Saturday, April 21, 2018

Douglas Messerli | on George and Ira Gershwin's "I've Got Rhythm" from My Favorite Musical Theater Songs


“I Got Rhythm”

Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performers: Paul Whitman Band, with George Gershwin at the piano, 1928
Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performer: Judy Garland, 1943
Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performer: Ethel Merman
Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performer: Charlie Parker
Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performer: Gene Kelly, 1951 from An American in Paris
Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performer: Ella Fitzgerald, 1959
Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performer: Barbra Streisand
Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performers: Marcus Roberts Trio
Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performer: Halle Berry, 1998
Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performer: Hiromi, 2010
Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performer: Nikki Yanofsky, 2010

Legend has it that upon the premiere performance of “I Got Rhythm” from the Gershwin’s musical Girl Crazy George Gershwin told its performer, Ethel Merman, to never take a singing lesson (she later did when Lucille Ball attempted to tell her how to sing on I Love Lucy). I suppose if there was ever a song that needed a good “belting,” it was this jazzy number, and it got plenty of full-forced sings, including by Judy Garland (who later played in the film version) and Ella Fitzgerald.
     Over time, however, it became the slightly slower in tempo or orchestrally based jazz interpretations that made this song one of greatest ever, in particular Charlie Parker’s version and later singers such as Barbra Streisand and Nikki Yanofsky.
     In some respects, there’s no easy way to destroy this joyful manifestation of living the simple life in the early years of the Depression, particularly if you’re in love. “Old man trouble” just can’t hang out by any good singer’s or musician’s door.
     Written originally for another musical, the piece was performed by Gershwin himself before the 1930 opening of Girl Crazy (which included jazz musicians Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Glenn Miller and Jimmy Dorsey in the pit), and it already had become a kind of hit with Paul Whitman’s orchestra radio performances.

I got rhythm, I got music, I got my man
Who could ask for anything more?
I've got daisies in green pastures
I've got my man
Who could ask for anything more?

Old man trouble I don't mind him
You won't find him 'round my door
I've got starlight
I've got sweet dreams
I've got my man
Who could ask for anything more?

Old man trouble, I don't mind him
You won't find him 'round my door
I've got starlight
I've got sweet dreams
I've got my man
Who could ask for anything more?

      Strangely, one of the weakest musical presentations of this number appears in the noted Gene Kelly musical, An American in Paris, in which he turns the number into a kind boy chorus, the boys shouting out “I got,” to each of his choruses. But then, this charming number, is really about dance more than the music, which demonstrates the durability of the Gershwin’s music and lyrics.
My only regret is that I could include more the Gershwin’s memorable works. I excluded Porgy and Bess simply because I see it more as a true opera, and I just couldn’t fit in their other important songs. Next time I do such an anthology, you can be sure their songs will be far more prominent.

Los Angeles, April 21, 2018  

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