myself at the tender age of 10 or 12…then precede “me” with Chicago, Mel Torme and George Shearing…then I would seem a bit out of my league…this last week George Shearing died at age 91…he was a blind jazz pianist…and not “just” a pianist…he was wonderful…I can remember him when he was much younger, as was I…I mean he could play…being born in Britain, would seem to put him out of the jazz field, jazz being an American invention…but not so Shearing…he came to this country just after WWII and developed into a wonderful jazz pianist…during the 50’s I remember him with the George Shearing Quintet…(here’s a picture of Shearing and the other man of this post, Mel Torme) 

Now I know only a few people who might know what I am going to write next (because I don’t understand a word)…this is from an article about Shearing…”He became known for a piano technique know as “Shearing’s voicing,” a type of double melody block chord, with an additional fifth part that doubles the melody an octave lower. Shearing credited the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s reed section of the late 1930’s and early 1940’s as an important influence.” (I hope you got all that!!!)…so on February 14, 2011, we said goodbye to George Shearing…

Shearing had an unusual partnership with Mel Torme, who died August 8, 1996, at 74 years…the two of them worked together for years…Shearing looked back on his partnership with Torme, “Mel summed it up quite succinctly when he said that we were two bodies with one musical mind…”…Mel Torme was one of the few “scat singers” who could pull that off successfully (another being Ella Fitzgerald)…you will hear that in this YouTube of Shearing and Torme doing “Just One of Those Things/ A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” (the last, a favorite of mine) at the Newport Jazz Festival…just two enormous talents…enjoy…

Now let’s go back to the beginning…when I compared myself at 10 or 12 to those two talents and the city of Chicago…when I was that age, my Mom and my two brothers would travel to Chicago to visit Aunt Carolyn…now to set it straight…she was not related to us in any way, except she claimed that my Mom’s father, my Grandfather, was her brother…that was not really true…my Grandfather was sent from Canada, by his father, to Minneapolis to live with Carolyn’s mother and father…from there she claimed that relationship…She moved from Minneapolis to Chicago during the 50’s and she wanted my Mom and us kids to come down to visit…we went on the Burlington Northern Zephyr…a train trip like that was really something in those days…it had what they called a “Vista Dome”…we could go up and see the sights from the dome…here’s a postcard from that period…the train depicted as going between the Mississippi River and the bluffs of Southern Minnesota…it was thrill for us to go…we never really went anywhere, so this was something for us…I really can’t believe my Dad let us go…he wasn’t the best at fending for himself…but we went for a number of years…

When we were there Carolyn tried to teach us some manners…she was a bit persnickety to put it mildly…and so Mom would tell us to “mind our P’s and Q’s”…whatever that meant…(but we did it, minded our P’s and Q’s, that is)…Carolyn took us out to eat in restaurants, which we never did at home…the train came into the Union Station in downtown Chicago and we went over to her work…at the Wacker Building on North LaSalle Street…from there we waited for her to get through with work…and then we went back to the Union depot and caught the commuter train to her apartment in the suburbs…

One of the things I remember so well…to remind you I was between 10-12…but during the time there…I would walk to the commuter train depot, it was about a 1/2 mile or so…then buy a ticket, get on the train, get off at the Union Depot…and do what I wanted to do in downtown Chicago…it was a different world, so the speak…I was alone…and went to see a movie or buy something to eat…but then I would go to the Wacker Building and up to “Aunt” Carolyn’s workplace and we would go to lunch…the only warning I got from her was: if there was any trouble, just stay out of it and walk the other way…seems a little different than today, huh???…

When she got a break at lunch, we walked a few blocks to a restaurant/nightclub…it was both I think…because on a placard was the name “Mel Torme performing here tonight” or something like that…and his picture…I never forgot that because I had never been in a place like that before…a small restaurant with a small stage for performers…and from that small place right along the Chicago River, we had a view of the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Building…we had some fancy lunch, though if Aunt Carolyn was trying to impress me, it was lost on this country bumpkin…I’m still that way I guess…but we did have a great time…it was a different time…we probably wouldn’t allow a 10 or 12 year old downtown Chicago alone…or on the commuter train…but I did and I had a great time…I still have a picture in my mind of that day…that restaurant and the view we had…though it was not that night, but later, I got to hear Mel Torme…and George Shearing…and learn more about Chicago…and me…

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Responses

  1. A little info on mind your P’s and Q’s. You probably already know this but anyway here you go.
    In old England the pubs served their beer and ale in pints and quarts. As there was no legal limit or anything like that, the men in the pubs often got rowdy, belligerent, or started fights. The ‘bar tender’ would often have to shout over the chaos, “SIT DOWN! MIND YOUR PINTS AND QUARTS AND BE QUIET!” or something along those lines. Minding the pints and quarts meant dont slosh them around and spill them. This came down to us as a reprimand for rowdy behavior: Mind your P’s and Q’s.
    this relates back to the age of little 12 year olds become printing apprentices. So when they used to set up the letters on the press it would be very hard to indentify the p’s from the q’s. Thats were the quote mind your p’s and q’s came from. Now what it means is that you should not worry about knowing the difference between p’s and q’s.So just mind your buisness

    • Saun…aah, we “knew” what it “meant”…I just didn’t “know” what it “meant”…if you “know” what I “mean”…

      Good stuff Saun…we did know what Mom meant, of course, but I never have known where it came from…and you supplied that…here I always did “mind my P’s and Q’s” and didn’t know the “real” meaning…I guess it still worked for Mom…but you add new life to the phrase…thanks again…

      Jim E


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