Summertime: George Gershwin’s Life in Music

Richard Crawford. Norton, $39.95 (592p) ISBN 978-0-393-05215-2
George Gershwin, the maestro of the American Songbook, comes across as a serious composer who fused jazz and classical music in this admiring but bloodless biography. University of Michigan musicologist Crawford (America’s Musical Life) follows Gershwin (1898–1937) and his rise in the ferment of early 20th century popular music from hawking tunes in New York’s Tin Pan Alley to writing songs for Broadway and Hollywood musicals, including standards such as “Swanee,” “I Got Rhythm,” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.” He foregrounds Gershwin’s long-form symphonic jazz, including the “Rhapsody in Blue,” the folk opera Porgy and Bess, and the “Concerto in F”; these pieces, Crawford shows, made Gershwin’s reputation as a pioneer of a novel American blues-inflected classical style—they occasionally appeared alongside Beethoven in concert programs—and absorbed much of his time and ambition. Drawing heavily on Gershwin’s letters, the author narrates the whorl of song-writing, rehearsals, parties, and concertizing that was his life, but there’s little drama in the story—barely even a love interest—and Gershwin feels like a sunny, busy, and talented man without depth. Crawford discusses Gershwin’s oeuvre in detail, but the musicological analysis—“Gershwin’s scheme balanced tonal stability with tonal freedom in a proportion that proved ideal for a thirty-two-bar aaba structure”—doesn’t sing. The result is an informative but humdrum take on Gershwin’s music. Photos. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 06/03/2019
Release date: 09/03/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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