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Teasing the Korean

Porgy and Bess, So Many Jazz Adaptations

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Concert

Gershwin prepared an orchestral suite containing music from the opera after Porgy and Bess closed early on Broadway. Though it was originally titled "Suite from Porgy and Bess", Ira later renamed it Catfish Row.

In 1942 Robert Russell Bennett arranged a medley (rather than a suite) for orchestra which has often been heard in the concert hall, known as Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture. It is based on Gershwin's original scoring, though for a slightly different instrumentation (the piano was removed from the orchestral texture at the request of the conductor Fritz Reiner, for whom the arrangement was made). In addition, both Morton Gould and Robert Farnon each arranged an orchestral suite, premiering in 1956 and 1966, respectively.[78][79][80]

Pop music versions[edit]

Jazz versions[edit]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porgy_and_Bess#Radio

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MJQ version is a favourite in this house

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I'm partial to the Davis / Evans & the Potts.

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The parts are greater than the whole, imo.

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15 minutes ago, JSngry said:

The parts are greater than the whole, imo.

Just like most jazz albums and most jazz careers.  

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Wasn't there a version by Clark Terry late in his career?

 

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1 minute ago, Milestones said:

Wasn't there a version by Clark Terry late in his career?

 

Yes, but with the arrangements Gil did for Miles. 

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I like the Miles version for instrumental and the Ella/Satchmo version for vocals.  And the Bethlehem set is certainly interesting and different.  The MJQ version is very nice in its own way.

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1 hour ago, Teasing the Korean said:

Just like most jazz albums and most jazz careers.  

Like most of life on general.

But to this point, I defy anybody to tell me that they enjoy the opera as a whole more than they do the pop songs that got extracted from it.

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2 minutes ago, JSngry said:

Like most of life on general.

But to this point, I defy anybody to tell me that they enjoy the opera as a whole more than they do the pop songs that got extracted from it.

No one has seen it.

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3 minutes ago, Teasing the Korean said:

No one has seen it.

Not accurate;

https://youtu.be/HdRTfqGy9TE

 

 

The full opera recorded as early as 1951. 

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porgy_and_Bess_discography

A curious music student would have gone to the listening library to see what the deal was...and I still wonder, to be honest. 

I also find the whole thing to be troublesome, for several reasons. But the Gershwin business apparatus knew where the money was going to be. They pivoted accordingly, and imo, appropriately. 

George Gershwin is by far and away my least favorite GAS songwriter, and this opera of his was...unfortunate. I'll leave it at that.

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I have this

51I4dAShjoL.jpg

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26 minutes ago, JSngry said:

Not accurate;

I mean they don't make it easy to see the original film anymore.

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6 minutes ago, Teasing the Korean said:

I mean they don't make it easy to see the original film anymore.

Well, let's fix that then!

https://youtu.be/YIdrZxaP-gE

or is this not the one you're talking about?

 

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2 hours ago, JSngry said:

Like most of life on general.

But to this point, I defy anybody to tell me that they enjoy the opera as a whole more than they do the pop songs that got extracted from it.

I saw a production of P & B in 1987 in San Francisco.  It was a revival of the famed 1976 Houston Grand Opera Production.  I enjoyed it thoroughly.

 

1 hour ago, JSngry said:

George Gershwin is by far and away my least favorite GAS songwriter, and this opera of his was...unfortunate. I'll leave it at that.

Okay, I'll bite -- would you care to elaborate on your disdain of Gershwin?

Another jazz version out there:

R-2501668-1599678367-4596.jpeg.jpg

The only time I ever saw Joe Henderson was when he played a concert presented by SFJazz around the time of his P & B CD.  Here's a review of that concert by the late Phil Elwood.

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8 minutes ago, duaneiac said:

Okay, I'll bite -- would you care to elaborate on your disdain of Gershwin?

Not really disdain, just a really basic dislike. I think his "jazziness" came as much from avarice as it did affection. Not saying that it was intentional, mind you, it was the times. And his attempts to make a "classical" music show that in a pretty blatant way  There is no soul there, at least not that I feel. Just...an avarice of spirit 

I am not at all a fan except on a song-by-song basis, and even then... there's always better to be had. 

Besides, it's time to get over all of that, again, imo. It's ALL about business now, all of that stuff. Musically...it won't be relevant again until all that stops, and that's not happening on my lifetime. People blame Disney and Beatles for the lack of a meaningful set of PD laws in America, look at the GAS, there's a fucking business machine there, too, and, really, is it going to let "Summertime" and such go into PD? Seriously? Not just Gershwin, any of that stuff.

That's all I have to say about it on this forum

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Speaking of “Summertime” — here’s just about THE hippest version I think I’ve ever heard.

 

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That Fresu album is very nice.

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2 hours ago, JSngry said:

Not really disdain, just a really basic dislike. I think his "jazziness" came as much from avarice as it did affection. Not saying that it was intentional, mind you, it was the times. And his attempts to make a "classical" music show that in a pretty blatant way  There is no soul there, at least not that I feel. Just...an avarice of spirit 

I am not at all a fan except on a song-by-song basis, and even then... there's always better to be had. 

Besides, it's time to get over all of that, again, imo. It's ALL about business now, all of that stuff. Musically...it won't be relevant again until all that stops, and that's not happening on my lifetime. People blame Disney and Beatles for the lack of a meaningful set of PD laws in America, look at the GAS, there's a fucking business machine there, too, and, really, is it going to let "Summertime" and such go into PD? Seriously? Not just Gershwin, any of that stuff.

That's all I have to say about it on this forum

My take, in 1987:

AN AMERICAN INGENIOUS

Larry Kart, Entertainment writerCHICAGO TRIBUNE
 

It was in 1905, throughout ''a long, warm June twilight,'' that novelist Henry James--returning to his native land for the first time in 20 years

--paused to take in the ''great swarming'' of Manhattan`s Lower East Side, or as James chose to call it, the ''New Jerusalem.''

Recorded in his ''The American Scene,'' James` response to what he saw was one of mingled awe and terror--as he envisioned a ''new thing under the sun'' that would go on to shape ''the accent of the ultimate future,'' an''alien presence climbing higher and higher, into the very light of publicity.''

 

With his eye on that future, James gave particular weight to the children of the Lower East Side--who, he wrote, ''swarmed above all.'' And on that night, one of the children James gazed down upon with such fearful fascination could well have been the six-year-old Jacob Gershvin--who lived in the neighborhood at the time and who would, as George Gershwin, indeed climb''into the very light of publicity'' and proceed to claim a good deal of the American future as his own.

Now, a half-century after his tragically early death from a brain tumor at age 38 on July 11, 1937, George Gershwin is so much a part of the history of American music that it is difficult to imagine what our world might be like without all the marvelous songs he wrote for Broadway musicals and Hollywood films, his ever-popular concert works and his opera ''Porgy and Bess.''

Yet within the story of George Gershwin`s music, another story can be heard--the tale of how this first-generation son of Russian-Jewish immigrants (an ''alien presence'' in the view of Henry James) managed to become one of the most American figures of them all.

 

Gershwin`s father, Morris Gershovitz, the grandson of a rabbi and the son of a mechanic, emigrated to America from St. Petersburg in the early 1890s--settling in Brooklyn, where he met and married Rose Bruskin, whose family had come to America several years before.

Morris Gershvin (an anglicization of ''Gershovitz'' that their most famous child would further alter) was an easy-going man with a penchant for gambling and an inability to hold down a steady job--''a darling person,''according to his daughter Frances, ''but a real shnook.''

Rose Gershvin, on the other hand, was described by George as ''nervous, ambitious and purposeful''--an impression that is borne out by his 1936 painting of her, in which, hand on hip, she seems a veritable colossus. (In their authoritative biography ''The Gershwin Years,'' Edward Jablonski and Lawrence Stewart add the intriguing postscript that Mrs. Gershvin was ''smart, driving and somewhat warped in the heart.'')

Born on Sept. 26, 1898--two years after his brother and future collaborator, Ira--George Gershwin first came to music at age six, entranced by a player piano that pumped out Anton Rubenstein`s ''Melody In F'' and then by a grade school violinist`s performance of Dvorak`s ''Humoresque.''

A piano entered the Gershvin household in 1910, and while it was intended for Ira`s use, George quickly took over--showing so much seat-of-the-pants expertise that by 1912 he was studying with Charles Hambitzer, who brought his pupil into contact with the then-new music of Debussy and Ravel, as well as the acknowledged classics.

But sounds of a different sort were playing an equally vital role in Gershwin`s musical education.

New York was a hotbed for such swinging black virtuosos as James P. Johnson, Eubie Blake and Willie (The Lion) Smith, and Gershwin learned the Harlem stride-style of piano playing from the men who invented it--being tutored, in particular, by the brilliant Luckey Roberts.

Another key influence was the new kind of show tunes that such composers as Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern were beginning to write. Ira Gershwin`s diary entries for the summer of 1917 reveal that he and George were taking in at least one show a week--observing the gradual rise of a jauntier, less operetta-like, more American way of writing for the stage.

By this time, though, George was more than an observer. In 1914 he had dropped out of the High School of Commerce and gone to work for a music publishing house, Joseph Remick and Co.--becoming, as he put it, ''probably the youngest piano pounder in Tin Pan Alley.''

Demonstrating tunes for vaudeville performers, working when he could on his own compositions (he sold his first tune, ''When You Want `Em, You Can`t Get `Em, When You Got `Em, You Don`t Want `Em,'' for $5 in 1916) and recording a number of piano rolls, Gershwin soon developed a distaste for what he called ''the popular-song racket.''

Music of higher quality, specifically ''production music of the kind Jerome Kern was writing,'' was what he ''wanted to be closer to''--so Gershwin left Remick in 1917 to work as a rehearsal pianist for a Kern-Victor Herbert show and as an accompanist to singers at the prestigious Century Theatre.

It was there that Gershwin got his first significant break--when vocalist Vivienne Segal sang two of his songs and Max Dreyfus of Harms Music, impressed by what he heard, offered the 19-year-old composer a stipend of $35 per week in return for the rights to any future music he would write.

Almost immediately Gershwin`s career went into overdrive. He began to place songs in shows, wrote his first full Broadway score, ''La La Lucille,'' which opened in 1919 and received 104 performances, and then, in 1920, came up with ''Swanee.'' Written with lyricist Irving Caesar in less than 15 minutes and adopted by Al Jolson, who soon made it famous, this was the biggest hit Gershwin would ever have.

But Gershwin really separated from the rest of the talented tunesmiths of the day in 1924, the year of ''Lady, Be Good'' and ''Rhapsody in Blue.''

Featuring the team of Fred and Adele Astaire and locking Ira Gershwin into place as George`s fulltime lyricist, ''Lady, Be Good'' had a sparkling score that includes the title tune and ''Fascinating Rhythm''--perhaps the first two of the seemingly endless list of Gershwin songs whose charm has yet to fade.

As for ''Rhapsody in Blue''--commissioned by the publicity-conscious bandleader Paul Whiteman and premiered by him at Aeolian Hall on Feb. 12, 1924, with the composer as soloist--this was a genuine media event, a work that was going to determine the course of American music by building a ''link between the jazz camp and the intellectuals.''

In retrospect ''Rhapsody'' did nothing of the sort--for even though it is a delightfully tuneful piece of light music, it is not really jazzlike, despite its abundance of ''outdoor pep'' (the phrase Gershwin used to describe its bouncy rhythmic drive).

But there is genuine blues feeling in the melancholic trumpet solo that begins the second movement of Gershwin`s ''Concerto in F.'' And many of the recordings he made in the `20s--especially his 1926 version of ''The Half Of It Dearie Blues'' with Fred Astaire--swing with a zeal that any jazz pianist of the day would envy.

''Rhapsody in Blue,'' ''Concerto in F'' and ''An American in Paris''brought Gershwin a cachet of celebrity he was never to lose--a larger-than-life-size aura that the man himself amplified even further with his immensely winning blend of ego and naivete.

''Just plain dazzled by the spectacle of his own career,'' according to his friend S.N. Behrman, ''George knew that he was something new and was perpetually fascinated by the development of this novelty. Once when he was talking of his mother, he said: `You know the extraordinary thing about her--she`s so modest about me.` ''

Anecdotes and estimates of that sort could be multiplied a hundredfold--from Richard Rodgers` ''George had an endearing appreciation of himself, an almost childlike delight in his own work,'' to the composer`s own claim that ''when I`m in my normal mood, tunes come dripping off my fingers.''

But among those who knew him well, there seems to have been general agreement that his ego was more of a bounty than a burden--a vital component in the endless Gershwin overflow, a quality without which the gusto of the man and the joy of his music simply could not exist.

''He knew he had it, and he celebrated it,'' said Harold Arlen, ''and there was nothing phony about him.'' Or as Gershwin himself once exclaimed to Jerome Kern: ''All I`ve got is a lot of talent and plenty of chutzpah.''

Entering the 1930s, Gershwin`s nerve and talent seemed to be standing him in good stead.

After ''Lady, Be Good'' had come a host of musicals, including ''Oh, Kay!,'' ''Strike Up the Band,'' ''Show Girl,'' ''Funny Face'' and ''Girl Crazy.'' And those shows produced a cornucopia of classic songs: ''Someone to Watch Over Me,'' ''The Man I Love,'' ''`S Wonderful,'' ''How Long Has This Been Going On?,'' ''I`ve Got a Crush On You,'' ''Liza,'' ''But Not For Me,''''Embraceable You'' and ''I Got Rhythm,'' the number that made Ethel Merman a star.

But when Gershwin`s run of success rose to new heights in 1931 with the Pulitzer Prize-winning political satire ''Of Thee I Sing''--''One of those rare shows,'' said the composer, ''in which everything clicked just right''-- there suddenly seemed to be no place else to go.

Gershwin`s next two musicals, ''Pardon My English'' and ''Let `Em Eat Cake,'' were flops; a commission to write a ''Jewish opera'' for the Metropolitan, based on the play ''The Dybbuk,'' was left unfulfilled; and the two concert works written after ''An American in Paris'' (the ''Second Rhapsody'' and the ''Cuban Overture'') didn`t come close to matching the musical verve or popularity of their predecessors.

But if, from the outside, Gershwin seemed to be running dry, he was in fact gathering his resources.

The idea of composing an opera based on ''Porgy''--Dubose Heyward`s novel of black life in Charleston, S. C.--had been in Gershwin`s mind ever since he read the book in 1926. And it had grown even stronger when ''Porgy'' was made into a successful Broadway play.

There were barriers to be surmounted--grotesque as it may seem, Al Jolson wanted to mount a musical version of ''Porgy,'' with a score by Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, in which Jolson would play the title role in blackface--but in the fall of 1933 Gershwin finally got his wish. He, his brother Ira and Hayward would collaborate on what eventually would be known as ''Porgy and Bess.''

By far the most ambitious project Gershwin had yet attempted, ''Porgy and Bess'' was envisioned by him as ''a combination of the drama and romance of`Carmen` and the beauty of `Die Meistersinger.` I believe it will be something never done before.''

Work on the opera began with ''Summertime,'' the first song in the score and the first song composed. And while there were periods of laborious trial and error, there were magical breakthroughs, too--the main strain of ''I Got Plenty O` Nuthin,''` for instance, being improvised on the piano by Gershwin in less than a minute.

Debuting on Oct. 10, 1935, and heavily cut from its original, four-hour form, ''Porgy and Bess'' for the most part was not well-received by the public or the critics--the latter group complaining about ''the song hits that blemish the score`s musical integrity,'' the former not coming in sufficient numbers to prevent the loss of the $70,000 that had been invested in the production.

With time, however, ''Porgy and Bess'' has made its way--perhaps because, in the words of the opera`s most acute critic, Wilfred Mellers, it now seems clear that its ''theme is Gershwin`s own life, his experience and ours, a modern myth.

''Porgy and Bess,'' Mellers writes, ''is about the impact of the world of commerce on those who once led, would like to have led, may still lead, the`good life`--a theme that applies to urban man whatever the color of his skin...

''The sentiment is never sentimental, because the opera never takes sides, and can afford not to do so because it springs so deeply from Gershwin`s experience. And the tunes are the best that even he ever wrote.

''There are greater 20th-Century operas, but not one which offers more of the qualities that opera used to have in its heyday, and must have again if it is to survive.''

What would have happened if Gershwin had not died so soon afer writing''Porgy and Bess'' is, of course, the unanswerable question.

In the short run, though, the ''failure'' of the opera stirred the kind of response one might expect--for when Gershwin was about to leave for Hollywood in 1936 to work on the film ''Shall We Dance,'' the producer wired him this message: ''They (the studio executives) are afraid you will only do highbrow songs.''

Gershwin`s terse reply was: ''Am out to write hits.'' And that is what he and his brother proceeded to do--creating ''Let`s Call the Whole Thing Off,'' ''They All Laughed'' and ''They Can`t Take That Away From Me'' for ''Shall We Dance,'' ''A Foggy Day'' and ''Nice Work If You Can Get It'' for ''A Damsel in Distress'' and ''Love Is Here To Stay'' (his final song) for ''The Goldwyn Follies.''

As composer Alec Wilder has said, the collaboration of the Gershwin brothers was perhaps the smoothest in the history of theater music--a sharing between masters that could resemble mental telepathy. ''A Foggy Day,'' for instance, came about when George returned from a Hollywood party, sat down at the piano and said to Ira: ''How about some work? Got any ideas?`

''Well, there`s one spot we might do something about a fog . . . . how about `a foggy day in London` or `a foggy day in London town`?'' ''Sounds good,'' said George. ''I like it better with `town.` ''

And with that, as Ira recalls in his book ''Lyrics On Several Occasions,'' ''He was off immediately on the melody. We finished the refrain, words and music, in less than an hour.''

Written for Fred Astaire, ''A Foggy Day'' was a charming moment in ''A Damsel in Distress.'' But by the time that film was released, Gershwin was gone--having suffered through several months of blinding headaches and bouts of irrational behavior that were caused by a brain tumor that was diagnosed far too late.

''I don`t have to believe it if I don`t want to,'' said John O`Hara of Gershwin`s death, expressing what even now seems an unspeakable loss. Yet the ''ever and a day'' line from ''Love Is Here To Stay'' also applies, for Gershwin`s music remains so fresh and so typically American that it has never stood in need of revival...

 

''When George had many tunes on tap for me,'' Ira Gershwin once said of his brother, ''and I couldn`t recall exactly the start of a particular one I wanted to discuss, I would visualize the vocal line and my forefinger would draw an approximation of its curves in the air. And more often than not he would know the tune I meant.''

Curves in the air and the alchemy that tranforms them into sound--perhaps that is a good way to think of George Gershwin. For his path through life was indeed a kind of sounding curve--a leap through the American space that came to earth too soon, but one that still sings and swings with all our blues and our happiness.

  •  

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Elvis was a transcendent figure for some people too.

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Yes. As were Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, etc. In any case, your point re: Elvis is?

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I'm with Chuck D on Elvis.

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Posted (edited)

Ancient Night Lights show on this topic that I was just contemplating revising and adding to the fall schedule this past weekend:

Porgy And Bess: The 1950s Jazz Revival

I also picked up this book a few months ago but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet:

The Strange Career Of Porgy And Bess: Race, Culture, And America’s Most Famous Opera

Edited by ghost of miles

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