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Rhapsody In Blue at 100

GUEST,Steve Shaw 11 Feb 24 - 04:06 PM
GUEST 11 Feb 24 - 04:15 PM
DaveRo 11 Feb 24 - 04:29 PM
GUEST,keberoxu 11 Feb 24 - 04:39 PM
keberoxu 11 Feb 24 - 04:47 PM
GUEST 11 Feb 24 - 05:55 PM
GUEST,Steve Shaw 11 Feb 24 - 05:57 PM
gillymor 11 Feb 24 - 06:04 PM
Dave the Gnome 11 Feb 24 - 06:06 PM
GUEST 11 Feb 24 - 06:52 PM
GUEST,.gargoyle 11 Feb 24 - 07:29 PM
Joe Offer 11 Feb 24 - 07:41 PM
Joe Offer 11 Feb 24 - 07:47 PM
Joe Offer 11 Feb 24 - 07:58 PM
GUEST 11 Feb 24 - 08:03 PM
GUEST,.gargoyle 11 Feb 24 - 08:03 PM
GUEST,Steve Shaw 11 Feb 24 - 08:04 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 12 Feb 24 - 12:58 AM
Dave the Gnome 12 Feb 24 - 03:59 AM
GUEST,Steve Shaw 12 Feb 24 - 08:57 AM
Vashta Nerada 12 Feb 24 - 10:28 AM
Donuel 12 Feb 24 - 07:31 PM
GUEST,.gargoyle 14 Feb 24 - 12:59 PM
Joe Offer 14 Feb 24 - 03:18 PM
DaveRo 14 Feb 24 - 03:59 PM
keberoxu 14 Feb 24 - 07:22 PM
GUEST,.gargoyle 14 Feb 24 - 09:44 PM
FreddyHeadey 15 Feb 24 - 06:18 AM
GUEST,Steve Shaw 15 Feb 24 - 07:45 AM
Donuel 15 Feb 24 - 07:58 AM
gillymor 15 Feb 24 - 09:27 AM
GUEST,Steve Shaw 15 Feb 24 - 09:58 AM
Joe Offer 15 Feb 24 - 04:46 PM
GUEST 15 Feb 24 - 07:58 PM
GUEST,Steve Shaw 15 Feb 24 - 07:59 PM
GUEST,.gargoyle 16 Feb 24 - 05:22 PM
Donuel 17 Feb 24 - 09:46 AM
DaveRo 18 Feb 24 - 07:45 AM
GUEST,Roderick A Warner 19 Feb 24 - 12:36 PM
GUEST 19 Feb 24 - 02:24 PM
GUEST,Steve Shaw 19 Feb 24 - 05:17 PM
gillymor 19 Feb 24 - 05:34 PM
GUEST,Steve Shaw 19 Feb 24 - 08:34 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 19 Feb 24 - 09:05 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 19 Feb 24 - 09:07 PM
BrooklynJay 19 Feb 24 - 10:45 PM
GUEST,Steve Shaw 20 Feb 24 - 08:19 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 21 Feb 24 - 03:34 AM
GUEST,Steve Shaw 21 Feb 24 - 05:48 AM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 21 Feb 24 - 01:43 PM
GUEST,Steve Shaw 21 Feb 24 - 05:47 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 21 Feb 24 - 09:37 PM
gillymor 22 Feb 24 - 09:22 AM
GUEST,Steve Shaw 26 Feb 24 - 10:16 AM
Dave the Gnome 26 Feb 24 - 12:13 PM
meself 26 Feb 24 - 01:20 PM
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Subject: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,Steve Shaw
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 04:06 PM

The first performance was on Feb 12 1924 in New York. The audience loved it, even though they'd endured a long and tedious concert in a hall in which the heating and ventilation had broken down. Gershwin, who was playing the piano, hadn't even scored his solo piano parts so was winging it, and he had to nod to the conductor to let him know when to bring the band back in. The famous glissando on clarinet at the start was originally a joke played on Gershwin in the rehearsals, but George loved it and it's been in there ever since. The critics at the time dismissed it as rubbish, but what did they know!

It's long been one of my very favourite pieces and it's always been in my "desert island eight"
so I'm sure I'll be hearing a lot tomorrow!


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 04:15 PM

Humph. Sorry about the last bit...


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: DaveRo
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 04:29 PM

There was a piece in the NYT recently:
The Worst Masterpiece: ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ at 100

And another one a few days ago refuting that which I can't find.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,keberoxu
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 04:39 PM

Yes, I saw the NYT piece: what snobs . . .


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: keberoxu
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 04:47 PM

There's a paywall to contend with, but
the Wall Street Journal praises the Rhapsody in Blue in an article.

George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue still hits the Right Notes


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 05:55 PM

I find it to be utterly life-affirming. I once heard Gershwin described as America's Mozart. I've never heard a Gershwin piece that I didn't love. Funnily enough we watched Maestro last night. I love Lenny too. Gershwin, Bernstein, Woody: nice ones, Yanks!


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,Steve Shaw
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 05:57 PM

That was me again. Not used to being a guest!


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: gillymor
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 06:04 PM

One of the first classical pieces I was exposed to. My little brother and used to walk around like a couple of robots gone haywire during the Manhattan traffic part. Still a good listen that takes me back to a happy time.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 06:06 PM

Something that has passed me by but I intend to put that right.

And good to see you made it back Steve :-)


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 06:52 PM

Why, cheers, Dave! It's kind of the opposite of Hotel California ;-) Anyway:

Bernstein didn't always sing the praises of Gershwin, though he loved "Rhapsody." Gershwin became great friends with Maurice Ravel. On one occasion George asked if he could study with Ravel. Maurice is said to have replied, "Why would you want to be a second-rate Ravel when you can be a first-rate Gershwin!"


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 07:29 PM

WOW! 100!

I can understand, why the piano leads.
Difficult syncopation with an orchestra.
Piano portion can stand as a piece unto itself.


Sincerely,
Gargoyle

Dmitry Kabalevsky also cut new frontiers.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: Joe Offer
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 07:41 PM

DaveRo, is this the NY Times refutation you were referring to?
https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/08/opinion/rhapsody-in-blue-defense.html

No, ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ Is Not ‘the Worst’

Feb. 8, 2024
By John McWhorter, Opinion Writer

A couple of weeks ago in The Times, a seasoned musician and composer proposed that George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” was “corny and Caucasian,” a “cheesecake” that has “clogged the arteries of American music.” And this in the centennial year of the rhapsody, which was first played on Feb. 12, 1924, at Aeolian Hall in Manhattan! Anyone making such a charge should expect a bit of pushback. Herewith some.

The rhapsody was programmed as the culmination of a concert titled “An Experiment in Modern Music,” which proposed that jazz, then new to the American mainstream, was serious music worthy of a venue as tony as Aeolian Hall, with the celebrity bandleader Paul Whiteman on the podium and Gershwin himself on piano. Gershwin intended the rhapsody to fuse the respective powers of classical music and jazz. People liked it a lot, and they still do.

But the pianist and composer Ethan Iverson wishes they didn’t. In the article I cited above, “The Worst Masterpiece: ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ at 100,” Iverson offers an intriguing take: that “Rhapsody in Blue,” while having its charms, is just too square to merit being played as often as it is. He believes the rhapsody isn’t truly jazzy enough, and specifically that it only lightly dwells in African-based rhythm. In other words, the rhapsody fails because it doesn’t jam.

But to Gershwin, the rhapsody was precisely what it needed to be. He specifically sought to avoid straitjacketing it with the unchanging peppiness of a dance beat as if that was all jazz was or could be. He revealed his purpose in a subsequent letter: “Jazz, they said, had to be in strict time. It had to cling to dance rhythms. I resolved, if possible, to kill that misconception with one sturdy blow.” So while the rhapsody certainly has its foot-tapping sections, it also sails, rests, jolts and soars.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: Joe Offer
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 07:47 PM

And a Letter to the Editor:
https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/02/opinion/rhapsody-in-blue-gershwin.html

The Lyrical Century of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’

Feb. 2, 2024

To the Editor:

Re “A Chestnut Stuck in Time: Nostalgia Stymies Fusion,” by Ethan Iverson (Arts & Leisure, Jan. 28), about “Rhapsody in Blue” at 100:

Mr. Iverson’s article saddles Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with the task of not only changing music history (which it did) but also singularly overhauling Western music pedagogy. No artist in any medium could accomplish this, so I’m not sure why Mr. Iverson is holding poor Gershwin to this unrealistic standard.

What the article did do was make me listen to “Rhapsody in Blue,” twice, for the first time in about 20 years. Mr. Iverson finds the work “naïve and corny” — points he does not elaborate upon — but I was struck by what a formal miracle the piece is.

Like Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” written 11 years earlier, Gershwin’s “Rhapsody” holds together through the savvy repetition of varied and memorable material. While Stravinsky’s reiterations are fragments of Russian folk songs, Gershwin’s jazzish tunes keep returning in different forms, rewarding both casual and deep listening.

By calling the work “the best cheesecake,” Mr. Iverson aligns himself with a long line of critics who are quick to denigrate pleasure and valorize difficulty — truly a mode of thought that needs overhauling.

Christopher Cerrone
Jersey City, N.J.
The writer, a composer, is on the faculty in music composition at the Mannes School of Music, The New School.



To the Editor:

All this sniping and yapping at music! “Rhapsody in Blue” could be the soundtrack to one of the most romantic moments in your life, too, if you let it sweep you away.

It was a freezing cold night in January. Big fat snowflakes whipped through the air while the skyline surrounding Central Park stood in silent vigil as Gershwin’s music pierced that inky darkness, emanating from the speakers that ringed Wollman Rink.

My new boyfriend and I rented skates and joined the throng, at first tentatively circling, then with more vigor as the music propelled us. It felt as if we were flying — beneath the snowflakes and the stars — and look!

Over there’s Venus.

And over there, Mars.

Whenever I hear that glorious music, I’m instantly transported to that moment in time when his gloved hand held my gloved hand and the world was full of possibilities.

What I wouldn’t give for the chance to circle just once more, in the cold and the dark … enveloped by “Rhapsody in Blue” …

Christine Lavin
New York
The author is a singer-songwriter.


I've always loved Rhapsody in Blue. And I like Christine Lavin's music, too.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: Joe Offer
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 07:58 PM

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/26/arts/music/george-gershwin-rhapsody-in-blue.html?searchResultPosition=1

The Worst Masterpiece: ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ at 100

A jazz musician considers the legacy and unfulfilled promise of George Gershwin’s catchy — or you could say corny — repertory staple.



By Ethan Iverson
Ethan Iverson is a pianist, composer and writer.

Jan. 26, 2024
The work is a guaranteed success. After it is over, audience members leap out of their seats for a standing ovation.

Such has been the response to “Rhapsody in Blue” ever since its premiere 100 years ago, on Feb. 12, 1924. George Gershwin had been asked by the conductor Paul Whiteman to supply a “jazz concerto” for the event An Experiment in Modern Music at Aeolian Hall in Manhattan, and the landscape of American music hasn’t been the same since.

Thanks to the centennial, you’re likely to come across a lot of “Rhapsody” performances this year — not that the anniversary makes much difference, because that’s always the case. Indeed, “Rhapsody” is one of the most frequently programmed pieces in the symphonic repertoire by an American composer.

Beyond the concert stage, the work’s themes are heard in movies and television, and are piped into the cabins of United Airlines flights. It has even functioned as propaganda: At the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, during the height of the Cold War, the American contingent brought out 84 pianists to perform excerpts from the “Rhapsody,” accompanied by a battalion of dancers.

As with many other classical hits, casual listeners might be surprised to learn that the familiar melodies are part of a much longer composition. First, George Gershwin wrote a substantial two-piano score. The composer Ferde Grofé orchestrated the premiere for Whiteman’s idiosyncratic jazz band, including banjo. Later on, Grofé did two more orchestrations, in 1926 and 1942; the last one was for full symphonic forces and is the version most often heard today. Gershwin himself never fussed with making an authoritative edition, going so far as to suggest four possible cuts in the score.

Regardless of these divergences in source text, first-time listeners are struck by a bolt of optimism. A new day is here! Gershwin’s melodic material is spun with enchanting gold thread, from the opening clarinet swoop to the bluesy piano riffs to the epic sentimental melody near journey’s end. No phrase can ever be forgotten.

At this point, though, some of us more jaded types are ready to at least try to forget.

That’s because the promise of 1924 hasn’t been honored. Gershwin’s proposal was bold and obvious: Early forms of African American ragtime and blues had taken the nation by storm, and his job was to allude to those idioms in a virtuoso concerto. As a professional tunesmith and serious student of ragtime and early jazz piano, he was well suited for the task. As it turned out, the Experiment in Modern Music concert also unlocked something for the composer: Most of the famous Gershwin songs we still hear often today were written after the Aeolian Hall performance.

It is easy, and accurate, to call “Rhapsody in Blue” naïve and corny. But, to be fair, it was still very early in the timeline of jazz and swinging Black music on record. Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington were just getting started. In addition, as corny and Caucasian as it might be, the “Rhapsody” went straight into the language of the most powerful and innovative Black jazz musicians. Art Blakey, Tadd Dameron, Billy Strayhorn and Herbie Nichols praised the work. Mary Lou Williams said that, one of the first guitar heroes, Charlie Christian, “would be playing ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and all these heavy classical things.” A long line of significant jazz pianists, including Cedar Walton and Herbie Hancock, practiced the solo piano arrangement of the ‘Rhapsody’ when they were children.

The reception history of “Rhapsody in Blue” is more problematic than the work itself. If the piece had been less successful, perhaps more could have been done to build on it. Instead, it has clogged the arteries of American music. Rather than seek out new possibilities, promoters, educators and other gatekeepers can just claim: The ‘Rhapsody’ is there, a guaranteed success, so why dig deeper?

If “Rhapsody in Blue” is a masterpiece, it might be the worst masterpiece. The promise of a true fusion on the concert stage basically starts and ends with it. A hundred years later, most popular Black music is separate from the world of formal composition, while most American concert musicians can’t relate to a score with a folkloric attitude, let alone swing.

The essential element here is rhythm. African and Latin diasporic (especially Cuban) rhythm has rarely been understood or truly respected by American institutions connected with symphonic repertoire. Gershwin didn’t help this issue with “Rhapsody in Blue”; nobody but the pianist has to play more than a few bars in steady tempo. The composer explained: “Jazz, they said, had to be in strict time. It had to cling to dance rhythms. I resolved, if possible, to kill that misconception with one sturdy blow.”

That “sturdy blow” inadvertently meant that nobody had to go to school. In his lifetime, the pianist Oscar Levant was considered a popular Gershwin expert and practitioner, partly because he was close friends with the composer, partly because he was a charming film personality. Levant even plays excerpts from the title piece in the cheesy Gershwin biopic “Rhapsody in Blue” (1945). Although Levant was a virtuoso and his rendition of the “Rhapsody” has high pianistic finish, his rendition also has terrible rhythm — worse than any first-year jazz piano student in college. Still, Levant’s inability to play Gershwin’s basic syncopations and polyrhythms correctly didn’t stop him from selling many performances and recording of the piece.

To this day, the training of American conservatory musicians prioritizes pure tone production and mechanical facility over a basic dance beat.

Generally, histories of American music consider Gershwin more important than Ellington. Jazz musicians and connoisseurs would disagree; any mature Ellington LP beats out any recording of “Rhapsody in Blue.” There’s just no comparison in terms of depth of feeling, let alone swing. Ellington was usually debonair and reserved in public, but his stunning 1961 trio deconstruction of Gershwin’s “Summertime” documents a moment of losing his composure. The huge, dissonant piano cluster at the end seems to signify Ellington’s justified anger about Gershwin’s continued eclipse of him as the great American composer, long after Gershwin was dead.

It has only gotten harder for serious Black musicians to manage the Gershwin problem. Before embarking on his 1998 project “Gershwin’s World,” Hancock had doubts, which he explained in his memoir, “Possibilities”: “Why should I make a record celebrating a great white American musician? Especially when that musician had gained fame by creating music in a style that was actually founded by Black musicians — who never got the credit, the fans or the money they so richly deserved. I knew I’d get flak from the Black community, and understandably so.”

Aaron Diehl is a serious jazz pianist, but strong classical technique has given him the opportunity to perform Gershwin’s music dozens of times with major orchestras. In an interview, Diehl was frank about how awkward “Rhapsody in Blue” could feel in rehearsal and performance.

“The fundamental question is how to move beyond the nostalgia for this piece, and find viable musical solutions to a deeply rooted problem,” he said. “‘Rhapsody in Blue’ isn’t source material. James P. Johnson’s ‘Carolina Shout,’ Fats Waller’s ‘Handful of Keys’ and Jelly Roll Morton’s ‘The Pearls’ are source material.”

Diehl has heard, he added, “Marcus Roberts play ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ many times with his trio, who collectively manage to turn the work on its head, yet also align it with a deeper understanding of the musical references. That approach is one blueprint for grappling with these issues. Another is giving living composers the opportunity to write works that allow musicians to tackle some of the nuances of a rich language. That will take some time, even after 100 years of hindsight.”

Despite all this, and regardless of whether “Rhapsody in Blue” is the worst masterpiece, it’s also the best cheesecake, or something else attractive yet unhealthy. Listen to it, and you can’t resist whistling Gershwin’s catchy themes.

The composer and pianist Timo Andres told me, “‘Rhapsody in Blue’ is like one of those inflatable punching bags that just springs back up whatever you do to it.” We are blessed and stuck with this piece, a flawed classic that exemplifies our nation’s unsettled relationship with the originators of African American music and technique.

A version of this article appears in print on Jan. 28, 2024, Section AR, Page 5 of the New York edition with the headline: A Chestnut Stuck in Time: Nostalgia Stymies Fusion.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 08:03 PM

Brilliant, Joe. I note the mention of Stravinsky. As it happens, he was in the audience on that famous night!


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 08:03 PM

"Sour Grapes" said, the Fox.

I just read the NYT opinion piece in full.

Sincerely,
Gargoyle

The view ... is that written in the throes of "Critical Race Theory"... debunked and world is moving forward.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,Steve Shaw
Date: 11 Feb 24 - 08:04 PM

Grr. That was me again!


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 12 Feb 24 - 12:58 AM

And just to frame all the expert opinions of that famous debut 100 years ago... nobody, no-body really knows exactly how long it ran or how it sounded played straight through without gaps.

That level of playback tech would not exist until the 1940s LP era. Every earlier recording is a "radio edit" style, cut-down short version. The shortest of them clocked in at just under three minutes... on a paper piano roll.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 12 Feb 24 - 03:59 AM

I did listen to it last night and I did know it after all! Just didn't know I did :-)


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,Steve Shaw
Date: 12 Feb 24 - 08:57 AM

They played the jazz band version on Breakfast on BBC Radio 3 this morning (track 15-ish I think). I'll be finding that to give it a listen later on.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: Vashta Nerada
Date: 12 Feb 24 - 10:28 AM

NPR's Morning Edition had a story including illustrations of how modern artists have reframed the piece. One is Bela Fleck who released Rhapsody in Blue(grass).


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: Donuel
Date: 12 Feb 24 - 07:31 PM

60 seconds of rhapsody in blue


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 14 Feb 24 - 12:59 PM

Los Angeles Times
Why we need “Rhapsody in Blue” more than ever as it turns 100

BY: Gustavo Arrelano - (columnist)
FEB. 14, 2024 3 AM PT

I’m not sure when I first listened to George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” which premiered 100 years ago this week, from start to finish.

Snippets had played throughout the soundtrack of my life as a child and teen — the opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympics at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, random cartoons, commercials for United Airlines, cameos in Disney productions. It’s one of those classical pieces, like Beethoven’s Fifth and Ninth symphonies and Bach’s spooky Toccata and Fugue in D minor, that long ago left orchestra halls to entrench themselves in the American psyche.

When I finally got through “Rhapsody in Blue” in its entirety, it was the aural equivalent of the Big Bang.

The wailing, breathless clarinet solo that kicks things off. The wry tubas and trombones that accentuate the opening section. The thunderous drums and cymbals that announce the beginning and end of movements. Elegant violins. Piano chords that jaunt along during solos and rise above the swirling, clashing chaos, demanding to be acknowledged.


The composition was a revelation. It swaggered and stomped and skipped. It was unpretentious and rollicking — nothing that I had known classical music to be — and sparked an admiration for Gershwin’s creation that grows the more I learn about him and his times.

As orchestras around the country celebrate “Rhapsody in Blue” throughout 2024, it’s important to think of the piece as more than just music. In a year when Americans are fretting about our democracy in ways we haven’t for decades, it tells the saga of this nation — and offers a way forward.

As Gershwin often recounted, he wrote “Rhapsody in Blue” in a rush after reading a newspaper article reminding him of his promise to debut a new concerto mixing classical music with the jazz that was riveting the nation’s cool set at the time. Looking for a muse, the 26-year-old found one in the clangs, hisses and whistles of a train trip to Boston. That base allowed Gershwin to construct “a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness,” he told a music critic in 1931.

His final product nailed it, both musically and thematically. Hints of Cuban clave rhythms, Tin Pan Alley harmonies, Jewish melodies and piano licks swim through its overarching Romantic theme. The messy pace — alternately defiant, maudlin, weepy and bombastic — sounds like a country that was working things out within itself but nevertheless remained optimistic and confident about its future.

There was no better person to envision this sonic tribute to the United States than Gershwin. He never attributed any explicit political significance to “Rhapsody in Blue,” because he didn’t have to. He was the child of working-class Jewish immigrants who fled the tyranny of the Russian Empire for a chance at a better life in New York. His work wrestled with the questions that every second-generation American faces. Do you maintain the customs of the old country, reject them completely to fully assimilate into mainstream society, or do you grab the best of the two and mix it with what you pick up from other cultures?

Like many second-generation kids, he chose the latter scenario and lived it with gusto.

Gershwin made his decision in a city teeming with people from around the world, in a nation that saw the influx of foreigners as alien and threatening. Three months after the debut of “Rhapsody in Blue,” President Coolidge signed the Johnson-Reed Act. It severely curtailed immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe and created the Border Patrol to keep out Asians and Mexicans — the antithesis of everything that Gershwin’s ode to America celebrated.

“Rhapsody in Blue” is most identified with New York, as it should be — Gershwin was a Gothamite, he debuted it in Manhattan, and the best recording of it remains Leonard Bernstein conducting the Columbia Symphony in 1959 while playing the piano (too bad Bradley Cooper didn’t re-create the scene in his recent Bernstein biopic, “Maestro”). Yet we in Los Angeles should also claim a part of Gershwin and his genius. He decamped to Southern California with his brother Ira to plug away in Hollywood, seeing better times in Los Angeles instead of the East Coast. But George’s career was cut tragically short when he died in 1937, at just 38, after surgery to remove a brain tumor.

Women in light-blue dresses stand and men in light-blue tuxedos play pianos on a large outdoors stage.
Dancers and piano players perform during the opening ceremony of the 1984 Summer Olympics at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on July 28, 1984. Eighty-four grand pianos played George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” (Georges Bendrihem / AFP via Getty Images)

One could only imagine what Southern California, gateway to Latin America and Asia, might have taught Gershwin had he lived.

His tour de force is aspirational, inspirational and offers lessons for all of us. Yet there’s always been pushback against the brilliance of “Rhapsody in Blue.” Bernstein once told the Atlantic that it was “a string of separate paragraphs stuck together with a thin paste of flour and water” and not “a real composition,” even as he described Gershwin as “my idol.” In recent decades, scholars have accused Gershwin of cultural appropriation for daring to be a Jewish man who fused his love of Black music with classical music — a fusion that reached its apogee with the opera “Porgy and Bess.”

Recently, composer Ethan Iverson wrote in the New York Times that “Rhapsody in Blue” was “the worst masterpiece” in the classical canon, describing it as “Caucasian,” whatever the hell that means. To think of it as corny and antiquated and “white” misses its revolutionary potential. Thank God the public has understood its truth all along.

There’s a reason why it’s a standard that symphonies trot out whenever they need a sellout (the Los Angeles Philharmonic will play it at the Hollywood Bowl this summer, site of many iconic performances featuring Gershwin’s oeuvre). Why eyes glisten as people rise from their seats when the orchestra reaches the rousing conclusion.

It’s unabashedly hopeful and proud of this country’s mess. It dares you to feel the same. It’s America at its best.

Sincerely,
Gargoyle

Very fitting tribute and rebuttal. The author came from Mexico as a child with his family, one of whom was in the trunk of the Chevy.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: Joe Offer
Date: 14 Feb 24 - 03:18 PM

I haven't found a really good video of "Rhapsody in Blue" at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, but here's one: And another: And here's Leonard Bernstein performing "Rhapsody in Blue":


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: DaveRo
Date: 14 Feb 24 - 03:59 PM

Bernstein had been playing Rhapsody in Blue since he bought the sheet music while learning piano in 1932, 44 years before that performance.

There's a quote of his in wikipedia
Rhapsody in Blue is not a real composition in the sense that whatever happens in it must seem inevitable, or even pretty inevitable. You can cut out parts of it without affecting the whole in any way except to make it shorter. You can remove any of these stuck-together sections and the piece still goes on as bravely as before. You can even interchange these sections with one another and no harm done. You can make cuts within a section, or add new cadenzas, or play it with any combination of instruments or on the piano alone; it can be a five-minute piece or a six-minute piece or a twelve-minute piece. And in fact all these things are being done to it every day. It's still the Rhapsody in Blue.
I have it on on an LP of the LSO conducted by André Previn, which I bought 40 or 50 years ago. (Seiji Ozawa conducting the Sesame Street orchestra reminds me of André Previn.)


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: keberoxu
Date: 14 Feb 24 - 07:22 PM

This is a very enjoyable and worthwhile thread. Thank you, all.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 14 Feb 24 - 09:44 PM

Joe - I was at the full rehersal for the 84.

Took photo only ... never considered audio.

Took photos to develop, that night:

Question: What are these?

Answer: Olympic Opening

Question: How did you get these?

Answer: Time Traveling

Sincerely,
Gargoyle

Been time traveling all my life.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: FreddyHeadey
Date: 15 Feb 24 - 06:18 AM

^^^^^^^^The R3 Breakfast programme 12th Feb 2024 playing a truncated version put on disk a few months after the premiere.

Rhapsody in Blue (jazz band version)
Performer: George Gershwin.
Music Arranger: Ferde Grofé.
Orchestra: Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra.
NAXOS.
www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001w1v6
> skip to ~1:40:30


American Rhapsody
Sunday Feature - BBC Radio 3 - 11th Feb 2024

Culture writer Olivia Giovetti travels to New York City to investigate the legacy of Rhapsody in Blue and to ask, 100 years after its premiere, with the United States of America feeling more divided than ever and with many more musical genres and influenes for composers to draw on - is it possible to write a single piece of music that sums up America in 2024?

Olivia talks to luminaries of American music today including Jennifer Higdon, Steve Reich, Anthony Davis, Rachel Grimes, Allison Loggins-Hull and Carlos Simon about their creative process, what has changed in the last 100 years of American music and how they might approach a modern-day Rhaposdy.

Olivia also meets pianist, singer and Gershwin expert Michael Feinstein who talks through the fascinating stories behind Rhapsody in Blue's conception, while pianists Lara Downes and Vijay Iyer alongside composer Raven Chacon discuss how we might view the piece through a contemporary lens. George Gershwin claimed he heard the Rhapsody "as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America...of our vast melting pot" - but does the concept of the 'melting pot' hold true in 2024?   

Presenter: Olivia Giovetti
Producer: Nick Taylor
www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001w1sl


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,Steve Shaw
Date: 15 Feb 24 - 07:45 AM

Thank you for your kind comment, keberoxu. I'm enjoying it too!

As Freddy said, Radio 3 played the 1924 jazz band version, a remarkably good recording considering its age. It's quite truncated and the tempos are pretty fast, as the acoustic recording had to fit on two sides of a shellac record. The clarinet at the beginning is positively chuckling. Radio 3 played a modern recording of the full work later that day, which I'll be listening to in a minute as I try to fix the shower-room tap :-(   But that ancient recording is a whole bunch of fun and well worth a listen.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: Donuel
Date: 15 Feb 24 - 07:58 AM

There is a legend that Gershwin wrote the jazz band version in its entirety while on a train trip.

One of the most remarkable performances of the piano and orchestral version is of Leonard Bernstein playing piano while conducting the orchestra.

I knew a blind pianist who was devoted to playing Rhapsody in Blue.
One can find remarkable performances by solo guitar and many other inspired renditions using other instruments.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: gillymor
Date: 15 Feb 24 - 09:27 AM

Thanks for the link to that BBC article, Freddy.
The reporter packed an awful lot of info into just 48 minutes.
Like Marin Alsop I have a persistent earworm that's been with me the past few days, various parts of RiB keep popping into my head and they are very welcome.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,Steve Shaw
Date: 15 Feb 24 - 09:58 AM

Me too! I'm very prone to earwormitis, but at least this one is very upbeat and makes me feel all jaunty. :-)


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: Joe Offer
Date: 15 Feb 24 - 04:46 PM

I was hoping that the Library of Congress would come out with something about "Rhapsody in Blue":
    https://blogs.loc.gov/loc/2024/02/gershwins-rhapsody-at-100-still-capturing-the-american-character/

    Gershwin’s “Rhapsody” at 100; Still Capturing the American Character


    February 12, 2024
    Posted by: Neely Tucker

    George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” a rapturous burst of music that has become a motif of the nation’s creative spirit, turns 100 today. It was first performed in New York on the snowy Tuesday afternoon of Feb. 12, 1924.

    Commissioned and premiered by the popular conductor Paul Whiteman at a concert designed to showcase high-minded American musical innovations – with the 25-year-old Gershwin on piano – the concerto-like composition, mixing jazz and classical themes, eventually became synonymous with American musical flair and sophistication. In its various forms and orchestrations, it has been recorded thousands of times the world over, become a classical concert staple a theme song for an airline and was performed simultaneously by 84 pianists at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

    The Library is home to the George and Ira Gershwin Collection, including George’s piano and a leather-bound copy of his original manuscript of “Rhapsody.” We’re marking the centennial with several things, including an around-the-nation video tribute that highlights the piece’s continuing role in musical education, performance and spectacle.

    “It’s one of the most recognizable pieces of music,” said Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress. “When you hear the first few notes you can’t help but start humming the rest.”

    There’s a sold-out concert tonight at the Library featuring “Rhapsody” as the finale, to be performed by the U.S. Air Force Band with special guest pianist Simone Dinnerstein. The evening also features a lecture by Gershwin scholar Ryan Bañagale.

    The video, meanwhile, features more than 20 performers from New York to Los Angeles to Seattle. There are stops in music havens such as Nashville and New Orleans, as well as unlikely locations, such as a Baltimore Ravens practice facility and the caverns of Luray, Virginia.

    “The project shows how ‘Rhapsody’ and the rest of the Gershwins’ music is for everyone,” said Hayden. “You can enjoy their music in a grand symphony hall, in the classroom, in a parade, the practice field or while tapping your feet in the sand.”

    Justin Tucker, the Ravens’ placekicker, is not only the most accurate kicker in National Football League history, but can also sing operatically in seven languages. (He graduated from the Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music at the University of Texas.) For him, humming “Rhapsody” while practicing was a natural. Béla Fleck, the 17-time Grammy winning banjo player, soared through Gershwin’s most difficult progressions; he’s just released a new album that features “Rhapsody” in three different variations.

    Gonzalo Rubalcaba, the Cuban-born jazz pianist and composer, turns in a virtuoso performance from Florida while Kat Meoz, a singer-songwriter-composer, gives us a take from California. That’s Otto Pebworth playing the Great Stalacpipe Organ in Luray Caverns; the School Without Walls Orchestra, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C.,and international whistling champion Chris Ullman from the nation’s capital; the Arrowhead Jazz Band and the New Orleans Baby Doll Ladies from the Crescent City; the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and country/pop singer Nick Fabian from Music City; tap dancer and choreographer Caleb Teicher from New York, along with many others. The animated caricature of Gershwin playing “Rhapsody” is from Disney’s “Fantasia 2000.”

    The origin story of “Rhapsody” is well known. Whiteman, the most popular jazz conductor of his day (though hiring only white musicians), commissioned the young Gershwin to write a composition that could show off American originality with classical sophistication. Gershwin, reluctant to take the assignment, only had about six weeks to put it together, while still keeping up his work on Broadway musicals.

    The Library’s manuscript copy of his work is in pencil, with his block lettering spelling out “RHAPSODY IN BLUE – FOR JAZZ BAND AND PIANO” atop the first page. It’s dated Jan. 7, 1924, a few days into the assignment. He was greatly aided by Ferde Grofé, who arranged the score. The first performance, at a packed house at Aeolian Hall, drew mixed reviews from critics, though it was popular with the crowd.

    You can hear an early recording on the Library’s National Jukebox from 1924 by Whiteman’s orchestra with Gershwin on the piano. Recording limitations of the time forced the nine-minute piece to be recorded in two sections, with the second part here.

    So identified was Gershwin with the Jazz Age that when he died in 1937 at the age of 38 (a brain tumor), the New York Times obituary identified him along with “The Great Gatsby” author F. Scott Fitzgerald as a “child of the Twenties.”

    “What he wanted to do most, he said, was to interpret the soul of the American people,” the Times wrote.

    One of the curious things about “Rhapsody” has been its elasticity. There a short versions and long versions and pieces for solo piano and full orchestras and everything in between. Leonard Bernstein, arguably the most famous American conductor of the 20th century, loved “Rhapsody” but famously noted that it had such a loose structure that you could leave out or rearrange segments and the piece would still work. Leonard Bernstein, “Why Don’t You Run Upstairs and Write a Nice Gershwin Tune?” in The Joy of Music (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1959), 52–62.

    The Library also has the papers of Grofé, who also arranged the 1942 orchestral version of “Rhapsody” that almost immediately became the standard rendition and the one you likely think of today when the song comes to mind. Taken together, the Grofe´ and Gershwin collections give the Library all three manuscripts of “Rhapsody” that led up to its historic debut.

    The nation is a far different place today than it was in 1924, but it’s part of the song’s famous elasticity, part of its peculiar magic, that enables it to still speak so eloquently, so broadly, to the national character.

    (there are lots of links and photos in the original Web page, so take a look if you can connect)

    -Joe-


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST
Date: 15 Feb 24 - 07:58 PM

Much indebted, Joe, for unearthing this wonderful stuff about one of my all-time favourite pieces of music. Kudos!


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,Steve Shaw
Date: 15 Feb 24 - 07:59 PM

That was me, of course!


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 16 Feb 24 - 05:22 PM

1984 Opening with pianos.

https://vimeo.com/569149299

Sincerely,
Gargoyle

Grab a copy quick ... the IOC has removed it on most pages. Chilling Effects indeed.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: Donuel
Date: 17 Feb 24 - 09:46 AM

Thanks so much Gargoyle, It was spellbinding.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: DaveRo
Date: 18 Feb 24 - 07:45 AM

A century on from Rhapsody in Blue, debates about cultural ‘theft’ rage still (The Guardian)

‘The future music of this country must be founded upon what are called negro melodies. This must be the real foundation of any serious and original school of composition to be developed in the United States.” So wrote the Czech composer Antonín Dvořák, in an 1893 essay, a year after he had moved to America to teach at the newly created National Conservatory in New York.

Almost half a century later, a precocious Harvard student by the name of Leonard Bernstein wrote his undergraduate thesis on “The Absorption of Race Elements into American Music”. Searching for a “national” basis for American music, he found it in “Negro music”. “If an American is a sensitive creator,” Bernstein wrote, “jazz will have become an integral part of his palette, whether or not he is aware of it.”

In between Dvořák’s essay and Bernstein’s thesis came a musical work that appeared to give explicit form to their arguments: George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. A work that fused jazz and classical traditions, it was first performed 100 years ago last week on 12 February 1924, in a concert in New York entitled “An Experiment in Modern Music”...


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,Roderick A Warner
Date: 19 Feb 24 - 12:36 PM

I’ve been reading Iverson’s work online for some time and he’s an erudite and knowledgeable critic who is also a very good musician. Unlike most, predominantly white, ‘jazz’ critics, historically. On ‘Rhapsody’ I tend to agree: I gave it a listen. haven’t encountered it in some time and it sounds as corny, clunky and ‘Caucasian’ as it ever did. I understand what Gershwin was trying to do but Paul Whiteman wasn’t the man to help achieve it. Duke Ellington hands down on any recording blows this shmaltz away. Gershwin was a great composer in the field of the popular American songbook but for me this was an ambition too far. As for great American composer? Duke. And before ‘Rhapsody’ the inimitable ground shaking brilliance of Charles Ives. Different angle of trajectory but up there with the greats of the 20century explosion of the avant garde in classical music and beyond. Gershwin’s achievements in popular music outweigh his attempts for respectability, for me at least. As recognised within the culture he was trying to emulate in ‘Rhapsody.’ Ella Fitzgerald singing ‘But Not For Me,’ Billy Holiday’s searing version of ‘I Love You, Porgy,’ and the Miles Davis/Gil Evans interpretation of ‘Summertime’ to name a few, celebrate the greatness of Gershwin more successfully. One more time, as Mr Basie would say: for me, at least…


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST
Date: 19 Feb 24 - 02:24 PM

Well you can't win 'em all...


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,Steve Shaw
Date: 19 Feb 24 - 05:17 PM

That was me.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: gillymor
Date: 19 Feb 24 - 05:34 PM

For me it's just a fun piece of music that evokes images of the Roaring '20's and the prohibition era.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,Steve Shaw
Date: 19 Feb 24 - 08:34 PM

Yeah, all that plus I find it to be uplifting and life-affirming, without being overly demanding. And it has that wonderful "love theme" in the middle. Reminiscent in a way (for me, anyway!) of Sibelius's Finlandia, which is boisterous and assertive but which has that beautiful hymn tune in the middle.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 19 Feb 24 - 09:05 PM

Steve: Well you can't win 'em all....

Every #1 chart topping hit was also a loser. The batting average for a U.S. platinum single is less than 1% market share. Your country math may vary. Mass media companies couldn't tell an 'up' from a 'down' vote if they tried. Buy it to burn it in protest or play it to death on repeat. There is no difference. Do not buy because you will hate it forever or will love it next payday. Still no difference.

Roderick: I understand what Gershwin was trying to do but Paul Whiteman wasn’t the man to help achieve it

Nice work if you can get it? Going by those same chart numbers, schmaltz is fair play and jazz ain't vegan. Most music critics couldn't name Paul Whiteman's instrument. The man hardly played a note. Yet Whiteman is, still today, one of the most successful “jazzmen” on planet Earth… by the numbers. Gershwin was on Paul Whiteman's job, not the other way around.

Take Five: Another non-African West Coast joint found on more than a few all-time 'Top Five' jazz lists.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 19 Feb 24 - 09:07 PM

Rhapsody In Blue - King of Jazz (1930)
Full length was doable on film tech but trimmed to just under six minutes on the sound stage dub for all the other reasons.
Caveat whatevers: That gen-U-wine 'African' dance intro and Al "rubberlegs" Norman were about as 'African' as The Radio City Rockettes.

Rhapsody in Blue Debut (1945)
And holding at just over seven minutes.

It still works as a 15-second commercial jingle.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: BrooklynJay
Date: 19 Feb 24 - 10:45 PM

I've loved this ever since childhood.

My father had a multi-disc album of 78rpm records (before LPs, it had to be broken down into several records) of the full composition performed by Oscar Levant. I had that album until 2013.

Thankfully, it's on YouTube.

Jay


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,Steve Shaw
Date: 20 Feb 24 - 08:19 PM

I don't get your drift, Phil.

My biggest loves in all music are Beethoven, Mozart and the 19th century Romantic composers (with the glaring exception of Wagner). I've read a good deal about their lives and times as well as revelling in their music and I can see how that music is bound together by what Sir George Grove called "the golden chain." I love Gershwin, Ravel and Bernstein but my scholarship doesn't run as deep with them. I understand what the "jazz influence" is that underlies much of their music but I don't delve much below the surface of what that means. I enjoy their music on its own terms without worrying too much about the "politics" of it all. My loss, mebbe, but valid nonetheless...


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 21 Feb 24 - 03:34 AM

Steve: If your Well you can't win 'em all... was not about how Roderick does Roderick on Rhapsody in Blue, then I am the one that missed your drift. Otherwise just... all so-called popular music is in fact hugely unpopular by the maths.

Whiteman is the jazz tie-in, not Gershwin. Millions of listeners have been giving all pop music critics a miss for two centuries now. You are not alone.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,Steve Shaw
Date: 21 Feb 24 - 05:48 AM

When I said you can't win 'em all, I was responding to this:

"'Rhapsody’ I tend to agree: I gave it a listen. haven’t encountered it in some time and it sounds as corny, clunky and ‘Caucasian’ as it ever did. I understand what Gershwin was trying to do but Paul Whiteman wasn’t the man to help achieve it. Duke Ellington hands down on any recording blows this shmaltz away."

And I can't think how Gershwin could have unclunkified "Rhapsody" in any way without, well, making it boring... which it isn't!

I'm no fan of Strauss and his waltzes, but I love the Blue Danube (especially when conducted by Carlos Kleiber in his Vienna New Year's Day concerts!), but a close listen reveals that it's a bit of a "clunky" mix of different short sections that are somewhat unconnected. Does it work? For me it does!


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 21 Feb 24 - 01:43 PM

When I said you can't win 'em all, I was responding to this:...
That is how I read it too.

Lose a Steve & gain a Roderick, or whomever. Listeners like schmaltz & clunky & dogs barking Christmas carols too. No clunky, no sale. But, first and foremost, it has to be heard. "Popular" in media is getting up to bat more often, not a better average. Whiteman was a world class showman-promoter and Gershwin was not too shabby at it neither.

Been 100 years. Listeners are still into it. That's a "good" song.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,Steve Shaw
Date: 21 Feb 24 - 05:47 PM

Schmaltz and clunky could well be in the ear of the beholder. I detect that our views are colliding in a good way ...


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 21 Feb 24 - 09:37 PM

Clunky: Not my first word choice. It's rhapsodic. It's a feature, not a flaw.

Schmaltz: Can't make decent lounge music or conch fritters without it. I'm good.
Monty Alexander Trio – Blue Rhapsody


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: gillymor
Date: 22 Feb 24 - 09:22 AM

Nice, Monty plays with such joy and abandon, he played Washington, D.C. often in the 70's and always put on a helluva show. I like his take on RiB but, to me, the drums are too far forward at times.


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: GUEST,Steve Shaw
Date: 26 Feb 24 - 10:16 AM

BBC Radio 3 played a great version yesterday morning. André Previn directed the full forces of the LSO from the keyboard. The piano was little bit in-yer-face, but, well, Previn... When I look up reviews of recordings, the Bernstein one gets a lot of complimentary mentions. I have some tedious housework to do so I'm going to whack that on in a minute or two...


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 26 Feb 24 - 12:13 PM

Andrew Preview? :-D


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Subject: RE: Rhapsody In Blue at 100
From: meself
Date: 26 Feb 24 - 01:20 PM

I kind of grew up with the Bernstein recording, and me big brudder mastering the piano solos for a couple of years of performances with the high school orchestra (yes, as a matter of fact, there were some really good players in that bunch). It was quite a surprise and revelation years later when I heard a recording from a jazz ensemble made in the ... later 'twenties, maybe? - that really sounded like 'twenties jazz - wah-wah trumpets, high-hat cymbal, etc. To state the obvious, perhaps, the Bernstein recording places the piece within the grand orchestral tradition, while that other recording, whoever it was by, places it firmly within the jazz/popular-music scene of the 'twenties. Both have their appeal, for me.


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