All the wonderful tunes of that era [1920s and 1930s], they're the crème de la crème of classical pop music," says musician Pete DeLuke. "George and Ira Gershwin, [Richard] Rodgers and [Lorenz] Hart, Cole Porter -- these guys were ultratalented. It's not a coincidence that their music lives on." The song "How Long Has This Been Going On," written by the Gershwins for the Broadway musical Rosalie in 1927, was later recorded by Rosemary Clooney and then again by Van Morrison. Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick Out of You," written in 1934 for the movie Anything Goes, was recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1962 and again in 2001 by Dolly Parton.
On Sunday, August 12, the Jazz Association of Greater San Diego will host "Janet Hammer's Tribute to George and Ira Gershwin and Cole Porter." DeLuke will play the clarinet.
"[Musicians playing] any wind instrument use their throat all the time -- that's where the refinery of sound is," says DeLuke. George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" (which frequent fliers might recognize as the theme song for United Airlines), begins with a clarinet glissando. "It's the throat muscles, with the help of the diaphragm, that causes air to restrict into a higher range. The air from the diaphragm goes up through the throat area, and as that throat narrows it causes a rising in pitch -- the sound is stretched."
According to DeLuke, the glissando is difficult to achieve on a clarinet -- some musicians "keep trying all their lives and can't do it." The scale-climbing clarinet intro, perhaps the most iconic part of the composition, was added only after Gershwin heard a clarinet player during rehearsal who was "kind of a jazzy guy, fooling around with a glissando."
Irene Tsutsui Hoffman, publicity chair for the jazz association, says the Gershwin brothers had many "firsts" -- they were first to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for a musical (Of Thee I Sing, 1931), first to write an American opera (Porgy and Bess, 1935, which had an all-black cast), and first to combine serious and popular music in a jazz concerto ("Rhapsody in Blue," 1924). Hoffman adds, "The opening five minutes of Manhattan is classic cinema in my book, as one sees black-and-white shots of New York City while hearing 'Rhapsody in Blue' in its splendor and grandeur."
Cole Porter was unusual in that he worked alone, writing both lyrics and music. The Oxford University Press describes Porter's creations: "His songs trafficked in a knowing, sometimes showy sophistication, and his generally silken melodies were combined with lyrics that ranged from suave and blasé to sexually obsessive and even raunchy." The song "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love" is teeming with double entendres that are racy to this day, nearly 80 years after it was penned. Porter mocked uptight New England women ("Cold Cape Cod clams, 'gainst their wish, do it") and the upper class ("Even Pekineses at the Ritz do it"). The song has evolved over time as artists (including Porter himself) have added new lyrics. Noel Coward included "Both T.S. Eliot and Fry do it, but they do it in verse; Priestly and I do it, but we have to rehearse."
"The first time I heard 'Lady Be Good,'" says DeLuke, "a Gershwin tune, was in 1946, sung by Ella Fitzgerald. I was never the same. She improvised on it. It was fantastic."
DeLuke continues, "When I hear Rod Stewart singing the songs we're talking about, then I hear Frank Sinatra, Mel Tormé, or Tony Bennett, there's a big difference." Of Sinatra, DeLuke says, "All he wanted was perfection out of his musicians. I worked with him, and every night we were set up with drinks and fresh sandwiches. After two weeks we all got a wristwatch. That's the way Frank was; he was a real sport."
DeLuke believes current musicians like Rod Stewart are "cashing in" on another market. "Great artists gravitate to great music. Many painters, great artists or students, might copy Matisse," he adds. "But though many are called, few are chosen." -- Barbarella
Janet Hammer's Tribute to George and Ira Gershwin and Cole Porter
Sunday, August 12
2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Musicians Union Hall
1717 Morena Boulevard
Cost: $8 members, $12 nonmembers, $5 students
Info: 619-225-8552, 760-602-0839, 858-673-3981 or www.jazz4u.org/