George Gershwin, "Composer of the Week"

Well, I gave up on it years ago. I lost touch, or the desire to catch up with it. With Pop music, I mean. You know, whatever it is that is being presented to you as the latest and therefore presumably the hottest. The “hottest” is rarely what anyone tells you it is; it is something you’ve got to discover for yourself, no matter how odd, old, or remote it may be from current, industry-generated trends. Trends are for those too inert to develop an individual taste, those who listen, wear, read or see whatever sly marketers have styled “stylish.” There’s a lot of this trendsetting by proxy going on in the blogosphere, which has at last turned into an extension of the advertising racket.

I do not feel sorry for web journalists who go in for and are let down by schemes that promise them a few bucks, at the mere mention of which they forsake their integrity and turn hawkers. No, I do not pity them—I despise them for subjecting me to what can only be described as more or less inept infomercials. For once, amateurs and professionals alike, writers and artists with a creative impulse quickened by exhibitionism are given a chance to publish and display whatever they please, whenever they choose, without any interference from patrons or sponsors. Never before has such an opportunity presented itself to so many. Why squander it all to become a mouthpiece for someone else, rather than your own product, idea, or person?

However incompetent in the arts of self-promotion, I am not averse to conjuring the entrepreneurial spirit; nor am I condemning advertising outright. If that were the case, I could hardly endure, let alone enjoy, American radio drama, the first entertainment designed to sell something above and beside itself. It just ain’t for me, this kind of double-dealing. Instead, I relish in the freedom of sharing whatever crosses my path or tickles my still sensitive fancy. And (commercial free) BBC Radio 3 is certainly doing some tickling these days: its “Composer of the Week” is George Gershwin, a song plugger (some kind of human demo tape) who Tin Pan Alley-ooped himself to the top of the perennial pops.

A tuneful if cursory biography of the composer and the many people who shaped his career (Astaire, Max Dreyfuss, Paul Whiteman and Walter Damrosch, impersonated by accomplished if unidentified radio actors, including Kenny Delmar, Frank Readick, Tom Collins, and Agnes Moorehead) was presented on the Cavalcade of America program on 27 February 1939, a year and half after after Gershwin’s death.

I developed a taste for Gershwin’s music some five decades later when a close friend of mine, himself formerly in show business, invited me to see the cheerful pastiche Crazy for You on Broadway (the above poster, signed by the entire cast, being a memento of that memorable event). Now, I have seen plenty of musical theater since then, anything from Show Boat and Gypsy to Sweeney Todd and The Drowsy Chaperone; but no show has left me humming quite as many long familiar yet ever thrilling tunes as Crazy for You, cleverly billed as a “New Gerswhin Musical Comedy.” Now, I don’t know how I might have felt about it had I seen Pia Zadora and Brady Bunch alumna Ann B. Davis in it (the latter getting far more requests for autographs than the former); let’s just say I was lucky to have experienced it being performed by the original cast.

The five broadcasts of BBC Radio 3’s Composer of the Week series are a serviceable introduction to Gershwin’s works, featuring the voices of Fred and Adele Astaire (“Fascinating Rhythm,” “So Am I”), Al Jolson (the inevitable “Swanee”), Ukulele Ike (“Lady, Be Good!”), Ella Fitzgerald (“The Man I Love”), Audrey Hepburn (“How Long Has This Been Going On”), excerpts from Of Thee I Sing, Strike Up the Band, Porgy and Bess—and plenty of Gershwin at the piano.

One Reply to “George Gershwin, "Composer of the Week"”

  1. Hello Harry, I haven\’t stopped by for a while so I\’ve been doing some catching up on your blog. I always find it hugely entertaining and compulsively interesting to read. Your love and appreciation of your subject shines through on every post. Thank you for your efforts!


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