Gershwin Fascinating rhythm 09026632942

George Gershwin (1898-1937)
Fascinating Rhythm: The Broadway Gershwin, 1919-1933
rec. 1920-33, Camden, New York City, Chicago
Presto CD
RCA 09026632942 [61]

This compilation of Gershwin’s music from his Broadway shows was first released back in the late 1990s and reappears here courtesy of Presto.  It offers a distillation of 78s made between 1920 and 1933 and whilst it’s not presented in strict chronological order, it’s roughly so, allowing the proximity of show to recording to set the pace and to shed light on performance practice at the time. It’s also splendid tuneful fun, and we hear from some of the leading performers and orchestras of the day.

Recording songs from shows quickly after first productions was hardly new but even so it’s exciting to hear Swanee, from The Capitol Revue (1919), recorded in June 1920 by The Peerless Quartet, by which time Jolson had already recorded it – and there had been a piano roll too. The vocal quartet bring vaudevillian bravura very different to Jolson’s epochal, if stentorian declamation. Paul Whiteman was for many years closely associated with Gershwin and his orchestra was often the favoured pit band, complete with the consummate instrumentalists who included trumpeter Henry Busse, clarinettist and alto player Ross Gorman, pianist and arranger Ferde Grofé and a host of others. Whiteman’s September 1922 recording of I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise is one of a number of ‘Creator’ records in this disc, performed by the artists who premiered the work. Lady, Be Good! was the first complete Gershwin score to be heard on Broadway and Whiteman was duly there to record both Fascinating Rhythm and the show’s title song during the opening run, in time to catch both the zeitgeist and the revenue from record sales. Listen out for the piquant orchestrations and colouristic vitality of the arrangements.

By December 1925 the recording horn was out and the microphone was in use and the greater depth and amplitude of early electric recording can be savoured when Whiteman plays Sweet and Low-Down – two-beat tuba and convulsive pit band virtuosity to the fore, the melody line passing from trumpet to trombone to clarinet.  Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians may not enjoy the same cachet as the Whiteman band but their peppily syncopated Nashville Nightingale sounds very attractive in this late acoustic disc. Microphone pioneer of intimate singing, ‘Whispering’ Jack Smith, sings Clap Yo’ Hands and Victor’s Frank Black, later well-known for his light orchestral duties (and a few non-light ones) turns in a notably well-drilled ‘S Wonderful with Gershwin’s two piano team, Victor Arden and Phil Ohman, leading their orchestra – in actuality the Victor Studio Orchestra.

The imperishable art of Gertrude Lawrence is preserved in two 1926 pieces – not least Someone to Watch Over Me – where she’s accompanied by pianist Tom Waring, Fred’s brother. Jimmy Johnson and his Statler Pennsylvanians had a fine ensemble that sums up the spirit of the times. Jazzers will be interested to see that Jack Teagarden plays trombone in My One and Only, not that he can be recognised. Indeed, the increasing quotient of jazz musicians playing or recording in dance or hot orchestras can be noted in Roger Wolfe Kahn’s band – Leo McConville, Miff Mole, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang and Vic Berton for starters. Marion Harris sings The Man I Love in 1927, hot off the press during Strike Up the Band’s run. Her star seems to have faded somewhat now but she was an exceptionally famous performer in her day and well worth hearing for this stylish reading.

Leo Reisman and Duke Ellington – in 1931, performing Sam and Delilah, with vocalist Chick Bullock (characteristically disappointing) – round out this perspective of Gershwin’s Broadway days but not before we hear from Ramona and her Grand Piano and finally, and not unfairly, Whiteman.

The succinct, knowledgeable notes are by Dwight Blocker Bowers and it’s good to welcome back this cultivated, well transferred Gershwin release.

Jonathan Woolf  

see article The Man I Love by Len Mullenger

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Peerless Quartet

I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise

Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra

Nashville Nightingale

Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians

Fascinating Rhythm

Oh! Lady Be Good

Sweet and Low-Down

Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra

Clap Yo’ Hands

Whispering Jack Smith

‘S Wonderful

Victor Arden, Phil Ohman, and their Orchestra

Do, Do, Do

Someone to Watch Over Me

Gertrude Lawrence

O Gee! – O Joy!

My One and Only

Johnny Johnson’s Statler Pennsylvanians

Looking for a Boy

Roger Wolf Kahn and His Orchestra

The Man I Love

Marion Harris


Victor Arden, Phil Ohman, and their Orchestra


Leo Reisman and His Orchestra

Sam and Delilah

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra

Who Cares?

Victor Arden, Phil Ohman, and their Orchestra

My Cousin in Milwaukee

Ramona and Her Grand Piano

Let ’em Eat Cake Medley

Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra