"George Gershwin was not only two steps ahead of everyone else,
but pulled his rivals along too."
This bold statement leads the article "Setting the Standards" in
Time Magazine, October 5, 1998, on page 90. The author is essayist
Wilfrid Sheed, and with a grand and joyful flair he talks about
Gershwin's benevolent influence upon all of America's song-writers,
from Tin Pan Alley to Hollywood. Sheed asks rhetorically:
"What greater musical legacy has America given the world than the
songs of Gershwin, Cole Porter and the rest of the gang? What body
of our music has been more widely played, admired and memorized
around the world than the jazz-flavored songs known as standards?
And where did they come from? Listen up."
Sheed notes that as it emerged and evolved, "jazz contained a bit of
everything; the tingle and immediacy of pop but also the sophisticated
harmonies of classical and the authenticity and rootedness of folk."
So what do we _do_ with this thing called 'jazz'? Well, better than
anyone else, Gershwin gave answers to this question with the up-scale
settings of "Rhapsody in Blue" and "Piano Concerto in F" and "Porgy
and Bess". But most of all he set forth how to use jazz in songs.
"There were whole new chords and phrases and key changes and moods
that the rag writers hadn't even touched yet. From 1919 to 1924
these would virtually serve as Gershwin's private playground and
personal gold mine, from which the Brooklyn-born son of immigrants
proceeded to extract all kinds of music, including, in one glittering
shovelful, not just his famous Rhapsody but also a related song
called "The Man I Love"."
Just as surely as an audience recognizes a waltz by Johann Strauss
and a march by John Philip Sousa, they recognize the swingy, jazzy
sounds of a pop song by George Gershwin. Or is it Gershwin? Maybe
it's by one of the countless composers who fell under his spell. But
no matter what anyone else did, Gershwin seemed to stay at least
two moves ahead, setting the pace and expanding the reach of jazz