View Full Version : HTOTM#29. George Gershwin

Terry Porritt
28-01-2005, 05:39 PM
HTOTM now means Hot Tunes Of The Month. Most of the music sites visited have the music files in Real Media format. In order to listen, either Real Player or, preferably Real Alternative (http://www.free-codecs.com/download/Real_Alternative.htm) is required.

The name George Gershwin seems to epitomise the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties, hot dance band music, flappers, prohibition. His musical influence was widespread, yet his career was short lived, he died of a brain tumour in 1937.

Born in 1898, he was one of four children born to Russian-Jewish immigrants to the US, and showed an intense interest in music from an early age.

During the twenties and thirties in collaboration with his elder brother Ira, who wrote the lyrics, Gershwin wrote many successful musicals.

Whilst his name is always associated with jazz or 'symphonic jazz', and he was certainly strongly influenced by the jazz sounds around him, he didn't actually write jazz tunes. However many of his tunes were played by jazz musicians, both black and white, and became jazz standards.

>It was "Rhapsody in Blue" that catapulted Gershwin onto the American musical scene in 1924.<

I am quoting and freely summarizing now from the liner notes by Gershwin biographer, Edward Jablonski, of my precious Victrola America collectors item record "Gershwin Plays Gershwin", AVM1-1740, issued in 1976.

>Bandleader Paul Whiteman, hoping to exploit the new musical fad called jazz, conceived the idea of a "jazz concert" in a traditional concert hall. He talked about this so much that a rival conductor announced a similar venture. Whiteman immediately let it be known to the press that he had selected a time and a place: February 12 1924 at 3.00pm, Aeolian Hall (in Manhattan). Further: he was calling it "An Experiment in Modern Music" and promised new compositions by Irving Berlin, Victor Herbert and George Gershwin.<

This was the first Gershwin had heard about it, and there was only three weeks to go. Gershwin agreed to write an "American Rhapsody" not a full-scale concerto. It was agreed that orchestration would be left to Ferde Grofe, Whitemans right hand man and chief arranger.
The name of the piece "Rhapsody in Blue" was given by Ira Gershwin.

The Aeolian Hall was packed for the concert, but the program was long and the audience was getting bored. When eventually Rhapsody in Blue started, the audience was electrified by the opening clarinet glissando, and by the end the acclaim was tumultuous.
Following several more performances including one at Carnegie Hall, an acoustic recording was made at the Victor studios which was issued on the historic Victor Blue Label. The performance was abridged a little so that it would fit onto two sides of a single 12" 78rpm record. Remember acoustic recordings were all mechanical, no microphones or amplification.

So let's hear that very first recording of Rhapsody in Blue, recorded on 10th of June 1924, with George Gershwin himself on piano, it runs for 9 minutes.


Rhapsody in Blue has been recorded many hundreds and hundreds of times since then, but one of my favourite versions is again by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, recorded in 1927, and conducted by Nat Shilkret, this time with early electrical recording techniques. Nat Shilkret two years later arranged to record Gershwins' "An American in Paris" with Shilkret conducting the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra.


Let's hear a few tunes from 1920s musicals composed by George Gershwin, and performed by 1920s/30s musicians, black and white.

Ethel Waters, popular black singer of the day in 1930, singing "I Got Rhythm"

Annette Hanshaw, America's Sweetheart in 1926, singing "Do, Do, Do".

Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra in 1930 playing "Somebody Loves Me"

The Jean Goldkette Orchestra in 1927 with "Sunny Disposish" , submerged somewhere in there is Bix Beiderbecke.

Here is Roger Wolfe Kahn in 1926 playing "Clap Yo' Hands"

Now for collection of 30 second sound clips from a CD, of Fred and his sister Adele, Astaire, featuring George Gershwin on piano on the following sides, Fascinating Rhythm, I'd Rather Charleston, Hang on to Me.

Another great collection of sound clips are the Gershwin Plays Gershwin piano rolls. These were made from the Gershwin piano rolls from the 1920s. An 88 key 1911 pianola was used in conjunction with a computerised Yamaha Disklavier grand piano by one Artis Wodehouse. The result is fantastic quality piano playing, just as though Gershwin himself was playing with all his nuances of style.

Read much more about the early recording process, Rhapsody in Blue, and George Gershwin here:

We've only just touched upon George Gershwin, enjoy.

Next HTOTM, inspired by Tony F's mention of the famous and historic 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, we will take a listen to Benny Goodman, 'King of Swing', but it may not be what you might expect :)