Gershwin

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Haydnseek
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Gershwin

Post by Haydnseek » Fri Dec 30, 2005 11:22 pm

I watched the 1945 film “Rhapsody in Blue: The George Gershwin Story” on Turner Classic Movies this evening. It’s been several years since I last saw it. It’s the usual mostly fictional, rather silly Hollywood biopic although the cinematography and editing are above average making it more watchable than most – an then there’s the music!

The power and infectiousness of Gershwin’s music always amazes; after two hours of movie music I had to hear more and listened to “Rhapsody in Blue,” “Concerto in F” and “An American in Paris” on an LP with Andre Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra. The LSO were brilliant and idiomatic in this music and Previn was ideal to play and conduct it. The jazz roots of the music came across to me with particular force as I had been listening to early Dizzy Gillespie recordings just prior to watching the movie. Has anyone been more successful than Gershwin in blending the quintessential American musical styles of jazz and popular song with European orchestral music? And wasn't this a promising path for American composers that might have yielded much great music if more composers had chosen it? What might our national music scene have been like if Gershwin had lived a full life-span?

Anyway, anyone care to comment on Gershwin?
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Post by Werner » Fri Dec 30, 2005 11:43 pm

An intresting speculation on he possible path for Amercian composers.

I gues the reason that didn't work out is that Gershwin was uniue. None rhe less valuable, though.

What got my attention was that "after listening to movie music" your attention was grsabbed by Previn et al. But he movie music had been by Gershwin, too, hadn't it?

There is still a difference in performances, as your post indicates.
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Post by Haydnseek » Fri Dec 30, 2005 11:55 pm

Werner wrote:What got my attention was that "after listening to movie music" your attention was grsabbed by Previn et al. But he movie music had been by Gershwin, too, hadn't it?
The movie had a generous amount of Gershwin's music including Whiteman's Orchestra playing the Rhapsody. I just meant that two hours of Gershwin wasn't enough for me and I needed more immediately.
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Re: Gershwin

Post by DavidRoss » Sat Dec 31, 2005 12:46 am

Haydnseek wrote:Has anyone been more successful than Gershwin in blending the quintessential American musical styles of jazz and popular song with European orchestral music?
No.
Haydnseek wrote: And wasn't this a promising path for American composers that might have yielded much great music if more composers had chosen it?
Yes. But much great music has been created by American composers in a similar vein...composers with names like Ellington, Mingus, Hancock, Monk, Evans, Shorter, etc., etc....
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Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Dec 31, 2005 4:05 am

I've spent almost 2 months listening to the Great American Songbook on XM Radio. It is liberally furnished with Gershwin. I enjoy it a lot in part because he had Ira writing lyrics for him. Some of the songbook, not just Gershwin, is so sophisticated that if it weren't in English, it would be called art song. Unfortunately, the fact that it's American and in English and was once enormously popular willl prevent it from ever being considered serious music.
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Post by Teresa B » Sat Dec 31, 2005 8:07 am

Ah, and who could forget lines like "Now I see...Your painting is to you like music is to a composer!" (Gershwin to American lady artist in the movie).

I happened to see the same movie last night. Loved the music! The dialogue was kind of silly, but it was fun.

It would have been great if Gershwin could have lived longer, and who knows whether American music would have been different--probably not, as he lived long enough to have plenty of influence, no?

Happy New Year to All!
Teresa

P.S. I missed the credits--Who was the actor who played Gershwin?
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Post by MaestroDJS » Sat Dec 31, 2005 9:10 am

Teresa B wrote:I missed the credits--Who was the actor who played Gershwin?
Interesting cast in this film, especially because many who knew Gershwin played themselves in the film. This was also Robert Alda's major role as an actor. Yes, Robert Alda was the father of Alan Alda.

Robert Alda as George Gershwin
Joan Leslie as Julie Adams
Alexis Smith as Christine Gilbert
Charles Coburn as Max Dreyfus
Julie Bishop as Lee Gershwin
Albert Bassermann as Prof. Frank
Morris Carnovsky as Poppa Morris Gershwin
Rosemary DeCamp as Momma Rose Gershwin
Oscar Levant as Himself
Paul Whiteman as Himself
Al Jolson as Himself
George White as Himself
Hazel Scott as Herself
Anne Brown as Herself - as Bess
Herbert Rudley as Ira Gershwin

These classical characters also appear:

Oscar Loraine as Maurice Ravel
Martin Noble as Jascha Heifetz
Hugo Kirchhoffer as Walter Damrosch
Will Wright as Sergei Rachmaninoff
Teresa B wrote:Ah, and who could forget lines like "Now I see...Your painting is to you like music is to a composer!"
On a related note, it can be interesting to read one composer's view of another composer. In his Copland: 1900 through 1942 Aaron Copland wrote about his tangential relationship with George Gershwin. During their lifetimes, Copland and Gershwin were sometimes paired because they were both born in Brooklyn, were similar in age, and incorporated jazz and other American idioms into their music. However their careers developed in very different directions. Gershwin embodied the voice of urban America, whereas Copland is usually remembered for the "open air" qualities of his music, which often depicted rural or western settings.
The Piano Concerto was the last of my works to make explicit use of jazz materials. I have often described myself as a "work-a-year" man -- 1926 was the year of the Concerto. During this period, I was often critically paired with Gershwin. His Rhapsody in Blue was a kind of a jazz piano concerto, and it was less than two years old when I wrote Music for the Theater. It seems curious that Gershwin and I had so little contact, but the Rhapsody had been introduced by Paul Whiteman and his band, a very different milieu than Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Gershwin came from Tin Pan Alley and Broadway musicals, while my only connection with the theater was through Clurman -- and that meant serious drama. In those days, the lines were more sharply drawn between popular and classical musics. In many ways Gershwin and I had much in common -- both from Brooklyn, we had studied with Rubin Goldmark during the same time and were pianists and composers of music that incorporated indigenous American sounds. But even after Damrosch commissioned Gershwin's Concerto in F for performance in the same season as Koussevitzky premiered my Music for the Theater, Gershwin and I had no contact. We must have been aware of each other, but until the Hollywood years in the thirties, we moved in very different circles. On one occasion, when we were finally face to face at some party, with the opportunity for conversation, we found nothing to say to each other! I had always enjoyed popular music, and admired those who could perform and compose in the lighter vein, but my talents clearly did not lie in that direction. I have no idea today whether Gershwin's Concerto of 1925 influenced me toward composing a piano concerto the following year. I doubt it. Koussevitzky had said, "If you write a piano concerto, you can play it yourself," and that temptation was too great to pass up.
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Scott in VT
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Gershwin

Post by Scott in VT » Sat Dec 31, 2005 9:28 am

A few comments on Gershwin:

Rhapsody in Blue was the first orchestral piece I listened to seriously, thanks to a 7th grade music teacher. I love all of Gershiwin's orchestral things: the Rhapsody, the Concerto, American in Paris, Cuban Fantasy and Variations on I Got Rhythm (did I miss any?).

But the greatest thing he wrote, by far was Porgy & Bess (I'm surprised no one else has mentioned it yet). Every note of it is marvelous. I remember, at one time, all the jazz guys were tripping over each other to get out versions of it. The two best, IMHO, were the ones by Miles Davis and Gill Evans, and the one by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.

Gershwin wrote something for string quartet, which I can't remember the name of; does anyone else know the title?

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Post by oisfetz » Sat Dec 31, 2005 10:02 am

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Post by Blip » Sat Dec 31, 2005 11:09 am

I love Gershwin's songs --- I've been working my way through them on the piano for years --- but I often find that the concert music is more impressive in memory than in fact. By this I mean the melodies are so good that I remember them long after the music has stopped, and I forget how creaky the pieces are structurally. I have frequently been diappointed in live performances of his work, although I must say I heard an open air, all-Gershwin program last summer at Longwood Gardens, and it was delighful. Because of the threat of rain, there was no piano on stage, and hence no Rhapsody and no Piano Concerto. They had to make do with the Cuban overture and ab selection, with singers, from Porgy and Bess. That was fine with me.

A note about Copland and Gershwin: Copland's career didn't begin to take off until aftr Gerhwin had died. In much the same way, Mr. Carter didn't find his voice until he left New York for a while and got out of Copland's shadow. It's as though the town wasn't big enough for two composers.
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Post by Ted » Sat Dec 31, 2005 11:11 am

Mingus, Hancock, Monk, Evans, Shorter
To lump these (albeit talented Jazz people) in the same boat with Gershiwn is to wear ear muffs to the world

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Post by DavidRoss » Sat Dec 31, 2005 11:51 am

Ted wrote:
Mingus, Hancock, Monk, Evans, Shorter
To lump these (albeit talented Jazz people) in the same boat with Gershiwn is to wear ear muffs to the world
I'm not sure what you mean by this, but if you're suggesting they're less talented then I'd say you're entitled to your opinion.
"Most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." ~Leo Tolstoy

"It is the highest form of self-respect to admit our errors and mistakes and make amends for them. To make a mistake is only an error in judgment, but to adhere to it when it is discovered shows infirmity of character." ~Dale Turner

"Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either." ~Albert Einstein
"Truth is incontrovertible; malice may attack it and ignorance may deride it; but, in the end, there it is." ~Winston Churchill

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Post by Haydnseek » Sat Dec 31, 2005 11:54 am

Ted wrote:
Mingus, Hancock, Monk, Evans, Shorter
To lump these (albeit talented Jazz people) in the same boat with Gershiwn is to wear ear muffs to the world
They are/were important musicians, and I think jazz has given us some of the finest and most original American music (I need more Monk!) but it is comparing apples with oranges. They weren't doing the same sort of thing as Gershwin who was working in the European tradition but drawing on American popular sources the way Czech, Spanish and other "nationalist" composers had done with their own indigenous musical styles. I would think it would make more sense to compare Gershwin with Smetana, Albeniz or Villa-Lobos.

About Robert Alda: although “Rhapsody in Blue” was his best movie role his most important acting role was as the original Sky Masterson in “Guys and Dolls” on Broadway for which he won a Tony Award. If only they had let him do the movie instead of Brando!
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Ted

Post by Ted » Sat Dec 31, 2005 11:56 am

DavidRoss Wrote:
I'm not sure what you mean by this, but if you're suggesting they're less talented then I'd say you're entitled to your opinion.
David
You're right on both counts

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Jazz v. classical

Post by Scott in VT » Sat Dec 31, 2005 12:40 pm

"Yes. But much great music has been created by American composers in a similar vein...composers with names like Ellington, Mingus, Hancock, Monk, Evans, Shorter, etc., etc...."

I've grown tired of hearing so many jazz artists referred to as "composers." Monk, Mingus, et al were arrangers and/ or tune-writers. I don't use the term 'tune-writers in any derogatory sense; it's just that, more correctly, this is what they are: writers of verhicles for solo or collective improvisation.

Don't get me wrong; I love all the things Monk wrote, for example. They're beautiful and unique tunes, always intriguing, always interesting and full of improvisatory potential. But, compared to Mozart, Beethoven, Bruckner, et a, who wrote out every note (with the possible exception of some cadenzas), Monk was certainly not a "composer."

I've been a hard core jazz fan for several decades, with a special love of the "Blue Note hard bop" sound of Blakey, Morgan, Siver, etc. At one time I held the assumption, without actually spelling it out, that jazz was "better" than classical music, because it was more spontaneous, more down-to-earth, more in touch with "the people." But much of jazz improvisation is not music "created on the spot" so much as it is "licks remembered on the spot." You can tell when a jazz player has nothing new to say when he or she just "runs the changes," i.e. just plays the notes of the chord progressions and inserts cliches. Yes, it's still "spontaneous' in a way -- but it can quickly get boring and stale.

Hey, I'm still a jazz fanatic; just bought a J.J. Johnson CD this morning, in fact. But I''m also listening at present to Bruckner's 4th and 5th. To say that Bill Evans, wonderful as he was, is a "composer" in the same league as Bruckner, is ridiculous (and, yes, I'm familiar with Gunther Schuller's book on Duke Ellington).

I think there's a bit of socio-politcal background to this. For too many years the classical music establishment turned up its collective snoot at jazz, and jazz artists were not given the acclaim - and remuneration - that were due them. That situation has fortunately changed, but I think that referrring to jazz artists as "composers" contains more than a hint of advocacy, as if one is saying: "Mingus is just as great as Beethoven and you better start teaching this in the conservatories and music programs."

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Post by Scott in VT » Sat Dec 31, 2005 12:42 pm

"Yes. But much great music has been created by American composers in a similar vein...composers with names like Ellington, Mingus, Hancock, Monk, Evans, Shorter, etc., etc...."

DavidRoss, I'd respectfully like to take issue with you on this, but will start a new topic - Jazz vs. classical - to do so.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Dec 31, 2005 3:20 pm

Blip wrote:I often find that the concert music is more impressive in memory than in fact. By this I mean the melodies are so good that I remember them long after the music has stopped
Amen to that, Brother!
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Scott in VT
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Technical gaffe

Post by Scott in VT » Sat Dec 31, 2005 5:29 pm

Oops, my attempt to start a new discussion topic obviously didn't go through. Mea culpa.

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