|George Gershwin, 1937 Carl Van Vechten|
Shortly after News Year's Day in 1930, the "King of Jazz," bandleader Paul Whiteman asked his friend, George Gershwin, to compose a "jazz concerto" for his concert series in New York. Although faced with a short performance deadline, Gershwin reluctantly agreed. In two weeks, he completed the new piece and entitled it Rhapsody in Blue. After two weeks of orchestration and eight days of rehearsal, Whiteman premiered the piece at the Aeolian Hall in New York on February 12, 1924 with Gershwin at the piano. The performance certainly enhanced Whiteman's reputation but more importantly it affirmed Gershwin's place as an innovative, leading American composer. The rest is history.
There is no recording of the premiere but the bandleader and composer did appear in a memorable performance of Rhapsody in Blue in the 1930 film,King of Jazz. The film itself is an important piece of cinema history.
As for Rhapsody in Blue it seems as fresh today as it did in 1924 ranking among the most popular of concert titles in orchestra repertoires around the world.
Photographs and Illustrations:
Photograph, Van Vechten Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.