The Magic of Gershwin

by William Edgar

ChuckRedd2016

Chuck Redd

This year’s Monty Alexander Jazz Festival opens with an ensemble, led by pianist Ted Rosenthal and drummer/vibraphonist Chuck Redd, showcasing the music of George Gershwin. Like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Georges Bizet and Frederick Chopin, Gershwin died before he reached forty.  Yet like these musical geniuses he managed to be prolific during his short life. Gershwin grew up in the Yiddish Theater section of New York, and cut his chops on Tin Pan Alley.  He played the classical repertoire, but loved jazz.

Gershwin was such a fine pianist that when he asked one of his heroes, Maurice Ravel, to teach him, the great French musician turned him down, with the quip, “Why become a second-rate Ravel when you’re already a first-rate Gershwin?”  He composed several Broadway shows, including Lady Be Good, Oh Kay, and Strike Up the Band.  His brother Ira often wrote the lyrics.  His most revered work is the opera Porgy and Bess, which was inspired by a couple of visits to the Gullah people of South Carolina.  His most beloved orchestral piece is Rhapsody in Blue, the jazzy symphonic poem with challenging piano sections.

The ensemble, which includes some highly talented younger instrumentalists, will draw elements from the repertoire that will dazzle and move us.  Ted has a marvelous album to his credit, Rhapsody in Gershwin, where he holds a musical conversation with the American composer, and includes his arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue, which is already well-known to his audiences.

The group will highlight some of the great classics, but also some lesser-known Gershwin works.  So we can expect such tunes as I Loves You Porgy, I Got Rhythm and Lady Be Good, as well as the less known My One and Only.  As Chuck explained to me this number was inspired by the great album Ella Sings Gershwin, to which he has listened hundreds of times since his youth. Indeed few other singers can render the tunes as could Ella Fitzgerald.  In the opening song, A Foggy Day, the phrase appears, “The age of miracles hadn’t passed.”  Indeed, Ted and Chuck’s Gershwin tribute is living proof of the ongoing miracle of his music.

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