Having thoroughly enjoyed the Cole Porter program that is part of Songbook Summit presented by ultra-talented musician twins Peter and Will Anderson, I went back for their George Gershwin session (August 15-20) and it was an evening of pure heaven. Listing to selections of Gershwin played by the Andersons and three other talented musicians, plus the vocals by Molly Ryan, is totally joyful.
For one thing the music by George Gershwin, at times abetted by the lryics of his brother Ira, occupies a very special place in American musical history. Will Anderson deals interestingly at length with background information. For example, he speaks of how in only a few weeks, to keep a concert obligation with conductor Paul Whiteman, George Gershwin wrote his phenomenal “Rhapsody in Blue.”
The group proceeds to play it, with Will soaring on clarinet at the outset and pianist Jeb Patton soloing fantastically. (Among the many film clips projected is one showing what a whiz George Gershwin was as at the piano). As pointed out, Gershwin elevated his music to a combination of jazz, classic, folk and contemporary to create his very special legacy, including the groundbreaking “Porgy and Bess.” Tragically, George Gershwin died of a brain tumor in 1937 at the age of only 38. But what music he left for the world in his short time of intense productivity!
Among the sampling given us by the Andersons is their opener, “Fascinating Rhythm,” followed by such gems as “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” marked with a superb match of Peter on sax and Will on clarinet. “Embraceable You,” is sung with great feeling by Molly Ryan, who also scores effectively with, among other numbers, “Our Love Is Here to Stay“ and “But Not for Me.”
There are numerous clips from “Hollywood Movies” for which Gershwin composed musical numbers, especially those starring Fred Astaire. There is even a funny clip of the Muppets singing Gershwin. Highlights include recorded comments by Ira about his brother. And to further delight, drawings by Al Hirschfeld are liberally projected.
Musicians accompanying the Andersons, in addition to pianist Patton, are Neal Miner on bass and Phil Stewart on drums. Peter Anderson’s instruments include tenor sax, soprano sax and clarinet, and Will excels with alto sax, clarinet and flute. Their arrangements and riffs dazzle. (The concluding program in the series dedicated to Richard Rodgers is August 22-27.) At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Phone: 212-753-5959. Reviewed August 16, 2017.