Monday, February 23, 2015

too romantic

------------------- [excerpt, Zinsser] ------------------ The composer George Gershwin

and his lyricist brother Ira

brought a revolutionary freshness of melody, rhythm and language to the songs they wrote for Broadway musicals in the 1920s.  Today, many of those songs are still around, part of the standard repertory of singers and jazz musicians, including "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Embraceable You," "The Man I Love," "But Not for Me"

(They're writing songs of love,
but not for me
A lucky star's above,
but not for me
With love to lead the way,
I've found more clouds are grey
than any Russian play
could guarantee),

and "How Long Has This Been Going On?"

(Kiss me once, then one more

What a dunce I was before

What a break, for heaven's sake

How long has this been goin' on?).

George Gershwin ------------------- [Zinsser excerpt, continued] ------------------- dropped out of school at 16 to become a songplugger on Tin Pan Alley, where he was in steady demand; nobody else could put over a new song so contagiously.

From plugging the songs of other writers to writing songs of his own was the inevitable next step, and one of his first efforts, "Swanee," a faux ode to Dixie, was sung in a show called Sinbad with such maudlin gusto by Al Jolson ("My Mammy's waiting for me") that it became the biggest single hit Gershwin would ever have. 

The lyric was by Irving Caesar, another Jewish kid who hadn't been south of Canal Street.  Such nuances of geography never troubled the bards of Tin Pan Alley or stanched their flow of songs pining for a train that would take them back to Mammy in the South. ...

Famous at 19 because of "Swanee," Gershwin began to place songs in various Broadway revues of the early 1920s, such as George White's Scandals.  Those songs, like "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise," were something new in the American air. 

The child of immigrant Jews from Russia, Gershwin grew up hearing the jagged rhythms of urban and industrial America.  He also loved the early ragtime tunes of Irving Berlin and the vibrant jazz of the black pianists he kept going to Harlem to hear.

...But what brought George Gershwin instant celebrity, landing him on the cover of Time when he was only 26, was Rhapsody in Blue.

Commissioned by the bandleader Paul Whiteman for his "Experiment in Modern Music" at Aeolian Hall in New York, on February 24, 1924, one of the most famous concerts of the 20th century, Gershwin's piano concerto which he had composed in three weeks, electrified the audience --

Gershwin himself was the soloist -- with its interplay of plaintive themes and syncopated tempos, starting with the 17-note clarinet glissando that people could hardly believe they were hearing. -------------------------------------- [end excerpt]

That 17-note clarinet glissando is at the beginning of Woody Allen's 1979 movie, Manhattan.  It is intense.  It surprised me in that movie.

And as the music continues, lower, you hear above it the voice of Isaac the writer (portrayed by Allen) -- a "Voice-Over" --

Chap-tah One.

He adored New York City.
He idolized it all out of proportion.
Uh, no.  Make that "He romanticized it all out of proportion."
To him, no matter what the season was,
this was still a town that existed in black and white
and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin.

Uh . . . no.  Let me start this over.
Chap-tah One.
He was too romantic aobut Manhattan,
as he was about everything else. ...


{Easy To Remember:  The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs, by William Zinsser.  Copyright 2001, David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc.}

{Manhattan.  Written by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman.  Directed by Woody Allen.  Produced by Charles H. Joffe.  Cinematography, Gordon Willis.  Distributed:  United Artists.  Release:  April 25, 1979.}


No comments:

Post a Comment