Some days after "superstorm" Sandy slammed into New Jersey and New York City, bringing massive flooding and large-scale power outages to both, we take time to remember a happier time when America was great with promise, not with chaos and destruction.
As much as any American composer living or dead, George Gershwin represented the great hope America used to inspire. Gershwin died prematurely at the age of 38, which prompted the novelist John O'Hara to write—
They tell me George Gershwin is dead, but I don't have to believe it if I don't want to.
I've never wanted to believe it, either. In the first video, jazz great Paul Whiteman reminisces about Gershwin and preparations for the debut of Rhapsody In Blue, which for my money is one of the greatest pieces of music ever put down on paper. You might be amazed to hear what Whiteman tells us about the critical reception to Gershwin's signature piece of Americana—
I guess critics are very important, and I'm certainly not bitter about critics, either. But of the 25 great critics that were at the [debut] concert [of Rhapsody in Blue], all save Deems Taylor, who liked it, and Olin Downs, who was really a square, you know, he wrote nothing but symphonic reviews, everyone of the others, I should say 22 [of them] said it was nothing, drivel, noisy, oh, interesting or nothing.
The Rhapsody In Blue has forever been associated with New York City, the vibrancy and greatness of one reflecting the vibrancy and greatness of the other.
Here's the playlist.
- Paul Whiteman reminiscing about George Gershwin and the debut of the Rhapsody In Blue
- The opening of Woody Allen's Manhattan, which uses the Rhapsody to portray New York City
- The full Rhapsody In Blue, conducted by Leonard Bernstein and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra