- George Gershwin - American Success Story [Biography]
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George Gershwin

"Many people say that too much study kills spontaneity in music, but although study may kill a small talent, it is a must to develop a big one"

George Gershwin (September 26, 1898 - July 11, 1937) was an American composer. He was born Jacob Gershowitz in Brooklyn, New York to Russian Jewish immigrant parents.

Gershwin composed both for Broadway and for the classical concert hall, and his music contains elements of both. He also wrote popular songs with success. Many of his compositions have been used in cinema, and perhaps many more are famous jazz standards: songbooks have been recorded by Ella Fitzgerald (memorable 3 discs recording for Verve, with Nelson Riddle's orchestra), Herbie Hancock and several other singers or players.

His most famous works in the classical field include:
  • Rhapsody in Blue, (1924), a symphonic jazz composition for jazz band, piano, and orchestra
  • Piano Concerto in F (1925)
  • An American In Paris, a tone poem with elements of jazz and realistic sound effects
  • Porgy And Bess, a folk opera (1935) (from the book by Dubose Heyward) about African-American life, which contains the famous aria "Summertime", in addition to hits like "I Got Plenty of Nothin" and "Tain't Necessarily So".
  • Three Preludes, (1936), for piano

George made most of his works with his brother Ira Gershwin, a lyricist. In 1910, the Gershwins had acquired a piano for Ira's music lessons, but George took over, successfully playing by ear. He tried out various piano teachers for 2 years, then was introduced to Charles Hambitzer - who became his mentor (and would remain so until Hambitzer's death in 1918). Hambitzer taught George conventional piano technique, introduced him to the European masters, and encouraged him to attend orchestral concerts (at home following such concerts, young George would attempt to reproduce at the keyboard the music he had heard). His 1916 novelty rag "Rialto Ripples" was a commercial success, and in 1918 he scored his first big national hit with his song "Swanee".

In 1924, George and Ira collaborated on a musical comedy, "Lady Be Good". It included standards as "Fascinating Rhythm" and "The Man I Love." This was followed by "Oh, Kay!" (1926); "Funny Face" in (1927); "Strike Up the Band" (1927 & 1930); "Girl Crazy" (1930), which introduced the standard "I Got Rhythm"; and "Of Thee I Sing" (1931), the first musical comedy to win a Pulitzer Prize.

It was in Hollywood, while working on the score of The Goldwyn Follies, that George Gershwin collapsed and, on July 11, 1937, died of a brain tumour. He was interred in the Westchester Hills Cemetery, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.

contributed by Wikipedia

5 January 2004

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