Wednesday, November 21, 2018

the last book I ever read (Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of the Great Gatsby, excerpt six)

from Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of the Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell:

On Sunday, November 5, Carl Van Vechten attended a cocktail party that appeared to be hosting “all the kept women & brokers in New York.” One of the other guests was twenty-four-year-old George Gershwin, who entertained the party by playing his hit song from The Scandals of 1922, “I’ll Build A Stairway to Paradise.” It could have been the theme song of Jay Gatsby, who would see a stairway to paradise on the streets of Louisville as he kissed Daisy Fay for the first time. The bandleader Paul Whiteman, who recorded “Stairway to Paradise” in 1922, would commission Gershwin two years later to compose a serious, full-length jazz composition; the result was “Rhapsody in Blue,” which premiered in February 1924, two months before the Fitzgeralds quit New York for the blue Mediterranean.

Gershwin’s invention was inspired, he said, by the daily rhythms and noises of urban life, sounds of modern America being born: “It was on the train, with its steely rhythms, its rattle-ty bang, that is so often so stimulating to a composer—I frequently hear music in the very heart of the noise . . . I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness.” Gershwin’s original title for the composition about metropolitan madness was “American Rhapsody,” until his brother Ira suggested that he model himself on the titles of James McNeil Whistler's paintings, such as Nocturne in Black and Gold.

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