‘Classic Gershwin’ at The Bull’s Head

 

‘Classic Gershwin’, created by 7 Star Arts, explores the world of ever-popular composer George Gershwin by weaving his vibrant music with the fascinating story of his life – from his birth in the colourful, teeming New York of 1898 to his tragically early death from a brain tumour in 1937.

Viv McLean, piano

Susan Porrett, writer & narrator

Thursday 21 December 2017, the Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head

The Bull’s head is an attractive pub on the riverside at Barnes, south-west London, and is home to the iconic Jazz Room. Known at “the suburban Ronnie Scott’s”, the Jazz Room – once simply a room at the back of the pub and now in its own separate building – is almost as old as Ronnie’s, boasts a fine roster of jazz performers and is still regarded by many in the jazz world and beyond as a significant music venue. On first sight, it’s not the most appealing place, but when the lights are low, candles flickering, a glass of something in your hand, and with the right performers, the ambiance is pretty special.

The music of George Gershwin remains perennially popular with performers and audiences alike, and his life and work are vividly illustrated in ‘Classic Gershwin’, It is a mistake to think of Gershwin purely as a composer of “jazz” (a term he in fact disliked, preferring the term “swing” to describe his jazz-infused music). His musical tastes and influences were wide, from Bach to Stravinsky and Schoenberg, and he was particularly influenced by the French composers of the early twentieth-century, notably Maurice Ravel, who in turn was intrigued and impressed by Gershwin’s work. Gershwin’s great skill was his ability to manipulate different forms of music into his own unique musical voice.

This was the third performance of Classic Gershwin at The Jazz Room. It’s 7 Star Arts’ most popular show and the enthusiasm and enjoyment of the audience was palpable from the start. For those who may not wish to sit through an entire evening of solo piano music, the combination of music and words is ideal, and the text of ‘Classic Gershwin’ offers just enough information to continually pique the listener’s attention. George Gershwin is brought to life with the delightful interweaving of words and music. Each nugget is illustrated with sensitively-chosen music selections, including Someone to Watch Over Me, I Got Rhythm and the rarely-performed Three Preludes, to Swanee, the song which marked Gershwin’s elevation into the realms of established composer and song-writer after Al Jolson heard Gershwin play it at a party.

The first half of Classic Gershwin closes with Rhapsody in Blue, Gershwin’s hommage to bustling metropolis of Jazz-Age New York, the city of his home, played with exuberance and panache by Viv McLean. The second half focuses on Gershwin’s later life, his growing success and fame, and his work in Hollywood. The description of his failing health (the result of a then-undiagnosed brain tumour) was told with great poignancy, and the concert closed on a tender note with The Man I Love, Percy Grainger’s beautiful transcription exquisitely played by Viv McLean

The great appeal of this words and music concert, aside from the wonderful music, played by Viv with a wonderfully natural musical sensitivity, all underpinned by his pristine technique, is its ability to offer just enough information in the text to keep the listener wanting more. Viv demonstrated that pieces driven by rhythmic vitality and syncopation can still have the most exquisite tonal palette and a magical dynamic range, and the music provided the most delicious interludes, complementing the text at every turn (the musical selections are made between Viv and Susan). The overall effect is a glorious and intriguing celebration of Gershwin’s life and work.

Classic Gershwin makes its West End debut at Crazy Coqs Live at Zedel on Thursday 29th March. Book tickets

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