nonfiction nuggets…a bluesy, jazzy, love song for New York City

gershwin's rhapsody in blue cover imageGershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, by Anna Harwell Celenza, illustrated by JoAnn E. Kitchel

George Gershwin was only 26 years old when he had the surprise of his life!

Already a successful songwriter, George was taken completely off-guard when a New York newspaper announced he would be premiering a concerto at an upcoming concert. In just five weeks. The problem was:  aeolian hall flyer from abbeville dot comGeorge hadn’t written any such thing!

George protested! He exclaimed! He insisted he could in no way write an entire concerto in five weeks, having never written one in his life! Yet the concert organizer was unmoved. “Of course you can do it,” he replied. “You’re George Gershwin.”

George agreed to “give it a shot.”

And wow! what a shot! Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, that wailing, jazzy, dancing, bluesy, soaring piece of music, was received with wild enthusiasm from its first gershwin's rhapsody in blue illustration joann e. kitchelperformance in February, 1924. Gershwin managed to wrap up in his music an entire landscape of Manhattan, a cultural melting pot of melody. Brilliant.

Anna Harwell Celenza has written a highly-engaging, spirited account of this piece of music and the musical genius who wrote it. This is music appreciation at its best, easily accessible to early elementary children and up. A recording of the piece, performed by George Gershwin and the Columbia Jazz Band, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, is included. Listening to this after reading the story is an even more exciting, interesting experience, as we notice more about the music, and know more about the man behind it.

JoAnn Kitchel’s colorful, ink and watercolor illustrations exude 20s style, with art deco borders, flapper fashions, and all the dazzle of Manhattan. She george gershwinwonderfully whisks us into the neighborhoods of New York in another time.

Celenza has written a number of other titles as well, collaborating on some of them with Kitchel. These books introduce Haydn’s Farewell Symphony, Beethoven’s Eroica, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and Bach’s Goldberg Variations. A treasure trove for exploring some gorgeous music with young people.

Here’s the Amazon  link for the Gershwin book:  Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue

And a YouTube link of the same recording included in the book, with an explanation of how they went about making it, using a “1925 piano roll” and attempting to reproduce the sound of the original performance.