George Gershwin (1898-1937) was a favorite guest of society hostesses if they could get him to accept their invitations. An old friend of his once said Gershwin would play his music at parties for hours on end “at the drop of a piano.”
The composer apparently had great admiration for himself and his music—and why not? At the time of his death from a brain tumor at the age of 38, he was reportedly the richest composer who’d ever lived. A great egotist but never obnoxious, Gershwin was always very nice with people. Good manners were intrinsic to the style of the age.
I’ve often wondered what it might have been like to have been a guest at one of those parties and stood by the piano listening to Gershwin play.
This morning I stumbled across a pianist named Kevin Cole, who is regarded as the foremost interpreter of George Gershwin compositions according to members of the Gershwin family, various music critics, and composers. Edward Jablonski, editor of the Encyclopedia of American Music, has said: “Kevin is the best Gershwin pianist since Gershwin himself—no one can touch him.” Howard Reich of The Chicago Tribune said, “When Cole sits down at the piano, you would swear Gershwin himself was at work.” So maybe this long performance is what being at one of those parties must have been like:
To hear Gershwin himself playing the piano, you have to rely on recordings of the time, which definitely have their limitations. This recording of the premiere with Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra of “Rhapsody in Blue” has been cleaned up by sound engineers, but is definitely still not up to modern standards:
It’s a curious accident of history that the best recordings of Gershwin performing are recordings of piano rolls he made in the early part of his career. Today’s “Groove of the Day” is a piano roll Gershwin made in the ‘20s before he wrote some of his most famous pieces.
Groove of the Day