Friday, January 6, 2012


A Book from Alice's Library

                             THE STORY OF GEORGE GERSHWIN by David Ewen,
                                             Illustrated by Graham Bernbach;
                           New York, Henry Holt and Company, Inc., ©1943, 211 pages.

This book from Alice's library, THE STORY OF GEORGE GERSHWIN, is a vintage hardcover edition with classic 1940s dust jacket, endpapers and illustrations by Graham Bernbach.  It was written by David Ewen, a prolific author of books about musicians and music history. THE STORY OF GEORGE GERSHWIN was published in 1943, as part of The Holt Musical Biography Series for Young People.

    Endpapers of this printing of THE STORY OF GEORGE GERSHWIN, designed by Graham
    Bernbach, © 1943, Henry Holt and Company, Inc., New York.                                                                                                            
THE STORY OF GEORGE GERSHWIN by David Ewen is currently available through Google Books, and on Amazon.

George Gershwin (1898-1937), was recognized as a great talent from the early years of his career.  Endless melodies seemed to flow from his pen.  He was a master of popular song.  Gershwin also had the knack of incorporating the harmonies and rhythms of a new kind of music born in African-American communities in the South that had migrated north to New York City's Harlem.  It was unique to America, and was an irresistible force-- JAZZ.

         "Jazz, in short, was sophisticated, stylized, even cultured ragtime. 
          If the sentimental ballad was primarily for singing, and ragtime 
          for dancing, jazz (in its highest form) was for hearing.  It would 
         bring subtlety and originality to the American popular song."
                                       -David Ewen, THE STORY OF GEORGE GERSHWIN, p. 44

Jazz music had taken the world by storm by the 1920s.  Classical composers on both sides of the Atlantic rushed to include jazz idioms in their compositions.  European composers such as Ravel, Stravinsky, and Milhaud incorporated the language of jazz in their own compositions, as well as American composers Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein.  We have linked an excellent article from the Boosey & Hawkes music publishers website entitled:  "Jazz on Classical:  Classical on Jazz", (December, 2006).


See also this article from the National Public Radio's Performance Today® website about the influences of jazz on classical music: "The Influence of Jazz", with Professor David Baker, ©1999, Milestones of the Millennium series.


American band leader Paul Whiteman, championed the development of jazz for the mainstream, and felt it was important to recognize jazz as an art form requiring serious consideration and careful preparation.  He was interested in creating a new hybrid-- "symphonic jazz".

In 1923, George Gershwin was asked by Whiteman to compose a large-scale work of this new genre for his own orchestra, The Paul Whiteman Orchestra.  Feeling inadequate and unprepared for such an undertaking, Gershwin told Whiteman he could not fulfill his request.  "No, Paul, I'd better stick to my songs."   -THE STORY OF GEORGE GERSHWIN by David Ewen, p. 87.

Some weeks later, Gershwin just happened to see a publicity notice in the New York Tribune announcing that George Gershwin was hard at work on a new composition for the upcoming Paul Whiteman Orchestra concert at Aeolian Hall!  He knew Whiteman meant business and wouldn't take no for an answer.  Above all, he must have realized that Paul Whiteman really believed in him.  Gershwin knew he couldn't not do it!

     Illustration by Graham Bernbach,  
                                                  by David Ewen, p. 148                                        

With the concert date looming, Gershwin had to come up with something in a few weeks' time, but a large-scale work was out of the question.  Without a structure or plan, he decided that a shorter, one-movement piece would fill the bill, a rhapsodic piece for solo piano and orchestra entitled American Rhapsody, which he later re-named Rhapsody in Blue.  Gershwin himself played the solo piano part for the world-première with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra.

Inspiration came quickly, and from unusual sources:  the rhythmic, steely clatter of train wheels when traveling up to Boston inspired a vision of the overall structure of the piece, and the middle theme emerged fully-formed in the midst of playing piano at a noisy party.

                       "As I was playing, without a thought of the Rhapsody,
                       all at once I hear myself playing a theme that must have
                       been haunting me inside, seeking outlet.  No sooner had 
                       it oozed out of my fingers than I realized I had found it."

                       "I frequently hear music in the very heart of noise."

                                        -George Gershwin quotes in David Ewen,
                                         THE STORY OF GEORGE GERSHWIN, pp. 92-3

Paul Whiteman made Gershwin swear he would complete the score, which was passed sheet by sheet to the waiting copyists and the arranger, Ferde Grofé, with just days to spare.  During the first rehearsal, Whiteman simply put down his baton and listened to the work of this 26-year-old genius.  They had a hit on their hands...


Aeolian Hall was the hub of the New York musical universe on the evening of February 12, 1924.  Prominent musicians from Rachmaninoff to John Philip Sousa were in the audience to hear what they would later learn was music history in the making.  The response was electric, and the critics loved it.  An American classic was born.  Paul Whiteman wept as he conducted.

In the words of George Gershwin himself:

                   "I hear it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America-- 
                    of our vast melting pot, of our incomparable national pep, 
                    our blues, our metropolitan madness."

                                 -David Ewen, THE STORY OF GEORGE GERSHWIN, p. 92

      SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (GERSHWIN) ~ Alice in Bronson Park, 1961.

Alice performed George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with the Kalamazoo Symphony on two occasions:  at a concert in Bronson Park in September of 1961, with Gregory Millar as the KSO's new Music Director, and the following year (September, 1962) in a new venue-- the top deck of Gilmore Brothers Department Store Auto Park in downtown Kalamazoo-- the first Starlight Pops Concert of the Kalamazoo Symphony under Millar.

                                                  Alice and KSO Maestro Gregory Millar
                              Please read about the first Starlight Concert on the main blog:
ALICE'S ARCHIVES:  50 Years of Kalamazoo Symphony Memorabilia,
Title Tab:  1962/ MILLAR/ Starlight Concerts:  Bright Idea!


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