Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue

by Max Derrickson

George Gershwin [Jacob Gershvin]   (b Brooklyn, NY, September 26, 1898; Hollywood, CA, July 11, 1937)

Rhapsody in Blue (1924)


It’s a wonderful story, about as American as one could want, about a poor kid from Brooklyn making it big through tenacity and talent.  [. . .]
In the Roaring 20’s Jazz was earning its respect on the street and on Broadway as a sophisticated popular music, but by and large, it couldn’t find its place among the conservatory crowds.  The Paul Whiteman Orchestra had some mild successes with bringing Jazz into the concert hall, but with its sanitized sound (albeit remarkable) Whiteman was only setting the stage for a Jazz breakthrough (which the Rhapsody would provide).  Gershwin, for his part, had played piano and written some music for Whiteman, but there had been no serious collaboration.  Then, surprisingly, one January day in 1924, as George and his brother Ira were relaxing between Broadway shows over a game of pool, Ira caught a glimpse of an article in the New York Tribune about an upcoming Whiteman concert, “An Experiment in Modern Music.”  Whiteman was to feature his arrangements of all sorts of music focusing on their “jazz” elements.  What’s more, a panel of famous musicians, including Walter Damrosch (who conducted the premiere of Dvorak’s New World Symphony with the New York Philharmonic), Leopold Stokowski, Jascha Heifitz, Fritz Kreisler, and Sergei Rachmaninoff, were to be on hand to define exactly what “American music” was.  The brothers had a chuckle over that, but what really dropped the eight ball, and put them behind it, was when Ira read that a new jazz piano concerto would be composed and premiered by George Gershwin.  When the validity of the news was confirmed, time was precious.


[. . .]  It made Gershwin rich, world famous, and soon to be the most widely performed American composer in the 20th Century, and certainly for us, as we hum along with its unforgettable melodies, Rhapsody makes for a wonderful American story.