I missed the anniversary of George Gershwin’s birth earlier this week. Is it too late to strike up the band? Below the Tommy Dorsey Band performs “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” beginning with a quote from “Rhapsody in Blue.”
Gershwin composed his first hit — “Swanee” — at age 21 and proceeded to a career founded on Broadway. Mostly with his brother Ira as the (perfect) lyricist, he wrote the show tunes that have elicited such great performances from a variety of artists — Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughn, Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Ella and Louis together — that they have transcended their genre. With their incorporation of elements of vernacular American music from ragtime to blues and jazz, in them you can hear America singing.
So many of his songs — songs such as “A Foggy Day,” “Love Is Here To Stay,” “How Long Has This Been Going On” — seem simply indestructible. Their beauty shines through the incredible variety of performances they have elicited. I think, for example, of Billy Stewart’s one-off top ten 1966 hit “Summertime,” with that insanely catchy staccato stutter.
Gershwin’s accomplishments within his allotted 38 years are almost unbelievable. Toward the end of his life he poured himself into “Porgy and Bess,” the work he conceived as an “American folk opera.” “Summertime” of course comes from “Porgy.” Below is a magnificent operatic rendition of “Bess, You Is My Woman.”