Thanks Novak Rogic!
We can’t get through George Gershwin week without “Summertime”, apparently the most recorded song of all time. A few chords, surprisingly interchangeable with Van Morrison’s Moondance, “Summertime” can be played in a million different styles.
The song rocked and shocked the musical world as the opening number to “Porgy and Bess”, the American folk musical that hit the New York stage in 1935 with a cast of classically trained singers and dancers. The musical was not finally accepted as an “opera” for another 50 years.
I bet you could have heard a pin drop by the end of the song on the first night. We’ll have to wait until tomorrow for the best of all the versions in my opinion, but this cheeky number took place on a boat in Vancouver harbour on 17th October 2012. This was only a jam. I flew around 5000 miles with my saxophone to be there. The jam was part of OpenEd (Open Education Conference 2012). And that night changed my life.
Day Four “One foot in Tin Pan Alley, and the other in Carnegie hall”.
(Isaac Goldberg 1931).
George, born September 26th 1898 in New York and died in 1937. In the 1890’s his parents – the Gershovitzs’ emigrated from Russia, and George soon displayed a magical talent for the piano. His music teachers battled to get him to have a foundation in classical music, but his big love was certainly jazz. He was a stalwart of Tin Pan Alley where the big music publishers were based, and pianists like George would play the hits of the day in the hope that the new song would be noticed. George was also writing songs, and one early song “Swanee” became a huge hit worldwide as sung by Al Jolson.
His first hit musical was “Lady Be Good” – featuring Fred and Adele Astaire on the New York Stage. By this time, lyrics were by older brother Ira, and the musical featured hits including “Fascinating Rhythm”.
“Rhapsody in Blue” was one of several classical and orchestrated pieces of music and was a kaleidoscopic representation of New York sounds. Originally performed in 1924 billed as a “jazz concerto” the critics didn’t know whether to place it in classical or jazz camps. Imagine how “Rhapsody” would sit along side the other classical contemporary pieces at the time such as music by Rachmaninoff or Sibelius.
When did I first hear it?
My first exposure to “Rhapsody in Blue” was my dad playing it on the piano. He was an amateur concert pianist, and when up to full speed, our old upright piano would be rocking on it’s casters. This YouTube version is orchestrated and doesn’t quite have the charm of the piano-only versions I think. You can check George’s own recordings of course – if you can find one on YouTube without the painful adverts.
Day Three Grooves by Vince Giordano and his Night Hawks
Day Three of George Gershwin week. I saw these guys at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2012 and they blew me away. Their glorious sound is partly due to the fact they play all authentic 1920’s and 1930’s instruments, and probably are the only band today in the world where you can hear the types of sounds that George would have heard himself.
This means revisiting “I Got Rhythm”, but I think it is certainly worth it.
Vince Giordano, Newport JF 2012, Photo by Viv
Vince isn’t just an amazing band arranger, but he sings and plays three of the bass instruments. He has a bass saxophone, a sousaphone and a double bass somehow all fixed on a springy metal cage so he can really leap about between them, sometimes during one song.
The Night Hawks, Newport JF 2012. Photo by Viv
You might spot the beautiful subdued lustre of the saxophones, and slightly different bore sizes that you would get today. That goes to create the lovely warm sound, not like the giant barking sounds you get from instruments today.
Crazy Time for Libran Musical Geniuses
Day Two of George Gershwin week which is me celebrating George’s (and my) birthday on 26th September. Today we also say happy birthday to John Coltrane.
Yesterday we started off with “I Got Rhythm” which was from the Gershwin musical “Crazy Girl”. This made a stage star of Ginger Rogers overnight, and also featured Ethel Merman on stage, and later Julie Garland featured in the movie of the same name. We stick with “Crazy Girl” and today’s tune is Coltrane playing “But Not for Me” which also came from the musical. I’m not quite sure what he is doing with the beautiful and poignant tune, but hey, who is going to argue.
“They’re writing songs of love, but not for me,
A lucky star’s above, but not for me”.
Well I say so.
Why? Because ever since I was young he was my favourite composer. His songs had magical harmonies. His brother Ira wrote most of his song lyrics of course which were also superb. Years and years later I found out we shared the same birthday – which is this week on the 26th September.
Of course George, like other great American songwriters notably Irvin Berlin were Eastern European immigrants. Imagine the impact that making that journey and then being immersed in American city life must have made. I think you can hear it all the way through George’s music.
The song for today!
Combining George of course and another musical phenomenon Stephan Grappelli. 10 years younger than George – and living to a grand old 99 years of age, I remember seeing Stephan when he was so old he had to sit down and play the violin. This was at the Sheffield Concert Hall around 1990. (He must have been in his 90’s!!!) He was also a fine jazz pianist.
Here it is – “Someone to Watch Over You” followed by the epic “I Got Rhythm”.
I love “I Got Rhythm” and how easily you can transform into “The Muppet Theme”! It is the one signature tune I play at every jazz gig, and the most memorable performance was at my mate Robert’s funeral – a great jazz drummer – and he would definitely have approved at our loud rendition in the church at his funeral.
God bless you Robert, and all the other jazzers who have made my life and are no longer around.