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Friday, September 26, 2014

September 26 - Birthday of George Gershwin, NYC Composer

George Gershwin (1898-1937)
This day in 1898 was born, in Brooklyn, American composer and pianist George Gershwin. Among his best-known works are two orchestral compositions - "Rhapsody in Blue" (1924) and "An American in Paris" (1928) - and the opera "Porgy and Bess" (1935).

Gershwin's father came from a Russian-Lithuanian Jewish family, and his wife Rose was from the same town in Russia. Their first child, Ira, was born December 6, 1896. George (born Jacob) was the second. He became first interested in music when at the age of ten he heard his friend Maxie Rosenzweig play the violin.

George's parents had bought a piano for lessons for his older brother, but to Ira's relief, it was George who learned to play it. Charles Hambitzer was his piano teacher, a conventional musician who until his death in 1918 was George's  mentor.

For four years, George and Ira Gershwin lived at the top of
 33 Riverside Drive in Manhattan. Although their work was
not always immediately appreciated, it is now revered. This
and the next two photos by JT Marlin. 
On leaving school at 15, Gershwin found his first job as a "song plugger" for Jerome H. Remick & Co.  based in New York City's "Tin Pan Alley", earning $15 a week for handing out song sheets. His first published song was "When You Want 'Em, You Can't Get 'Em, When You've Got 'Em, You Don't Want 'Em" (1916). His 1917 novelty rag, "Rialto Ripples" (1919), was a commercial success.

His first big national hit was his song, "Swanee" (1919), with words by Irving Caesar. Al Jolson, the famous black-face Broadway singer, heard Gershwin sing "Swanee" at a party and featured it in his repertoire.  In 1916, Gershwin started recording for Aeolian Company and Standard Music Rolls in New York, producing dozens of rolls.

George and Ira Gershwin taking a break from
table tennis at 33 Riverside Drive.
In the late 1910s, Gershwin met songwriter William Daly, with whom he wrote Broadway musicals -"Piccadilly to Broadway" (1920) and "For Goodness' Sake" (1922), and jointly composed the score for "Our Nell" (1923). In the early 1920s, Gershwin frequently worked with the lyricist Buddy DeSylva, with whom he created the experimental one-act jazz opera "Blue Monday", set in Harlem, a forerunner to "Porgy and Bess".

In 1924, George and Ira Gershwin collaborated on a stage musical comedy "Lady Be Good", which included "Fascinating Rhythm" and "Oh, Lady Be Good!". They followed this with "Oh, Kay!" (1926); "Funny Face" (1927); and "Strike Up the Band" (1927).

 The Gershwin brothers created "Show Girl" (1929); "Girl Crazy" (1930, with Ginger Rogers), which introduced "Embraceable You", "I Got Rhythm", and "Of Thee I Sing" (1931). Gershwin's first major classical work, "Rhapsody in Blue" (1924), for orchestra and piano, was orchestrated by Ferde GrofĂ©. It was his most popular work.

In the mid-1920s, Gershwin stayed in Paris briefly, writing "An American in Paris" (1928), which received mixed reviews but was quickly adopted by musicians.  Gershwin was commissioned by Fox Film to compose the score for the movie "Delicious" (1929); the final film used the five-minute "Dream Sequence" and the six-minute "Manhattan Rhapsody".

George and Ira Gershwin, outside their
apartments at 33 Riverside Drive
Gershwin's most ambitious composition was "Porgy and Bess" (1935), based in all-black Catfish Row in Charleston, S.C. The music combines popular music with black music. Some songs like "Summertime", "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'" and "It Ain't Necessarily So" have been praised for musical ingenuity. "Porgy and Bess" is now considered one of the most important American operas of the 20th century, but when it did not win immediate success, Gershwin went back to Hollywood, to RKO Pictures, for whom he wrote the jazz music for ballet-type scenes in the film "Shall We Dance" (1937), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Early in 1937, Gershwin began to have blinding headaches and the smell of burning rubber, which the Los Angeles hospital he checked into could not explain. Later he fell into a coma and it became clear he had a brain tumor. Dr. Harvey Cushing in Boston recommended Dr. Walter Dandy who was fishing in Chesapeake Bay. Gershwin's condition was judged to be critical, so the L.A. doctors tried and failed to cut out the tumor.  Gershwin died on July 11, 1937, at 38. He received his sole  Academy Award, for Best Original Song, posthumously at the 1937 Oscars for "They Can't Take That Away from Me", written with his brother Ira for "Shall We Dance".