Every now and then I wake up with an earworm that just won’t leave me alone. A couple of days ago I was hit with one and the lyrics kept tracking through my brain. Fortunately, this was not a jingle for air freshener or a grade school ditty (although “Little Ducky Duddles” does occasionally show up). This time I was lucky enough to land on an old Gershwin tune, and even an earworm is welcome when it turns out to be Gershwin.
In this case the tune was from the 1937 movie, Shall We Dance, which featured Fred and Ginger in all their glory. You probably know the lyrics in which case sing right along with Oscar Peterson and friends from his album Oscar Peterson Plays the George Gershwin Song Book, a 1959 Verve recording. “They All Laughed.”
With Gershwin on my mind, I decided to go all out today and give the stage over to a composer who not only understood jazz but wrote so many fine show tunes that have become jazz standards. And with all the presidential campaigning in play, I immediately thought of Gershwin’s 1931 political adventure, Of Thee I Sing, with book by George Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. The musical is actually a satire on politics and political machinations and might actually still play in Peoria.
Given what’s been going on in the debates, we could use John P. Wintergreen, the candidate in this adventure who is running on the “Love” platform. Man, we could use some of that these days but of course, it’s just a ploy and many things happen before the curtain comes down. Love does, however, win the day and all’s well that ends well.
Gershwin’s opening number proclaims Mr.Wintergreen in rousing all-American style with every political musical cliché in jazzy form. Paul Whiteman, who was so closely tied to Gershwin, plays it now and introduces it himself in a live 1937 broadcast. The tune is “Wintergreen for President!” and it leads me to wonder why we haven’t heard any peppy campaign tunes from anybody yet. Maybe next year. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtNiDHw04YQ
The playlist for Of Thee I Sing also included two other well-known tunes, “Love Is Sweeping the Country” and “Who Cares” along with the title song “Of Thee I Sing,” which combines the stately words from “My Country Tis of Thee” with the jazz age appellation, “Baby.” Some were offended, but more were delighted. Here’s Stan Getz with a swingy take on the whole thing from his 1955 Verve album, Stan Getz And The Cool Sounds with bassist Leroy Vinnegar, drummer Shelly Manne, and Lou Levy on piano. Cool, JazzBabies. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaNjmrmVQMU
George Gershwin, of course, charted new territory with his crossover pieces – classical and jazz – sometimes defying those who wanted to put him in one box or another. Just a taste here of Gershwin’s ability to put the two together with his lovely “Prelude #2 in C sharp minor,” played by the man himself. This one is sometimes known as his “blues lullaby.” For anyone who’s lived in Manhattan, you’ll recognize a very New York feel to it. A lullaby for a Broadway baby, perhaps. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pNa6X_s3Rk
It’s hard to choose just five or six Gershwin’s for a Sunday afternoon, and we will, of course, return to Mr. G time and again, but for now I’ll close with Bill Evans and friends Chuck Israels and Larry Bunker with a fine sound on Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” from the 1938 Goldwyn Follies and the 1963 album Bill Evans Trio at Shelly’s Manne Hole, Hollywood, California. What could be better? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9WcUtUP7R8
And that’s it for today and for this year’s summer, JazzBabies. Autumn officially comes in tomorrow. Grab your coat and get your hat. If you don’t need them tomorrow, you may soon. All is clear, all is bright in sunny San Diego.