Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ Free Shipping
+ Free Shipping
The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs Hardcover – October 16, 2012
|New from||Used from|
This month's Book With Buzz: "The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers "In a Dark, Dark Wood" and "The Woman in Cabin 10" comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel, "The Lying Game." See more
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
“Frisky, affectionate, lushly illustrated, deeply informed and profoundly respectful.”—Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Michael Feinstein is an entertainer and educator known as one of the leading experts on classic American popular music. A five-time Grammy nominee, he performs, records, and lectures extensively and has been awarded three honorary doctorate degrees. Learn more about Michael Feinstein at MichaelFeinstein.com.
Top customer reviews
What makes this book so endearing--- in addition to the wealth of information about George and Ira Gershwin-- is Mr. Feinstein's writing. It has all the appeal of a conversation over drinks. The author rhapsodizes (no pun intended) about the Gershwins---- his enthusiasm is catching-- but also has no qualms about voicing his opinions about various and sundry criticisms made about them that he does not think are fair: about Leonard Bernstein, for instance. His criticism of "Rhapsody in Blue" was in large part because of his jealousy of George Gershwin, Mr. Feinstein believes, and he opines that there would never have been a Leonard Bernstein if there had not been a George Gershwin. But Virgil Thomson who had written what Feinstein calls a "bitchy paragraph" about "Porgy and Bess" he describes as "an intellectual, homosexual, short, unattractive man who lacked all of the advantages that were born to Gershwin. He also spoke with an impossibly high-pitched voice that was ridiculed behind his back ." George Gershwin was tall, athletic, even installing a gym in his townhouse, and handsome-- as the many photographs throughout this lavishly illustrated book indicate-- and certainly had his pick of beautiful, sophisticated women including Kay Swift and Kitty Carlyle. Mr. Feinstein does address, however, the rumors and gossip concerning Gershwin's sexuality and concludes that there is no hard evidence that he was "more interested in men than women" although he never married.
The music that George and Ira Gershwin produced, however, and its influence on American culture, is much more important. Who can forget, for instance, the first time you heard "Rhapsody in Blue" or your favorite singer doing "Summertime" or "The Man I Love" or "Swanee"-- George's first big hit in 1919-- or seeing a production of "Porgy and Bess" in an opera house? Mr. Feinstein on the Gershwin legacy: "What George Gershwin accomplished in his short life was a fusing of different types of music to create what became the musical voice of America. Of all those who dreamed and tried, for George it seemed predestined, with joy and a sense of purpose that was at times confounding. If there is an American soundtrack, Gershwin owns a good portion of it, with words by Ira."
Mr. Feinstein says we have to accept the fact, however, that millions of Americans have never heard of the Gershwins. A voice teacher friend of his, for instance, tells of a student who said she was going to sing "Summertime" by Porgy and Bess. The author discusses at length some of the reasons why the kind of music the Gershwins wrote is no longer in vogue as it once was: fewer young peope learn to play the piano, there are fewer pianos in the home now, the number of piano bars has diminished, public schools are dropping music appreciation from the curricula, record companies are reluctant to produce a recording that will not be a big money-maker even if it contributes to the culture of our nation. I with sadness wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Feinstein's conclusion that our country has fallen apart culturally. But he says it better than I: "As a nation, we can't sit still. We're not terribly interested in anything with depth, but we are fascinated by more and more of the surface. "American Idol" and shows like it have given people permission to judge, to hate, to mock, to humiliate, to denigrate deficiencies in other people in the most vocal way. It's not about "music"; it's about turning kids into commercial performers."
There is so much-- I hesitate to use the word-- musical trivia throughout this beautiful book that both lovers of the Gershwins and new converts will find so appealing. Here are a few of them: When George Gershwin approached the French composer Maurice Ravel about lessons from him, Ravel turned him down, saying that it was more important to be a first-rate Gershwin than a second-rate Ravel. When Stephen Sondheim first saw the original manuscript of "Porgy" he was so moved that a tear fell on the document, thereby "leaving a slight stain that will forever bind the two composers." And Irving Berlin commented on Ethel Merman's big voice, saying that if you ever wrote a bad song for Ethel, that you would hear it. Both George and Ira Gershwin were principled and decent individuals. George, for instance, refused to let "Porgy" be staged with white players in blackface and Ira eventually removed the "N" word from the opera's lyrics, saying that if he had realized how hurtful the word was to black Americans, he would never have used it in the first place. Even though the elder Gershwins spoke with a Russian accent, George was never ashamed of his parents and invited them to his fancy parties. (And you have to smile at and love them for closing their blinds during Jewish holidays so their neighbors would not know that they -- not religious-- were not observing the holidays.) Finally, although it would have been to his advantage financially because it would have extended the copyright on the piece, Ira adamantly refused to add lyrics to "Rhapsody in Blue."
Mr. Feinstein--who of course does give us much interesting information about himself as well; he has 30,000 pieces of sheet music and as many recordings-- wonders what George Gershwin, who died at 38, would have produced if he had lived decades longer. After all, "Rhapsody in Blue," "Concerto in F" and "Porgy" were all firsts for him. These pieces with a handful of songs, however, are here to stay.
So here's what I didn't like. First, the title. Mr. Feinstein never met George Gershwin, who dies long before Mr. Feinstein's birth, and though his relationship with Ira Gershwin grew into something significant, it started out as little more than an employer-employee contract. So, calling the book, The Gershwins and Me is, I think, inaccurate at best and presumptuous at worst. Nonetheless, it's his book, and I suppose he can call it what he wants, so I'll leave it at that. The "history in twelve songs" is on the surface quite contrived, but it actually works well for the author's purpose. What doesn't work is when he spends several pages defending his opinions and viewpoints, and on (thankfully) rare occasions, digresses into diatribes about his views on music, education, American culture, fellow performers and composers, and the many "hangers on" of the Gershwin legacy over the years. At about the halfway point, I found that skipping any paragraph that contained phrases like "I think that..." or "I wonder if ..." or "I'm always intrigued by..." or "I remember one time I was ..." served me quite well in that I could quickly get back to the story of the Gershwins and their music and the people and circumstances that surrounded them. And note that I'm not saying Mr. Feinstein isn't entitled to express his opinions and speculations and share his personal anecdotes. He is and he is more than welcome to publish them in any book of his choosing. I simply wish to assert my right to stick to the subject at hand and not let his editorials interrupt my entertainment and education.
Undoubtedly, for many people, myself included, one of the highlights of the book is the many illustrations of sheet music, photos, autographs and ephemera that Mr. Feinstein shares throughout this book. An avid collector with means, many of the things illustrated in the book will only ever be seen in this format. (Mr. Feinstein has sent countless contributions and rarities to the Smithsonian, among other places, over the years, attesting to the breadth and value of the objects still in his collection.) And most notably, the publishers saw fit to print this book in high gloss on heavy archive style paper, with rich color, great variety, and a well-paced layout. The high quality printing and steady diet of visual really makes the stories, anecdotes, history and music come alive. And if that weren't enough, the book also comes with a CD of Mr. Feinstein performing the twelve songs (with the formidable Cyrus Chestnut on piano) that give structure to the book. In all, the execution of this book is superb, and I think the author and publisher are both to be commended.
And, to be honest, as I wrote that paragraph, I stopped and thought and realized, even with its minor shortcomings, this is still a wonderful book and it would be unfair to give it less than full marks. So, again, to be honest, I started this as a four star review, and finish it as a five. (Now I need to rewrite the review title.)
At the age of 20, Feinstein became the personal assistant to Ira Gershwin, helping to catalog the work of perhaps the greatest songwriting team in American history [Ira with his brother, George, of course]. He spent six years at the task, which certainly qualifies him as one of the foremost authorities on his subject. The book not only addresses the Gershwins' impressive output, but the whole genre, which he dates back to the writing of Swanee. He suggests the tunes of George and lyrics of Ira, fresh and vital, helped to shape the attitudes, morals and beliefs of the 1920s, `30s and `40s. And beyond the Gershwins, he looks at the whole genre: Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart, Harry Warren and Harold Arlen, and how they were influenced by the brothers Gershwin.
In case you're wondering, the twelve songs are: "Strike Up the Band," "'S Wonderful," "I've Got a Crush on You," "They All Laughed," "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Embraceable You," "Who Cares?," "I Got Plenty of Nuthin'," "They Can't Take Than Away from Me," "I Got Rhythm," and "Love Is Here to Stay."
Not only are the Gerswins memorable, but this book will be as well: for its information and art. It certainly should, and will be, I am certain, a lot more than just a display on a coffee table. Highly recommended.