Tune in to Jazz with Victor Cooper - weekdays from 6-9 a.m. MT - for Stories of Standards to hear our favorite versions of this song all week long beginning Monday, January 14 presented by Rodney Franks!
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George Shearing wrote “The Lullaby of Birdland” in 1952. Shearing had begun playing at The Cirque Club in 1949, after moving to New York from England in 1947. Located at Broadway and 44th Street in New York City, the club changed its name in 1949 to “Birdland” in honor of Charlie “Bird” Parker. Morris Levy, the owner, decided in 1952 to have radio station WJZ broadcast a program from the club and asked Shearing to record a theme song for those broadcasts. Shearing didn’t like Levy’s choice of songs and offered to write one instead; the agreement between them included the stipulation that Levy receive publishing rights, while Shearing retained composition rights. After working on the new song for several weeks, Shearing leapt to his feet in the middle of dinner, went to the piano and wrote “Lullaby of Birdland” in about ten minutes. Shearing commented on this method of composition: “it’s not that I dash something off in ten minutes, it’s ten minutes plus umpteen years in the business.” Shearing’s Quintet recorded the song and ultimately adopted it as the Quintet’s theme song. Lyrics were added by George David Weiss (1921-2010), who in 1984 was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Weiss was president of the Songwriters Guild of America for a number of years. His lyrics to this song are often attributed to B. Y. Forster, a pseudonym used to get around restrictions on Shearing’s contract with BMI and Weiss’ contract with ASCAP. Shearing was quoted as saying “I guess you could say that it [‘Lullaby of Birdland’] was a half ASCAP tune.” Shearing’s favorite recording of it was by Erroll Garner.
George Albert Shearing (1919-2011) was born blind in Battersea, southwest London, the youngest of 9 children. He started learning piano when 3 years old and trained at the Linden Lodge for the Blind for 4 years and contributed to Stephan Grappelli’s comeback after joining Harry Parry’s Band in 1940. Shearing emigrated to the US in 1947; was on the Queen's Birthday Honours List in 1996 and in 2003 received a "Lifetime Achievement Award" from BBC Jazz Awards and in 2007 was knighted for services to music.