Gibbons and Gershwin

The concert pianist Jack Gibbons has a love affair with the music of George Gershwin. Meticulously tracing and writing down the notes heard on the performances Gershwin recorded in the 1920’s, he brings to life a nearly forgotten era. Gershwin’s virtuoso improvisations are a testament to his skill as a pianist as well as the composer of songs, Broadway musicals, the opera Porgy and Bess and several orchestral works. His break-through from popular to ‘serious’ music paved the way for people like Leonard Bernstein to ignore the barriers that divide music into categories.

Apparently the legendary parties of New York and Paris at which Gershwin performed in the 1920s and 30s offered a line-up of guest entertainers and musicians that would have been the envy of any international concert venue. On the same evening one could have heard in intimate surroundings not only Gershwin, but Ravel, Heifetz and Horowitz from whose unpublished virtuoso transcriptions Gibbons has again reconstructed note-for-note from the original 78s music.

The barriers certainly down in those fashionable parties often in the company of Charlie Chaplin, Adele and Fred Astaire and other luminaries.

Jack Gibbons whom we heard in Bath’s Independent Cinema this week personifies the same sort of freedom. He was not only playing but presenting Gershwin, talking to his audience about the music, much of which he has performed in several countries, notably in Carnegie Hall in New York. His enthusiasm was contagious and at the end of an astonishing performance of Rhapsody in Blue, he received a standing ovation. The next night he was due to perform Beethoven in Oxford where he has an annual residency each summer. Another Gershwin programme ends the present series on August 31st. I have a 1991 CD of music by Constant Lambert where Jack Gibbons is soloist in the fun piece ‘The Rio Grande’, performed at the Proms a couple of seasons ago.

Gibbons has an informative website which shows the range of his musical sympathies.

His engaging style and brilliant pianism provided the perfect prelude to a showing of ‘An American in Paris’ (surely the perfect Hollywood musical) which followed. Some evening!