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Thursday, February 19, 2004

PARTY MUSIC (DIGRESSION NUMBER THREE from Driving Down the Mountain with Ella and Friends)

Writing Monday in the post SPEECH AND SONG, about a recording of Gershwin and Fred Astaire together, made me dig back into a Gershwin book I have on the shelf, "Gershwin Remembered," edited by Edward Jablonski, which includes written and spoken reminiscences about the great composer by people who knew him, as well as some of Gershwin's own writings. (The book quotes Astaire's memoir -- they were friends as well as collaborators, friends from before either got famous.)

Many people mention the pleasure Gershwin took in playing for people at parties. His brother and chief collaborator, lyricist Ira Gershwin, in his wonderful book "Lyrics on Several Occasions," mentions this a lot too. In the Jablonski book, a songwriter friend of theirs named Kay Swift describes what the scene was like, with loveliness:

"Oh, it was so stimulating [to hear him play]. I've seen very old people and kids, and people that were very stiffo about popular music or playing music for shows, and they rushed to the piano and hung over it . . . they were so stimulated that some of them were even starting to do a dance. People became unselfconscious; that was the great thing he did for people -- one of the great things. He made them forget themselves entirely and just think about the music, which was such an escape, like a trip to another country. They all felt it because they made him play so long. If he played at a party, he wouldn't play for fifteen minutes; he'd sit there for an hour. I've seen him play for an hour-and-a-quarter, and [an] hour-and-a-half, enjoying himself and everyone saying, 'Go on! More, more!'"

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