Monday Smiles – 2/1/2010

Yesterday, we saw a remarkable musical play at the Laguna Playhouse, a one man show created and performed by the Canadian performer, Hershey Felder.    In George Gershwin Alone, Felder uses a sparsely set stage featuring a few pieces of furniture and a grand piano to channel the great American composer through a series of monologues, vocal and piano performances and small vignettes.   Minutes after Felder walks onto the stage, you feel as if you’ve slipped back in time to George Gershwin’s living room as he tells you about his life, from his “discovery” of music listening to the violin recital of a friend at ten to his death from brain cancer at 38.    We get glimpses into the Gershwin family, George’s obsession with promoting his own music, and his disappointment at mixed reviews of his more serious works, like An American in Paris and Porgy and Bess.    It’s humorous and poignant and educational.   Then there’s the music.   From Felder’s  performance of Gershwin’s first major success, Swanee, as Al Jolson though the wonderful solo piano performance of Rhapsody in Blue that concludes the play, the music is spellbinding.

After the end of the play, Mr. Felder came back onto the stage and explained how in Gershwin’s day, the performers and their friends would go to home together to sit around the piano singing.    To honor this custom, he invited the audience to suggest Gershwin songs for audience sing along.    Sunday matinee at the Laguna Playhouse brings out the gray-hair crowd and many of us knew the lyrics without Felder’s prompting because Gerswhin’s tunes are a part of our collective soul.   I certainly did …  I’m fortunate to be old enough to have had this music playing on my mother’s phonograph (albeit when Dad wasn’t home … he liked things quiet) through my childhood.   But I wonder … will this wonderful music be passed along or lost to younger generations?

So, this post of five of my favorite Gershwin songs by a variety of performers is my little tribute to the music.     They are linked to performances for your listening pleasure as usual.    For those of you who already love this stuff, just sit back and enjoy.    For those of you who think this is Old Fogie Music, let me set a scene.   Picture the love of your life … if you don’t have one yet, imagine … across a crowded dance floor.    Imagine that you believe in love at first sight and in true love forever.   Imagine that you want her in your arms so much it hurts.   And imagine that it’s 1935 and that the only way you’ll get to hold her is to cross the room and ask her to dance.   You walk toward each other and as you step into each other’s arms, the orchestra begins to play.   The singer steps to the microphone and there’s nowhere else on earth you’d rather be.  Now, enjoy.

Someone to Watch Over Me (listen here)- A friend of mine played this as a trombone solo in a high school band concert and it’s been one of my favorites ever since.    The crowd reaction to Allison Iraheta’s performance of Someone to Watch Over Me as her Rat Pack Song on American Idol gives me hope the music will live on.

The Man I Love (listen here)- This is wonderful performance by Peggy Lee set to scenes of the 1946 film Notorious with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman captures the romance of the music.  It doesn’t hurt that people have said my wife looks like Ingrid Bergman (nobody’s compared me to Cary Grant yet).

Embraceable You (listen here)- If you grew up when I grew up, Johnny Mathis was the king of romantic ballads.   This beautiful performance is from one of the most romantic recordings ever made, Open Fire, Two Guitars.

They Can’t Take That Away from Me (listen here)- Skip forward a century or two to my favorite jazz vocalist Diana Krall.  I love the way she caresses the standards with her voice and piano.

I’ve Got a Crush on You (listen here)- No one has ever accused Linda Ronstadt of shying away from controversy or a project that defied conventional wisdom.   Her projects with Nelson Riddle, like ‘Round Midnight (where this performance appeared) were ridiculed on Saturday Night Live but received rave reviews and spent 81 weeks on the Billboard Album Chart.

So.   It’s Monday.  Smile.

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