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Great Gershwin

February 2024
1min read

I Got Rhythm: The Music of George Gershwin


Smithsonian Institution Press RD 107 (four CDs)

As everybody knows, George Gershwin not only was a king of popular song but also created some of the best music ever for American stage and screen, left an indelible mark on the concert world, and wrote the material for generations of jazz musicians. How do you do justice to all that in one set of CDs? If you are the smart people at the Smithsonian Collection of Recordings, you assemble four discs and devote one to popular song, one to stage and screen, one to the concert hall, and one to jazz—and you pick and package the selections with Smithsonian’s usual style and canniness. Popular Song offers twenty-two recordings made between 1924 and 1982, including Ethel Waters’s strutting “I Got Rhythm,” Fred Astaire and Benny Goodman’s ultra-suave “Who Cares?,” and Lena Horne’s seductive “The Man I Love.” The twenty-two cuts on the On Stage and Screen disc range from classics like Astaire’s “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” and Jolson’s “Swanee” (which is far more bracingly joyous than you might recall) to the wonderful discovery of one Tessa Kosta and the Russian Art Choir belting out an utterly Slavic “Song of the Flame” from a little-remembered 1925 show of that name. Jazz means Billie Holiday’s tremendous 1936 “Summertime” and later work by Goodman, Artie Shaw, Chet Baker, Erroll Garner, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and others. And Concert Hall lets us listen in on the master himself, at the piano in “Rhapsody in Blue” in 1927, at the celesta in “An American in Paris” two years later, and playing solo five of his piano pieces. He does them all with authority and utter Tightness. And the presence and immediacy of his playing is fully conveyed in surprisingly rich, full remastered sound.

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