Ellington and Gershwin

"Sir John Frederick William Herschel (British - Engraved Portrait of a Young Woman. - Google Art Project" by Sir John Frederick William Herschel (British, 1792 - 1871) (1792 - 1871) (British) (photographer, Details of artist on Google Art Project) - zAHsVDOg2SX2Hw at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sir_John_Frederick_William_Herschel_(British_-_Engraved_Portrait_of_a_Young_Woman._-_Google_Art_Project.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Sir_John_Frederick_William_Herschel_(British_-_Engraved_Portrait_of_a_Young_Woman._-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

“Sir John Frederick William Herschel (British – Engraved Portrait of a Young Woman. – Google Art Project” by Sir John Frederick William Herschel (British, 1792 – 1871) (1792 – 1871) (British) (photographer, Details of artist on Google Art Project) – zAHsVDOg2SX2Hw at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

 

Today, in the concert hall, on recordings, and in various venues the compositions of both Ellington and Gershwin are frequently performed together.  Although, each composer has his own unique style and is instantly recognizable these works often serve to complement one another.  The reason for this complementarity is fairly obvious.  For one thing each composer imbued his works with art and craftsmanship.  A song by Gershwin or a work by Ellington displays ingenuity, intelligence, grace and style.  Their works are as popular on the concert stage as they are in small cabarets played by a jazz trio.  The opera singer Barbara Hendricks recorded a collection of Gershwin songs accompanied by the piano duo of Katia and Marielle Labeque for the Phillips Classic label.  The pianist Ellis Larkins played a full hour of musical medleys featuring the music of Duke Ellington and George Gershwin at the Bruno Walter Auditorium at Lincoln Center.  In 1994 the American Symphony Orchestra presented a concert at Avery Fisher Hall featuring the works of Jewish-American and African American composers.  The music included works by Morton Gould, Louis Gruenberg, Ulysses Kay, Florence Price, and of course George Gershwin and Duke Ellington.  The featured soloist was jazz pianist Marcus Roberts. Classically trained jazz pianist Don Shirley performed the music of Vernon Duke, George Gershwin and Duke Ellington at Carnegie Hall.  Both Mr. Shirley and Earl Wild recorded their own composed medleys of Porgy and Bess.  Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett have frequently included both the music of George Gershwin and Ellington in live performances.  In 1998 pianist Herbie Hancock recorded an album entitled “Gershwin’s World” which featured the music of both Gershwin and Ellington.   Many of the songs of George Gershwin have attained the status of “art songs” even though they began their life as creations for musical comedies and vaudeville set-pieces in George White “Scandals” or Zieldfeld “Follies.”  In a similar vein, Ellington popular songs such as “Sophisticated Lady”, “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” or “Don’t Get Around Anymore,” songs which were staples of the big band era, have now been taken to heart by singers who perform frequently on the opera stage.  Singers have recognized for years the elegant and sophisticated qualities of these songs, not to mention the extreme danger of attempting to sing “Sophisticated Lady” with its chromatic melody and unique key change in the bridge.  Recently, Kathleen Battle has included one of Duke Ellington’s earliest creations, “Creole Love Call,” with its wordless vocalese in her concert repertoire.  It was a vehicle for Adelaide Hall when she sang it with the Ellington band in 1927.  Ms. Battle’s superb rendition demonstrates that both Ellington and Gershwin were correct in their belief that a simple blues can have all the artistry of great musical beauty.  During the 2011/12 season of the Los Angeles Philharmonic famous jazz pianist Herbie Hancock performed Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in at the Disney Center for the Performing Arts under the direction of Gustavo Duhamel.  In all of these instances and in many more the enduring quality of the Gershwin and Ellington repertoire has inspired concert artists as well as jazz artists to wish to include both of their compositions in a single performance.  George Gershwin and Duke Ellington both knew in their lifetime what many of us are discovering now and today – which is that they were on complementary trajectories.

 

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