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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

George Gershwin

Gershwin, George [né Jacob Gershvin] (1898–1937), composer. One of the greatest and most original of Broadway songwriters, he was born in Brooklyn to a poor immigrant family. Young George's love of music came early on and was helped by his friendship with his classmate, violinist Max Rosen. When the Gershwins purchased a piano for his older brother, Ira Gershwin, it was George, then twelve, who monopolized it. At fourteen he began lessons with a key figure in his musical life, Charles Hambitzer, a composer and pianist of broad, advanced musical tastes. From Hambitzer, Gershwin received a thorough classical training, but he was also aware of the native musical upheaval around him (particularly the work of Jerome Kern). Gershwin achieved recognition after Al Jolson sang “Swanee” in Sinbad in 1919. That same year he composed his first score, for La La Lucille. From 1920 to 1924 he created scores for George White's Scandals, including such hit songs as “I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise” (1922) and “Somebody Loves Me” (1924). From late 1924 on he worked almost exclusively with Ira. Their first hit was Lady, Be Good! (1924), a show that marked a turning point in American musical comedy; its jazz‐based melodies, harmonies, and rhythms set a new standard and allowed musical comedy to be clearly distinguished from operetta, which retained allegiances to European mannerisms. Gershwin's melodic lines tended to be angular and aggressive, as exemplified by the show's “Fascinating Rhythm” and title song but could on occasion be soft, sentimental, almost wailing, as in “So Am I,” suggesting that his Jewish background as well as black sources influenced his composition. A succession of hits and near misses followed: Tell Me More! (1925), Tip‐Toes (1925), Song of the Flame (1925), Oh, Kay! (1926), Funny Face (1927), Rosalie (1928), Treasure Girl (1928), Show Girl (1929), Strike Up the Band (1930), Girl Crazy (1930), Of Thee I Sing (1931), Pardon My English (1933), and Let 'Em Eat Cake (1933). From early in his career Gershwin had been interested in more serious composition, writing numerous concert pieces that remain popular today. Even his political musicals can be seen as a step away from traditional material. In 1935 he attempted a folk opera, Porgy and Bess. The initial reception was mixed and public response lukewarm, but the musical's popularity has grown with time and may well prove his most durable work. Decades after his death Gershwin had two Broadway hits (based on earlier shows): My One and Only (1983) and Crazy for You (1992), and his music was featured in George Gershwin Alone (2001). Biography: Gershwin: A Biography, Edward Jablonsky, 1987.

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