America’s true musical tradition is the Great American Songbook; the great body of music written by brilliant tunesmiths from the Great War through the advent of rock-n-roll (or, if you will, bookended between two global catastrophes).
In an era when artists sought legitimacy, rather than rejecting the very notion, it was not uncommon for Jazz Age songwriters to write ‘serious’ compositions that bridge the worlds of pop and classical music. Perhaps the most ambitious of the Jazz Age songwriters was George Gershwin (1898-1937). His great, serious opus of the Jazz Age, Rhapsody in Blue, premiered at the Aeolian Hall on February 12, 1924. Gershwin was on hand to play the piano, and the concert was conducted by pop music legend Paul Whiteman (1890-1967), who commissioned the piece.
How did Gershwin come to compose his signature piece? He related to his first biographer: It was on the train, with its steely rhythms, its rattle-ty bang, that is so often so stimulating to a composer – I frequently hear music in the very heart of the noise.... And there I suddenly heard, and even saw on paper – the complete construction of the Rhapsody, from beginning to end. No new themes came to me, but I worked on the thematic material already in my mind and tried to conceive the composition as a whole. I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness. By the time I reached Boston I had a definite plot of the piece, as distinguished from its actual substance.
The 90th Anniversary of this seminal event is a scant two weeks away. And to mark this milestone, Bandleader Extraordinaire Vince Giordano will recreate the concert on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 8:00 PM at the Town Hall, Manhattan, on the same day and same block as the original concert 90 years ago. Giordano has gathered solo pianists Ted Rosenthal and Jeb Patton to play along with his 22-piece Nighthawks Orchestra. The evening will be conducted by Maurice Peress, and Gershwin’s Rhapsody will be accompanied by music by Irving Berlin (1888-1989), Victor Herbert (1859-1924), Jerome Kern (1885-1945) and Zez Confrey (1895-1971).
This is it, this is where American music really found its distinctive voice, Giordano told your correspondent recently. It’s rare that anyone can put their finger on exactly the moment that a new era starts, but this is pretty close. There was a sense that America was a new country, and needed a new music to give it voice. Gershwin rose to that challenge and made musical history. By doing the concert on the same day, on the same block, just feet away from the original 90 years ago, we are trying to recapture lightning in a bottle.
Giordano has earned great acclaim for his musicianship and for his curatorship of America’s musical heritage. He has appeared in many major motion pictures (The Aviator and Cotton Club, for example), and was the musical voice for the award-winning television show Boardwalk Empire. He has long been a favorite with New York sophisticates looking for great music and a smart evening out – he currently plays at the Iguana NYC every Monday and Tuesday evenings in the Times Square area.
Initial response to this planned recreation has been dynamic, and Jade Sphinx readers are encouraged to order tickets as soon as possible. We will be there, as this promises to be the Must-See musical event of the season. Tickets are $25, $30, $35 and $40, and are available at the Town Hall box office, or by calling Ticket Master at 800.982.2787.