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Table for Two: A Gershwin Valentine

Fred Astaire with George and Ira Gershwin. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Open the Gershwin songbook and you’ll find love, longing and romance. Think of "Embraceable You," "The Man I Love" and "Love is Here to Stay." All a perfect fit for Valentine’s Day. Even the title of the Gershwin classic, "Oh, Lady Be Good" is 1920s' slang for a Valentine’s kiss—or more—from your sweetheart. And the lyric is full of tongue-in-cheek phrases. The chord changes and form of this tune have been used as the basis of countless jam session and jump tunes. A particularly swinging version recorded by Count Basie tenor saxophonist Lester Young is recalled in our version featuring former band member Brian Ogilvie.

 

George Gershwin’s collaboration with his brother Ira produced more than two dozen scores for Broadway musicals and Hollywood films in their thirteen years of working together. "They Can't Take That Away From Me" was written for the 1937 Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film Shall We Dance. Collaborating on Broadway musicals, the Gershwins were consulted about every bit of staging and choreography for their songs. Not so in Hollywood. Ira was irritated to find out that “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” would not be presented as a big song-and-dance production number full of sweeping, romantic dance moves by Rogers and Astaire against a lush backdrop. Instead, Fred and Ginger didn’t dance a step to this song in the movie. They just sat on a chilly car ferry from Hoboken to Manhattan.

 

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On the set of Shall We Dance, 1936. Dance director Hermes Pan, Fred Astaire, director Mark Sandrich, Ginger Rogers, George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin and musical director Nathaniel Shilkret. Courtesy Library of Congress.

The Gershwin music catalog is by no means a museum piece. Their music is performed and recorded more often today than ever before. In 1938 Fred Astaire had a hit with their composition "Nice Work if You Can Get It,” and since then it has been recorded by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Sting.

 

This week on Riverwalk Jazz vocalists Carol Woods and Nina Ferro, piano legend Dick Hyman, and the father-son guitar duo Bucky and John Pizzarelli join The Jim Cullum Jazz Band on The Landing stage with their highly individual interpretations of Gershwin classics for Valentine’s Day.

 

George and Ira Gershwin. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Nina Ferro teams up with John Sheridan on "I’ve Got a Crush on You," from the Gershwin’s 1928 musical Treasure Girl. Originally performed as a fast-paced dance number, this song only became popular when singer Lee Wiley made it her own, recording it as a torch song.

 

"The Man I Love" was first heard in the 1927 Broadway musical Strike Up the Band. Guitar masters Bucky and John Pizzarelli put their special spin on it in our version. And Dick Hyman offers a romantic solo piano interpretation of "A Foggy Day in London Town,” a number introduced by Fred Astaire in the 1937 movie musical Damsel in Distress.

 

Romantic Gershwin music and a table for two—a spot near the bandstand, reserved just for you and your Valentine. “Who Could Ask for Anything More?”

 

Photo credit for Home Page: Fred Astaire with George and Ira Gershwin. Photo courtesy songbook1.wordpress.

 

 

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