- Nov 25, 2012
To think it might have never existed at all...
Following the success of an experimental classical-jazz concert held with Canadian singer Éva Gauthier in New York City on November 1, 1923, bandleader Paul Whiteman decided to attempt a more ambitious feat. He asked composer George Gershwin to write a concerto-like piece for an all-jazz concert in honor of Lincoln's Birthday to be given at Aeolian Hall. Whiteman became fixated upon performing such an extended composition by Gershwin after he collaborated with him in The Scandals of 1922. He had been especially impressed by Gershwin's one-act "jazz opera" Blue Monday. Gershwin initially declined Whiteman's request on the grounds that—as there would likely be a need for revisions to the score—he would have insufficient time to compose the work.
Soon after, on the evening of January 3, George Gershwin and lyricist Buddy DeSylva were playing billiards at the Ambassador Billiard Parlor at Broadway and 52nd Street in Manhattan. Their game was interrupted by Ira Gershwin, George's brother, who had been reading the January 4 edition of the New-York Tribune. An unsigned article entitled "What Is American Music?" about an upcoming Whiteman concert had caught Ira's attention. The article falsely declared that George Gershwin was already "at work on a jazz concerto" for Whiteman's concert.
Gershwin was puzzled by the news announcement as he had politely declined to compose any such work for Whiteman. In a telephone conversation with Whiteman the next morning, Gershwin was informed that Whiteman's arch rival Vincent Lopez was planning to steal the idea of his experimental concert and there was no time to lose. Gershwin was thus finally persuaded by Whiteman to compose the piece.