George Gershwin and Rhapsody in Blue maintain an iconic status in American music and American culture more broadly. As “composer” of the Rhapsody, Gershwin endured himself to the myth of the melting pot by merging popular and classical traditions, black and white musical cultures, and highbrow and lowbrow performance. Likewise the Rhapsody’s upwardly mobile fusion of vernacular jazz and cultured symphonic forms conveys an experience not unlike Gershwin’s own rags-to-riches storyit stands as a musical manifestation of the American Dream. But the history and reception of Gershwin and the Rhapsody are more varied and complex than such often-repeated and generic formulations suggest.
Arranging Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue and the Creation of an American Icon, destabilizes established narratives and frequently encountered anecdotes, treating the Rhapsody as an “arrangement”a status it has held since its inception, yet one unconsidered until now. When Ferde Grofé prepared Gershwin’s two-piano score for its 1924 premiere performance by the twenty-three musicians of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, he became the first of countless musicians to arrange the Rhapsody, providing insight into their own musical development and identity. Arranging Gershwin shifts the emphasis away from a centralized text and from the sole agency of the composer, positing a broad vision of Rhapsody in Blue. A host of previously unknown manuscripts by a set of familiar and lesser-known musiciansFerde Grofé, Leonard Bernstein, Duke Ellington, and Larry Adler among othersreveal a dynamic and multifaceted reappraisal of both the Rhapsody and Gershwin. With additional forays into visual media, including the commercial advertising of United Airlines and Woody Allen’s Manhattan, this book exemplifies how arrangements of have contributed not only to the iconicity of Gershwin and Rhapsody in Blue, but also to music-making in Americaits people, their pursuits, and their processes.