George Shearing’s elegant debut turn at Feinstein’s at the Regency celebrates the memory of Mel Torme, the hippest of all jazz singers, who died in 1999 at age 73. The team had a warm and fruitful 14-year partnership that began at Carnegie Hall in 1977 and produced a half-dozen memorable recordings for Concord Jazz.
Program kicked off with a video retrospective of Torme’s career, set to his recordings of “It’s Easy to Remember” and “I Remember You.” From his youthful turn as drummer with the Chico Marx band and frontman with the Mel-Tones vocal group, the film went on to glimpse the singer’s association with Peggy Lee, Buddy Rich and Nat Cole.
Shearing’s program featured tunes he performed with Torme, including some durable World War II ballads, from “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” to “Darn That Dream.” The latter was played at a nice bouncing tempo, followed by the sweet romantic strains of “I Had the Craziest Dream.”
At 82, Shearing remains the blithe spirit of jazz, his playing marked by stately poetic lines and irresistibly lissome phrasing. His airy improv and block chords retain a smooth familiar sound.
The pianist also remembered Torme as composer, not with his best known tune, “The Christmas Song” (aka “Chestnuts Roasting…”), but with the torchy strains of “Born to Be Blue” and the sprightly “Welcome to the Club.”
Shearing’s longtime bassist Neil Swainson and guitarist Reg Schwager provide able assists.
In a sweet farewell, Shearing sang Cole Porter’s “Ev’rytime We Say Goodbye” and played his trademark Bach-inspired turn on “Pick Yourself Up,” re-creating a dazzling duet with Torme, who scatted along on film from a JVC Jazz fest concert. The duet brought back fond memories of a stunning tandem chapter in the history of jazz.