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Centenary tribute to a giant of American musical theatre

The stress is on selecting pieces that showcase Gershwin rather than jazz, which is as it should be. If some of them are not great jazz, the album still is a fitting tribute

Someone to Watch Over Me
The classic songs of
George and Ira Gershwin
Rs 100

When George Gershwin, born in 1899, died before reaching 40, his prodigious talent had established him as one of the great names of American musical theatre. In an age when they were growing together, the Broadway musical inevitably fed jazz, but Gershwin did so more than most.

Many numbers here have vocals. Classic vocal jazz mostly had a singer backed by instrumentalists of whom one or more soloed. The best example in this album is Billie Holiday on Let's call the whole thing off, which has lovely tenor sax and trumpet solos. Similarly, Sarah Vaughan puts all her heart into Embraceable you with a piano solo to back her.

But jazz vocalists have also had a weapon in scat singing, where the use of nonsense syllables frees them from the obligation of making up words as they improvise the melody. The two greatest exponents of scatting, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, join forces with Armstrong's trumpet on It ain't necessarily so.

The purely instrumental numbers are textbook jazz in their emphasis on solos. We have Coleman Hawkins on tenor sax in How long has this been going on? There's Benny Carter on alto sax in A foggy day. Erroll Garner on piano in Strike up the band sets up his inexorable left-hand rhythm against staggered right-hand timing of the melody. The astonishingly lyrical sax of Roland Kirk improvises almost all the way through Someone to watch over me to give the cunning impression of merging with Duke Ellington's In a sentimental mood. The trombonist Jimmy Cleveland, who rarely led his own group, has an extraordinary solo on Our love is here to stay.


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