Saturday, February 4, 2017

AN ARRANGEMENT IN BLUE, WITH LOVE





As I looked back at the sprawling smog-drenched cityscape of Los Angeles on that sweltering September afternoon, I knew in my heart that I was leaving forever and would never return.

This isn't the place to dissect the reasons why I left. It's merely a channel to release a surge of nostalgic fondness and golden memories - an arrangement in blue, with love.



Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin holds a significant place in my final year in California. It was the last thing that I ever performed there at a public concert (in August). It was also the music that was playing in my mind on that day as I gazed at the L.A. skyline for the last time.

For that reason, Rhapsody in Blue, for me, is synonymous with farewells.

I wrote a solo piano arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue when I was in my mid-twenties and living in Hollywood. It has become a personal favorite of all my piano arrangements, and the one that is the most difficult to play. The pianist does all the work - there's no orchestral backup.

Initially, I was never fond of Rhapsody in Blue. It just wasn't geared to my pianistic style. As I studied the music and wrote the arrangement, however, I grew to love it - and to fully appreciate Gershwin's unique harmonic genius.

I've made several recordings of my Rhapsody in Blue arrangement. The one on my recent YouTube video (above) was made (long ago) at a friend's private music studio nestled in the Hollywood Hills. It was near midnight on a hot summer night. After ingesting a few glasses of Madeira, I recorded it in one take with no edits. No easy task, considering the length and extreme difficulty of the piece - and the detrimental influence of my semi-inebriation.

Gershwin - 1898-1937

Bandleader Paul Whiteman commissioned George Gershwin to write a piece for piano and orchestra, which would be included in a concert at Aeolian Hall in New York. Gershwin began writing the music in January, 1924 - and the premiere took place on February 12th.

Since Gershwin wasn't completely adept at orchestration, he initially wrote the piece for two pianos. Composer Ferde Grofe (who wrote the Grand Canyon Suite) orchestrated the score for the premiere - and Gershwin improvised the piano part.

Grofe later revised his orchestration in 1926 and again in 1942. These are the arrangements that are most widely known today.

Gershwin originally called his composition American Rhapsody. It was his brother Ira who suggested the title Rhapsody in Blue. Ira was inspired by an exhibition of paintings by James Whistler - especially one entitled Arrangement in Grey and Black (better known as Whistler's Mother).


My solo piano arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue is a humble tribute to Gershwin - and one of my personal crowning musical achievements. 

17 comments:

  1. Thank you, great music to start the day. I sometimes go back to cities I once lived in, but they are not the places I left. Just as I have changed, so have the places. It is good to see you posting.

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  2. Bravo! Thank you for that! Perfect music for a chilly, foggy morning in Santa Monica. Kent

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  3. No easy feat, this piece. Your recording is lovely. I associate it with New York, however, perhaps thanks to Woody Allen. Ha!

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  4. Everytime I hear that I think of United Airlines Commercials, or was it some other airline? Sounds great.

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  5. Waving hello - long time haven't been on here - hope you are thriving in TN

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  6. Even an old country girl like me can appreciate this entry.

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  7. Whew! ...This.Is.Amazing.

    (Enjoyed the back-story, too.)

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  8. Jon,
    This time next week I'll be packed for our two week stay in Los Angeles. The last two years we've been in LA we were fortunate in that no smog. I've always liked Rhapsody in Blue. Never gets old.
    Ron

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  9. Absolutely gorgeous. Thank you. X

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  10. Interpretation beautifully played, Jon. I'm in awe of your skill. Too often, we hear this piece mastered in captivity, but you set it free. Bravo!

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  11. A lovely respite tonight. Thank you.

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  12. This is marvelous, Jon. One take with no edits is quite an accomplishment - just wow !

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  13. Well, I first heard your brilliant interpretation on YouTube, but wanted to leave a comment here as well. I was astounded that someone so young could accomplish such majesty. YouTube is notorious for haters (don't listen to them).

    Good to see so many folks leaving you positive comments on your blog - you deserve them big time :-)

    Dylan

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  14. Terrific arrangement, Jon! I used not to like Gershwin either but, like you, I now appreciate how amazing he was. And that is WITHOUT being able to play it at all, sadly.

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  15. Jon,

    Rhapsody in Blue was a favorite piece in my teen days. I also liked and had the Grand Canyon Suite. I'm sorry to hear you have some miserable distractors. How can anyone call someone who plays beautiful piano and loves cats any kind of name?

    Larry

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    1. Larry, I don't know what the world is coming to, but some people seem to be more vicious and angry than they ever were before.

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  16. I love Gershwin, and "Rhapsody in Blue" is one of my favorites. Your arrangement is fantabulous... and it does NOT reflect the heart of a pessimistic person. I have a feeling you are happiest when your fingers are flying across a keyboard. (And it makes me happy to hear it. Bravo!)

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