Sunday, January 28, 2018

Fascinating Rhythm

The old Convention Hall, on 13th between Central and Wyandotte, the site of today's Barney Allis Plaza.
*     *     *
The Journal-Post listed the jazzy Saturday night possibilities: live music and floor shows at a constellation of nightclubs now serving legal liquor after thirteen years of Prohibition. The Hey-Hay Club, Bar le Duc, the New Reel, the Ritz, Silver Slipper, Hi-Hat, Mardi Gras, Dante's Inferno, Alamo Supper Club. Drink-Drink-Drink. You don't need your flask at the Harlem! Dine and Dance with Bennie Moten and George E. Lee and their combined 15-piece recording orchestra. 

A small announcement was tucked in the bottom corner of the page, just above a notice for the Arrow Messenger Service:

*     *     *
It was the halfway point of a 28-day, 28-city tour playing to overflow crowds, the first such road trip for a man who by January 1934 was known as "America's favorite composer and pianist." The tour marked the 10th anniversary of his classical "Rhapsody in Blue," then being called "the foundation stone of his reputation." He had composed a new orchestral piece for the occasion, variations based on one of his songs, "I Got Rhythm."

Still, Gershwin's reputation was not high-brow enough for some classical music critics. The J-P reporter made reference to that the next day in his review:

It may not be great music to the ears of the critical hierarchy in musical circles, but it is typically American and it is safe to say that the average American gets more genuine pleasure from Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” “Strike Up the Band,” and “I Got Rhythm” than from the less comprehensible works of the masters. Certainly the audience in Convention Hall expressed as much pleasure in its applause as any gathering of music lovers here has shown toward symphony or classical concerts.
 It would be his only performance in Kansas City. Three and a half years later a brain tumor would take his life.
*     *     *
It's amazing now to imagine George Gershwin playing here in January 1934 just as what would become KC's golden age of jazz was blossoming. His "set list" that afternoon included "Concerto in F," "Rhapsody in Blue," the variations, and a medley of his popular show tunes, including "Lady Be Good," "Fascinating Rhythm," and "The Man I Love." 

It's possible the Moten-Lee combined orchestra at the Harlem Club might have riffed on one or more of those. But there would have been no "Summertime" or "It Ain't Necessarily So" because Gershwin was just then composing Porgy and Bess, the opera that would contain those tunes. Nor were there other Gershwin standards today heard in jazz clubs worldwide – "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off" for instance, or "They Can't Take That Away From Me" or "Nice Work If You Can Get It" – which were written later for 1930s Hollywood movies.

During his American road tour Gershwin was quoted as saying "highbrows have no right to turn up their noses at jazz."

"After all," he said, " "jazz is the only really American music. "It couldn't have been written anywhere else."

*     *     *