New York City native and gifted pianist George Gershwin blossomed as an accompanist before his talent as a songwriter opened the way to Broadway, where he fashioned his own brand of American music. Drawing extensively from letters and contemporaneous accounts, music historian Richard Crawford traces the arc of Gershwin’s remarkable life.
... why another volume on the life and work? Musicologist Crawford brings to this well-trod ground an engaging focus on the music, scrupulously covering all the musical comedies in detail as well as the classical compositions and film work. He effectively interweaves what was happening in Gershwin’s personal life into the story of the songs and shows, rather than the other way around. It proves a felicitous approach, allowing detailed analysis of technique but folding in enlightening anecdotes ... Above all, Crawford makes the case for Gershwin’s crucial role in bridging various styles of music and performance, and then taking the melding process another giant step with his triumphant folk opera Porgy and Bess. A worthy tribute to Gershwin’s phenomenal creativity over only two decades.
The account of how he composed the American folk opera Porgy and Bess is the most moving part of this book ... Crawford is one of the most distinguished writers of American music history. He compiled this work from the extensive George Gershwin Archives at the Library of Congress and from many scrapbooks and periodicals. For aficionados of American musicals, he has furnished detailed plot summaries as well as technical descriptions of the songs. A monumental work for all who love American music.
...a genial account, around half the size of Mr. Pollack’s magnum opus, that demonstrates his passion for Gershwin on almost every page ... In 500 pages, Mr. Crawford offers rich details of this life in music ... No Gershwin scholar has done a better job of digging into newspaper reviews and magazine articles from the 1920s and 1930s, culling quotes and commentary and providing an almost week-by-week study of how the composer made his mark on American cultural life ... Mr. Crawford skillfully navigates through the disputes stirred up by Gershwin’s ascendancy, but there are curious gaps in this book. His lack of interest in Gershwin’s posthumous legacy is extreme by any measure. After describing the immediate aftermath of the composer’s death, Mr. Crawford wraps up his 500-page book in just two paragraphs. It’s almost as if Gershwin’s influence on the cultural landscape over the next 80 years is deemed unworthy of inclusion ... In the current environment, many readers will view George Gershwin’s ascendancy as a major jazz figure and the creator of a famous opera drawing on African-American themes as problematic ... Mr. Crawford might have been the perfect person to mount such a defense. He clearly loves Gershwin’s music and has studied the larger context of American music at a deep level. But he doesn’t even touch on these issues ... Instead, Mr. Crawford devotes a third of his work to plot synopses of Gershwin stage productions and films. Each scene and most of the significant characters are painstakingly described ... The result is a lopsided biography that has momentary highlights but fails to do justice to one of our greatest composers. Perhaps Mr. Crawford felt that the best way to defend his subject was to pass over the controversies and complications, but Gershwin deserves better. We still need a book that makes a strong case for this towering figure’s relevance in our own time. For now, you might get a better sense of Gershwin’s enduring genius simply listening to the songs playing at a nearby Starbucks.