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George Gershwin

George Gershwin was born Jacob Gershowitz in Brooklyn in 1898, the second of four children from a close-knit immigrant family. He began his musical career as a song-plugger on Tin Pan Alley, but was soon writing his own pieces. Gershwin's first published song, "When You Want ‘Em, You Can't Get ‘Em," demonstrated innovative new techniques, but only earned him five dollars. Soon after, however, he met a young lyricist named Irving Ceaser. Together they composed a number of songs including "Swanee," which sold more than a million copies.

In the same year as "Swanee," Gershwin collaborated with Arthur L. Jackson and Buddy De Sylva on his first complete Broadway musical, La, La Lucille. Over the course of the next four years, Gershwin wrote forty-five songs; among them were "Somebody Loves Me" and "Stairway to Paradise," as well as a twenty-five-minute opera, "Blue Monday." Composed in five days, the piece contained many musical clichés, but it also offered hints of developments to come.

In 1924, George collaborated with his brother, lyricist Ira Gershwin, on a musical comedy Lady Be Good. It included such standards as "Fascinating Rhythm" and "The Man I Love." It was the beginning of a partnership that would continue for the rest of the composer's life. Together they wrote many more successful musicals including Oh Kay! and Funny Face, staring Fred Astaire and his sister Adele. While continuing to compose popular music for the stage, Gershwin began to lead a double life, trying to make his mark as a serious composer.

When he was 25 years old, his jazz-influenced "Rhapsody in Blue" premiered in New York's Aeolian Hall at the concert, An Experiment in Music. The audience included Jascha Heifitz, Fritz Kreisler, Leopold Stokowski, Serge Rachmaninov, and Igor Stravinsky. Gershwin followed this success with his orchestral work "Piano Concerto in F, Rhapsody No. 2" and "An American in Paris". Serious music critics were often at a loss as to where to place Gershwin's classical music in the standard repertoire. Some dismissed his work as banal and tiresome, but it always found favor with the general public.

In the early thirties, Gershwin experimented with some new ideas in Broadway musicals. Strike Up The Band, Let ‘Em Eat Cake, and Of Thee I Sing, were innovative works dealing with social issues of the time. Of Thee I Sing was a major hit and the first comedy ever to win the Pulitzer Prize. In 1935 he presented a folk opera Porgy and Bess in Boston with only moderate success. Now recognized as one of the seminal works of American opera, it included such memorable songs as "It Ain't Necessarily So," "I Loves You, Porgy," and "Summertime."

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Bill Gati
saxophone
Nina Richmond
voice / vocals
Brian Eaton
multi-instrumentalist
Eddie Scher
ukulele

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