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George Gershwin Part 3: Rhapsody in Blue

Friday, December 30th, 2011: George Gershwin, Stories.

The auditorium in the heart of downtown San Francisco is packed at noon on Wednesday. A noisy crowd. Without any introduction, George strides across the stage wearing a tuxedo, at just the appointed time, dropping his butt on the bench before the grand piano and aggressively attacking it, his feet dancing and his butt scooting around on the bench. He beats out a ragtime, looking up at the audience and nodding with that Popeye grin. It’s loud and technically bewildering, it’s over quickly, and he jumps up and grabs the microphone.

“Some of you may know the name Marcel Duchamp,” he suggests hoarsely. “An artist of some renown. He devised this next piece to settle a bet.”

Mrs. Gershwin advances onstage, carefully pushing a cart stacked with what appear to be crystal wine glasses, brandy snifters, filled to different depths. George is theatrically rolling up his sleeves, revealing his muscular arms. He wets the tips of his fingers in a glass of water, and begins to play a tune by caressing the rims of the glasses. It’s “Chopsticks.” The crowd explodes with laughter and applause.

When he’s done Tessie looms at the microphone and George launches into her accompaniment, this time fixing his hunched concentration on the piano. She sings stridently off-key. Old labor songs.

“And now, I will do something no one has ever attempted,” says George as the hour approaches one. Tessie’s returning onstage with a little red toy piano.

“I will play Rhapsody In Blue on two pianos, the grand and the toy, at the same time.”

And he does, brilliantly.

From Loft of Dreams: True Stories by Max Carmichael

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