Rhapsody in Blue

Today is the anniversary of the 1924 premiere in New York City of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra. As a clarinet player, I always loved the opening clarinet slide, and was always so frustrated when I couldn’t replicate it.  I recently learned that Gershwin initially wrote the piece for two pianos, and it was orchestrated for Whiteman by Ferde Grofe, yes, he of the Grand Canon Suite.  Grofe was considered quite a jazz composer and arranger, which I also find surprising.

I love Gershwin’s music, especially his popular songs.  I wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t died so tragically young.

What is your favorite Gershwin music? What contemporaries of Gershwin do you like?

57 thoughts on “Rhapsody in Blue”

  1. I understand,that that opening glissando was not written into the score but was introduced as a joke—a gross exaggeration of the trill intended by Gershwin—by Whiteman’s clarinetist, Ross Gorman, in one of the rehearsals. Gershwin liked it and kept it in.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. We are uncomfortably aware of our own racism these days, but the Gershwin era featured racism of a far harsher, pure sort. Gershwin shocked musicians of his time by embracing Afro-American music. He shocked them again by wedding the primitive energy of black music to the world of classic music. In his short career Gershwin threw open doors to allow something wonderful happen. Ironies abound, including the fact that the guy who made a career of playing a blend of black and white music was a fat white guy named Whiteman.

    The jazz figure I know the most about, Iowa’s inebriated cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, was inspired by Gershwin’s boldness in mixing musical genres. Poor Bix wasn’t as effective at blending the diverse styles as Gershwin had been. Bix was famous as a jazz cornet player, but he yearned to be a classical composer in the mode of Ravel and Gershwin. One of the tragedies of his short life was the split between popular and classical music. Bix, unable to merge the two musical styles, escaped his frustration with copious amounts of bootleg gin. Bix died six years younger than Gershwin.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. One of the most interesting of the many great Porgy and Bess songs is “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” The song is sung by Sportin’ Life, a drug peddler who represents temptation. Temptation in the Bible is introduced by a snake, and “It Ain’t Necessarily So” has a serpentine quality to match. Really, there are many great songs here.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Huh! Who knew? – Created in 1974… “Standing along Route 66 west of Amarillo, Texas, Cadillac Ranch was invented and built by a group of art-hippies imported from San Francisco. They called themselves The Ant Farm, and their silent partner was Amarillo billionaire Stanley Marsh 3. He wanted a piece of public art that would baffle the locals, and the hippies came up with a tribute to the evolution of the Cadillac tail fin”

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Gershwin went to France to study composition with Ravel. Grofe claimed for some time that he was the composer of Rhapsody in Blue, so I suppose Gershwin wanted to learn how to orchestrate so he could avoid this in the future.


  4. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    Another clarinet player here. I learned to do the glissando at the beginning partially, but I never completely was able to do it—very difficult to slowly slide the fingers in a coordinated way and in sync with the mouth armature to get the very smooth slide.

    I just looked up the list of his work—I knew he was prolific, but I had no idea. I suppose my faves are Rhapsody in Blue and the musical Porgy and Bess. But really, how do you choose?

    OT—Steve—James Lee Burke has a new Dave Robicheaux book out: New Iberia Blues. These old guys just keep bangin’ out the stories of their geriatric characters. His daughter, Alifair Burke is a skilled suspense/legal thriller writer in her own right.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. OT
    President Trump wants everyone to watch a program tonight that he has heard is about the 143 Bedminister Immigrants. While he hasn’t actually seen it, he understands that it clears him of any hypocrisy in his hiring practices. The workers come from many countries. One is from Germany where he worked as a shepherd. Another is Siberian and is skilled is grooming ski trails. There is a Mexican who while being Hairless has papers proving legal status. Adults are occasionally caged and there is video of touching but all workers get treats. Bedminister Immigrants are the best and they show it. Watch tonight for part two. Apparently last night was part one.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I always wondered about the similarity of Cole Porter to colporteur, a peddlar of printed material or distributor of religious tracts. Was Cole Porter his real name, were his parents influenced to give him the name Cole or is it all a coincidence?

      Liked by 2 people

  6. There are some good YouTube videos about how to do that opening glissando / smear. 🙂

    Thanks for giving me an earworm for today.
    It replaces the Maynard Ferguson song I’ve had since yesterday.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Which MF song, Ben? I’m a former trumpet player and was a huge fan of Maynard back in the day. His band put on one of the greatest performances I’ve ever witnessed. It was back in the 1970s at the Prom Center in St. Paul. The finale was “Hey Jude.” After more than 3 hours of non-stop screaming trumpets, that section went into the audience, stood on chairs, and did about a five-minute mass improve on the chorus while Maynard stood on stage and wailed with them. Everyone in the audience was standing, singing along, bugging their eyes out in amazement at the high-note stamina of those musicians. It was the encore to end all encores.

      Chris in Owatonna

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I saw Maynard three times here in Rochester. I remember that “Hey Jude” finale.
        And I bought a T-shirt and paid for it by check. It was the trumpeter Stan Mark selling them and when I asked if I could use a check he rolled his eyes and looked at me sideways and said ‘It better no bounce!’ I assured him it wouldn’t, he took it, bit it, and I got my T-shirt.

        The earworm:

        Liked by 3 people

  7. I think George Gershwin is amazing. His American in Paris is so brilliant and filled with a spirit of life in any big city with its bustling traffic, taxi horns, water fountains, bells, whistles, trains and buses, and it’s people wandering through its sights. How could such industry be so delightfully encaptured with charm and nostalgia evoking love for life in the the musical big city? Any movie that depicts sauntering down a sidewalk of a pleasant downtown on a sunny day usually has some reference to the opening iconic measures of its main theme: da-da-dah——da-da-dah——da-da-da-da-|da-da-dah——. So simple yet so sophisticated, it’s signature unquestionably Gershwin’s.
    Rhapsody in Blue? I cannot think of a better depiction of New York and it’s city-scape captured in Woody Allen’s Manhattan. There is nothing derivative in his music, although many references are made to popular musical idioms but that is also from the hands, fingers and heart from he and his brother’s genius lyrics. Ira and Georgo together essentially created the American Songbook with its hundreds of tunes recorded by all the great jazz singers and instrumentalists.
    What I find most striking is how often great talent is ignored in one’s own backyard. Gershwin has been celebrated in Europe as one of America’s greatest composers and they unabashedly program his music on any classical concert which may include Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, or even Mozart, while in America, that would be considered irreverent and completely untasteful thereby finding it relegated only to a summer pop’s series. With that said, the tide is slowly changing and more and more we see him sneaking in a concert series here and there. It’s about time we as Americans fully embrace our own and celebrate the wonderful and brilliant genius George!

    Liked by 7 people

  8. I love R in B, but probably like American in Paris a bit more. But give me Gershwin any day for popular music, no matter what he wrote. Porgy & Bess, fantastic and groundbreaking. I Got Rhythm? THE seminal jazz standard. If you can’t improvise on the I Got Rhythm chord changes, you can’t call yourself a jazz musician. 😉

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 3 people

    1. There are ugly rumors that Gershwin stole the tune for “I’ve got Rythem” from William Grant Still, an important composer, as well as African American.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I just listened to Grant Still’s 1st Mvt. of his Symphony and the only reference I heard was the 1st 4 notes of I’ve Got Rhythm. That is not sufficient cause for any plagiarism. Here is a short article that includes a response from the well-known Gershwin aficionado Michael Feinstein:

        The charge that white composers stole or borrowed music from their black peers is not new, and one that has been lobbed at many of Gershwin’s contemporaries. It was rumored that Irving Berlin had hired a young black assistant to write songs for him — “it was even parodied in a song by Rodgers and Hart,” American Songbook expert and performer Michael Feinstein recounted. He added that the African-American lyricist, “Jon Hendricks told a story about Hoagy Carmichael stealing ‘Stardust’ from a prominent African-American writer.”

        But for Feinstein, the claim that Gershwin consciously stole Still’s theme is an exaggeration. “Gershwin never needed to borrow or steal anything from anyone,” he said, adding that the composer would write at least “12 songs a day to get the bad ones out of his system.”

        Liked by 4 people

      2. Wouldn’t be a surprise. Not that Gershwin stole from an African American, but that one of the “truisms” of art is that “Mediocre writers borrow. Great writers steal.“ T.S.Eliot

        I found dozens of quotes about artists ripping off other artists. It seems the lines between originality and plagiarism are rather blurry.



      1. Hmmm… WordPress doesn’t like me today. I posted this once and it never showed up. “Walking the Dog” was used in the Astaire/Rogers movie “Shall We Dance”. It was during the ocean liner promenade deck scene.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I mentioned it assuming that the very opening melody in American in Paris is quite familiar to everyone – so Da-da-Dah–– was a simple reference to it. I didn’t mean to set off that much attention and confusion to this inaccurate nomenclature of alphabetical pixels trying to represent a well known melody which this has turned into. I could have spelled the notes as : 8 2 3–– 8 2 3 –– 8 2 3 9 8 2 3–– (8=C, 2= D, E=3 etc.) but I’m went for the primitive but well intentioned da-da-da so that I would ensure that it’d be as clear as mud without having to go to youtube and find an example of this iconic opening. My bad, I guess and sorry for the confusion.. Here is what I should have done in the first place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wepDfw4rGy4

          Have a great da-de-dah-de-dah of a day!!!

          Liked by 3 people

        2. I’m getting confused – is gregko88 the same Gregory Theisen who chimed in earlier?

          I’ve been looking for a convenient way to jot down melodies without staff paper, and usually just use C-D-E as if it’s in the key of C. Thanks.


  9. Yes I’m Gregory Theisen and gregko88. Somehow I have two usernames. I’ll fix that. It’s hard to refer to melodies without a staff template. C D E – C D E as in the openjng of American in Paris looks benign but isn’t it interesting that it could be misinterpreted as Do Re Mi where Do is lower than Re? In AIP it’s the octave above.
    Someone also mentioned thatGetshwin studied with Ravel. That’s not completely accurate. The story goes when Gershwin asked Ravel for lessons, Ravel asked how much money he made. Gershwn answered with a pretty high sum of money. Ravel replies, you don’t need any lessons from me. I should study with you. Listen to Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, and you’ll Gershwin’s influence all over that amazing piece.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Not sure that surprised is the right word for how I feel or think about Ferde Grofe, but I do love his Grand Canyon Suite. Is there anything in particular that you have in mind, Renee?


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