Friday, October 05, 2007

A Gershwin Friday: Rhapsody in Blue

I'm currently reading The House That George Built: With a Little Help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty Others, by Wilfird Sheed. The section on Gershwin was most enjoyable and inspired me to pick up a CD called Gershwin Plays Gershwin: The Piano Rolls. These are recordings of 12 of the 130 piano rolls he cut from 1916-1927, including "Rhapsody in Blue," "An American in Paris," and his very first tune, "When You Want 'em, You Can't Get 'em, When You've Got 'em, You Don't Want 'em."

I've been a Gershwin fan since 1979, when I sat in a dark theatre absolutely spellbound during the opening sequence of Woody Allen's Manhattan, in which "Rhapsody in Blue" plays over Gordon Willis' gorgeous black and white shots of New York City. I went out the next day and bought an LP of "Rhapsody" and "An American in Paris," the first classical album I ever owned. But I had never heard this particular and extraordinary recording of Gershwin's piano roll of "Rhapsody in Blue" until last night. The producers of Gershwin Plays Gershwin have done an amazing job with the sound quality, making you feel like George is playing piano right in your living room - which he would've done if you had known him and he happened to stop by your place. He was notorious for giving impromptu concerts on any piano around. While this recording may lack some of the color and power of the orchestrated versions, you can really hear Gershwin's jazz influence coming through, and it resonates with that essential, hard-to-describe, totally unique George Gershwin sound, with its touches of Jewish music from Russia, African-American music, the exciting and raucous immigrant streets of New York City, art deco and modernist whispers, Ravel and French Impressionism, the thrill and exhilaration of the mechanical and engineering marvels of the early 20th century, all swirling around into something vibrant and wonderfully, beautifully "American."

Here's the first part of Gershwin playing "Rhapsody in Blue," with some great shots of New York.

And here's the second part of "Rhapsody."

YouTube also has a 34-second film clip of George himself, playing "I Got Rhythm."

As well as the opening sequence of Manhattan. [Sorry about the Asian subtitles, I couldn't find a better version. But, hey, that's pretty New York anyway.]

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Rhapsody still gives me goosebumps when I hear it.

On Manhattan, great opening sequence to a very fine movie. Great images, but it also (intentionally on his part I presmume) takes me back a bit to the NYC of the 70s and early 80s, which was spinning a bit out of control. Yikes.