Friday, December 14, 2007

A Gershwin Friday: The Gershwin Playlist

George Gershwin, working on the score for Porgy and Bess, 1935.

I've totally been Gershwin-ing out the last two weeks. If nothing else, my obsession produced a Finetune playlist of over 500 performances of Gershwin compositions.

If you like Gershwin, give it a listen and let me know what you think.

It includes some of my all-time favorite Gershwin performances:
  • Billie Holiday and Lester Young on "The Man I Love," which many consider their best work together.
  • Chet Baker singing and playing "But Not For Me."
  • Janis Joplin doing "Summertime."
  • Thelonious Monk's solo turn at "Nice Work if You Can Get It."
  • John Coltrane's two Gershwin cuts - "But Not For Me" and "Summertime" - from the same album that produced his famous version of "My Favorite Things."
  • Willie Nelson's acoustic version of "Someone To Watch Over Me," from his wonderful album Stardust, which basically introduced me to Gershwin.

The playlist contains a virtual who's who of jazz musicians, from the early days until now: Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Joe Henderson, and on and on. It also includes a number of great singers: Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Caetano Veloso, Tony Bennett, Dinah Washington, Ray Charles, Rosemary Clooney, Sarah Vaughan, Judy Garland, Aretha Franklin, etc.

And, of course, it includes a lot of Fred Astaire, as many of the songs were originally written with Fred in mind, and sometimes with Fred on hand, either for Broadway musicals like Lady, Be Good! and Funny Face, or Hollywood films like Shall We Dance and A Damsel in Distress. The critic and musicologist Wilfrid Sheed wrote in his new book, The House that George Built, that, after all this time, Fred Astaire is still probably Gershwin's greatest interpreter.

You'll find all of the well-known songs - "Summertime," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "Our Love Is Here To Stay," etc. - along with more obscure Gershwin songs, some of which I had never heard of until I started doing research for the playlist. One interesting tune I discovered is called "Mischa-Yascha-Toscha-Sascha," which, according to Wikipedia, is "Gershwin's only finished work based on a Jewish theme, and the title is a reference to the first names of four Jewish-Russian violinists, Mischa Elman, Jascha Heifetz, Toscha Seidel and Sascha Jacobsen."

There are also many of Gershwin's classical works, including Leonard Bernstein's well-known versions of "Rahpsody in Blue" and "An American in Paris." And I've got Oscar Levant, Gershwin's friend (though that's probably not the best work for Oscar) and his most famous interpreter for the classical compositions.

And there are even a few piano rolls of Gershwin playing his own tunes.

Oh, a word of thanks to Paul Wiener, whose own Finetune playlists actually inspired me to go Gershwin-crazy: Dylanesque, with 147 Dylan songs, and Summertime, with 115 versions of Gershwin's most recorded tune. [Q: How many jazz muscians does it take to play "Summertime"?
A: All of them, apparently.]

Hope you enjoy the Gershwin Fest!

Meanwhile, since we're about to get hit by a major winter storm, I decided I needed some "Summertime." Ella and Louis doing one of my favorite versions of the song from Porgy and Bess.


Jeff said...

Interesting idea for a playlist. I've been checking out a bunch of your playlists lately. You've been a busy man (I put a blues one up yesterday). Nice collections.

Tough loss for you guys today. I had a feeling it would be close with the lousy weather. For the record, I thought that was a catch by McCareins. These refs should do a better job of giving these guys the benefit of a doubt... but man, you've got to make field goals like the one you missed.

I thought it was a pretty crappy game overall. The one redeeming feature was that great drive by Pennington in the 4th quarter. I don't really understand why you guys have sat him down. He always gives us a very, very hard time. What the heck was all the option stuff with Brad Smith supposed to be about?

cowboyangel said...

Thanks, Jeff. I saw your blues playlist and look forward to giving it a listen.

crystal said...

I'm a dope - I still don't really understand about playlists. Do you need to download special software? My computer is picky about what it will let me listen to, but my sister loaned me one that's newer so if I ever get around to using it, I may be able to listen yo your playlists finally.

cowboyangel said...


In theory, all you need to do is click on the big green PLAY button (the arrow) in the middle of the playlist. Maybe click on it twice. It's web-based, so you don't need any software at all. That's the great thing. Let me know what happens when you click on the button.

You may need to adjust the volume on the playlist - the little speaker in the bottom right-hand corner. And make sure the volume on your computer is loud enough.

Liam said...

I have to check out the whole playlist thing -- I remember I checked it out the first time you had one up, but that's a while back.

How are you doing?

cowboyangel said...


I think the Gershwin playlist is the best I've done. Some colleagues who are Gershwin fans have liked it enough to send around to other Gershwin fans - which is a real honor.

It was very instructive putting it together.

I'm fine - just really busy.

BTW, I'm struggling with the Facebook thing. "We need you to confirm that you are, in fact, friends with Liam." I tried explaining about the goat, drunken arugments over politics and/or Pirates of the Caribbean, how you almost killed me in the mountains of Galicia because I kept insisting that we were already dead, but I couldn't figure out how to communicate these important matters to Facebook.

Jeff said...

Just want to wish a Merry Christmas to you and La Reina, William, if I don't see you in the next day or two.

cowboyangel said...

Thanks, Jeff!