Johnny Rice plays George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (solo piano version)

Part One:

Part Two:

Click here for the higher-visual-quality version of this performance! (It’s not divided into two parts, as was required by YouTube’s 10-minute limit.)

George Gershwin had his priorities straight… He dropped out of school when he was 15. That’s the thing we most admire and appreciate about him. We’re thankful that he provided us Rice Brothers with such a terrific role model: depart “school” as early as you possibly can, head straight for “Tin Pan Alley,” and share your music with anybody who’s willing to listen! Which is exactly what Johnny and I have done, although at a bit younger age than George. (“Tin Pan Alley” long ago ceased to exist as a place … but its spirit has endured, and calls out to musicians who, like George, have the “keys” to bring it alive!)

Next, we love it that, in 1924, when he was just a little older than we are now, he wrote his beautiful “Rhapsody in Blue.” (For those of you who follow this videoblog from somewhere other than the U.S.A., and haven’t been to our country yet… Well, make a point of listening to Rhapsody in Blue before you visit. Once you’ve heard it, nothing much about our country will surprise you once you get here. <smile>)

There are a number of versions of Rhapsody in Blue: one for solo piano, another for solo piano and a jazz band, and yet another for solo piano and orchestra. George even wrote a “four-hands” version (for two pianists playing the same piano … uhm … at the same time). In the two videos which accompany this post, Johnny plays the solo piano version. (The piece is too long for YouTube’s 10-minute time limit, so we had to divide it in two; you can see the full version, all the way through, in better-than-YouTube visual quality, by clicking the “higher-quality” link, above.) A little while back, Johnny performed Rhapsody in Blue, as the piano soloist, with our favorite orchestra, The Symphony of the Southwest, led by our favorite conductor, Cal Stewart Kellogg. (We’ll post the video of the latter performance some time soon.)

It’s possible to hear George himself play the piano in various versions of Rhapsody in Blue. Although, many of his recordings were made on piano rolls (which play on self-playing pianos). Have you ever heard one? They’re pretty cool, but generally result in recordings which sound more mechanical, and are faster, than the performances were in real life. (He was also recorded by early microphones, which don’t exactly match our current “state of the art.”) We’d love to have heard how George really sounded, and if someone succeeds, some time soon, in inventing a time machine, we’re grabbing Jim Vogler and heading back to record George with modern audio (and video) equipment! (Jim was the fellow who recorded the Chicago Symphony all over the world for 10-plus years, when it was conducted by Sir Georg Solti. He’s become a great friend of ours, and has guided us on the audio side of our recordings!) While we’re back in time, we’ll also make a point of yelling “DUCK!,” so that maybe George wouldn’t have gotten hit in the head with that golf ball, which, in the opinion of some experts, was the cause of the maladies which eventually led to brain surgery, and to George dying at way too early an age … sadly, he was only 38 when he passed on.

Like George Gershwin and his lyricist brother Ira, Johnny and I are derived from Eastern European stock (the Gershwin family was from Russia; ours was from Poland). We share George’s love of Debussy and Ravel, and are also very devoted to both the jazz and classical sides of American music. In this sense, we feel we’re very much part of the tradition carried forward by the Gershwin brothers.

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