Broadway show stoppers: ‘Fred and Ginger’ dance hits from the movies, an American ‘folk opera,’ piano preludes, and a ground-breaking rhapsody synthesizing jazz and classical music. George Gershwin’s bold and innovative compositions embraced high and low culture—and just about everything in between. Gershwin enjoyed giving parties in the living room of his Manhattan penthouse, sitting at the piano entertaining his friends. With a nod to that intimate setting, piano legend Dick Hyman joins host David Holt in the studio with ‘A Gershwin Cabaret for the Holidays,’ talking about Gershwin’s music, demonstrating themes in his compositions at the piano, presenting favorite performances with The Jim Cullum Jazz Band at The Landing—and offering new, studio performances.
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To this day, two of Gershwin’s Broadway show tunes are standout vehicles for jazz musicians and their endless improvisations. “Oh, Lady Be Good” was introduced as the title tune of a 1924 stage musical starring the dance team sensation, Fred and Adele Astaire. It has since become one of the all-time, most often played jazz standards. Dick Hyman and Band members pay tribute to a particularly vivid recorded performance from 1953 by Teddy Wilson and Buddy Rich. As a university student, Dick had a special connection with Wilson, who was one of his piano teachers and mentors.
Another Gershwin composition highly popular as a jazz vehicle, “I Got Rhythm” debuted in a 1930 Broadway musical, Girl Crazy. The chord changes of “I Got Rhythm” are so commonly used in jazz that musicians just call them “rhythm changes.” These changes form the basis of countless jazz standards, such as Duke Ellington’s “Cotton Tail” and Charlie Parker’s “Anthropology.” Dick Hyman says, “In jazz, there’s a saying that either you’re playing the blues or you’re playing ‘I Got Rhythm.’ Next to the blues, it’s just about the most common jazz form.”
Even though Gershwin—who began composing his Piano Preludes in 1925—envisioned them for classical performance, Prelude #2 with its 12-bar blues structure lends itself particularly well to our jazz treatment, arranged by John Sheridan. Dick Hyman and John Sheridan offer a brilliant two-piano jazz interpretation.
The crown jewel of George Gershwin’s creative output was his “folk opera” Porgy and Bess. It was half a century ahead of its time—years in the making, and when it finally debuted, it quickly closed. The Jim Cullum Jazz Band performs “Oh, Lord I’m On My Way” and “A Woman is a Sometime Thing.” And, Dick Hyman presents a new in-studio, solo performance of “Summertime.” During the session, Dick created two spectacular improvisations on “Summertime.” Since we could not fit both into the broadcast, a bonus track of the second is offered here.
Talking about The Jim Cullum Jazz Band’s CBS Masterworks 1987 CD release of Porgy and Bess—now out of print—Dick Hyman says, “I’ve always wished I could have been on that session.” Through the miracle of technology, to close out the broadcast, Dick joins the band on a live mix, playing along with the recorded performance of the band on one of the tracks on the CD, “Somebody Knockin’ at De Do.’”
A special thank you to the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Philanthropic Trust for funding assistance for this special broadcast.
Photo credit for Home Page and Recent Radio Broadcast Page: Gershwin, 1936. Photo courtesy jackgibbons.com
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©2012