"For Gershwin interpretations Bisaccia wins hands down." - American Record Guide
This CD came to fruition with the good luck of having so many friends who have shared their rare manuscripts with me.
In the fall of 2009 I was asked to participate in a concert/lecture on rare Gershwin sheet music. To add some excitement to our endeavor, Michael Feinstein the noted cabaret entertainer and Gershwin expert, generously sent us copies of some rare unpublished Gershwin manuscripts - Ragging the Traumerei and For Lily Pons. These two pieces are bookends to Gershwin's musical output, composed at the very beginning and very end of his career as a composer.
Ragging the Traumerei is the first known composition by George Gershwin. It was written around 1912 or 1913. This puts Gershwin at about 14 years old. The exisitng piano part shows that even as a teenager, George had an instinctive and bravura way of playing the piano. The voice leading is very similar to Eubie Blake's ragtime works. Coincidentally in 1911 Al Jolson premiered a song called That Lovin' Traumerei at the Winter Garden Theater. This song actually helped launch Jolson's career. In the following year Jolson recorded the song for RCA and it put him on the map. It wouldn't be out of the question to surmise that the Gershwin brothers heard Al Jolson perform this song live at the Winter Garden and this gave George the idea to compose his piano rag version. Jazzing up classical music was the fashion and Gershwin's "ragging" of the classical masterpiece by Robert Schumann cleverly incorporates the Schumann melody in both the verse and the chorus.(Traumerei means reverie or dreaming.) Of course in 1919 Al Jolson catapulted himself into the realm of legend when he sang George's "Swanee" (again at the Winter Garden) and at the same time put the young George Gershwin on the map. This is the first recording of Gershwin's Ragging the Traumerei.
For Lily Pons was found among George's papers at his death. Ira remembered that George wanted to write a piece for Lily Pons and he believed this manuscript was that piece. It is a haunting nocturne with the flavor of late Debussy. George Gershwin studied all the music of Debussy and he knew the Debussy Preludes completely. Lily Pons has a hint of the Debussy cello sonata as well. At the end of his life Gershwin was a great composer at the height of his creative powers. This enchanting music gives us a glimpse into another side of Gershwin's art.
In the fall of 2009 I attended a concert by the wonderful pianist Nigel Coxe. He has a marvelous recording of music by Gershwin and Eubie Blake among others and after the concert he mentioned his friendship with Eubie Blake's widow. He then generously offered to get me copies of Tricky Fingers and Troublesome Ivories - both difficult rags to find. They show the wonderful exuberance and daring of Eubie Blake's turn of the century pianistic exploits.
My home in Hartford CT is a couple blocks from The Mark Twain House and I have played the Steinway in Mark Twain's parlor many times. 2010 being the 100th anniversary of Mark Twain's death, I was asked by the Mark Twain House to participate in a concert of music connected to Hartford and Twain at Immanuel Church. Donald Funk the current organist at Immanuel, provided me with a rare score by Dudley Buck, a former minster of music at Immanuel during the 19th century. Buck was born in Hartford and studied music at the Leipzig Conservatory in Germany in the 1860's. After his studies he returned to Hartford as the music minister at Immanuel which happens to be directly across the street from the Mark Twain House. Introduction and Rondo Brillante is in the style of Mendelssohn with a perhaps a hint of Chopin. Some of Mr. Buck's organ compositions are still in the repertoire but this is a world premiere of his rare piano work.
James Spencer's beautiful and harmonically subtle piano arrangement of Stephen Foster's Swanee River dates back to the early twenties. Spencer was a family friend of Dot and Watts Lawrence who kindly provided me with this rare sheet music.
Another great American composer is Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the first American to have an international career as a concert pianist. His Grand Scherzo (1869) is a homage to Chopin. The title page to his Tournament Galop (1854) declares "Played by him at all his concerts throughout the United States".
In the "American as apple pie" category we have Billy Joel's New York State of Mind, Sousa's Semper Fidelis March, and to top it off Danny Elfman's Theme From The Simpsons.
In the bonus section of this CD David Giardina, a vocalist who actually resides in Tin Pan Alley in New York, and has sung at the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center, sings a couple standards from the American Songbook by Gershwin and Stephen Foster.
John Thomas, composer from Provincetown MA, rounds out the unique contributors to this album. 2010 also marks the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown. (Yes, the pilgims first landed in Provincetown Harbor where they signed the Mayflower Compact before they went on to Plymouth Rock.) So here is a contemporary American composer living in the very spot where our great experiment in democracy first started. I asked John if he would would write something special for me, just for this CD. The result was Variations on Amazing Grace and as a bonus the composer joins me in a world premiere of Dirty Rag -his delightful romp for 4 hands that sounds like an old player piano roll.