IT AIN'T NECESSARILY SO
and other Gershwin arrangements for trumpet and piano byPeter Breiner and Juraj Bartos
Hollywood, early 1937. Having returned home from an eveningout with friends, George Gershwin sat down to work with his housemate andprincipal creative collaborator -- his brother Ira. George wrote the music, Irathe lyrics, inspiring his brother with a line or two, or even a title. Thatnight, as on so many other occasions, Ira suggested a few words which led toanother hit for the already hugely successful partnership. It was an idea for asong for Fred Astaire, Ira saying, \... how about "a foggy day in London"... ?"George liked it, and "[they] finished the refrain, words and music, in lessthan an hour". The next day they started on the verses, which took a while, asIra remembered later, since they always put a lot into the verses, making themjust as good as the refrain, even if audiences did not pay them as muchattention.
George Gershwin wrote large-scale works such as thesymphonic Rhapsody in Blue and the opera Porgy and Bess, but was first andforemost one of the greatest tunesmiths of all time, from Swanee (1919), thesong that confirmed the young Tin Pan Alley song-plugger's status as acomposer, to Love is here to stay, unfinished at his death in 1937. His tunes turned into songs which werethen gathered together to create stage and screen musicals, although the songsoften bore little relation to their story-lines. Indeed in some cases thestory-line's sole function seemed to be simply to introduce one song oranother. One song might also sometimes appear in more than one musical, forexample The man I love, one of the Gershwins' most famous creations, originallywritten for Lady, be good (1924). Try-outs in Philadelphia did not go well andGeorge reworked the score, leaving out The man I love. A few years later heincluded it in Strike up the band, without much more success, and then inRosalie (1928), dropping it again before the musical was even given its firstperformance. It finally became a hit in a London night-club, returning to theUnited States in triumph.
When songs were not met by uncomprehending audiences, theywere sometimes met by uncomprehending publishers. The publisher of By Strauss,for instance, wrote to Gershwin to complain about the length of the verse andasking him to make some cuts. The composer refused, suggesting instead thatthey make particular mention of the length so that potential purchasers wouldknow that they were getting more for their money, and adding that if the songdid not sell, at least his grandchildren would be proud of a grandfather whohad taken so much trouble over his verses.
A few weeks after writing A Foggy Day, the Gershwins wereworking on the chorus of Love is here to stay for The Goldwyn Follies of 1938,when George's headaches became too severe to allow him to continue. He wasoperated on for a brain tumour but did not survive the surgery. Just a fewmonths later Ravel died in Paris in similar circumstances, a coincidencelinking two composers who had more in common than might be thought (Ravel hadrefused to teach Gershwin composition on the grounds that the world of musicneeded a Gershwin more than it did a second Ravel), specifically a capacity forconcealing beneath a certain dandyism a very profound emotion, the kind ofemotion that pervades more than one song in the programme recorded here, andwhich was particularly well conveyed in performance by Fred Astaire. ("Astaire"was by chance the last word spoken by Gershwin.)
Shortly after his death on 11th July 1937, a tribute concertto Gershwin was held featuring the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Otto Klemperer,Oscar Levant, Al Jolson and Lily Pons, as well as Astaire, who sang They can'ttake that away from me. And no one can take away from George Gershwin the placehe occupies in the heart of all musicians.
English Version: Susannah Howe