Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe arrived in the United States as learners of American culture and within a generation became its creators. In print, on stage and screen, on radio and in the world of music, their children created now iconic works which consciously or unconsciously melded their Jewish roots and American experiences. A prime example is George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, a work that contains elements of Jewish, ragtime and blues music. The concerto is a living example of how a “melting pot society” led to the development of a uniquely American art form.
Through invented dialogue, the author reconstructs Gershwin’s thought processes as he begins to envision the music and then creates the work. The only mention of Gershwin’s Jewish heritage are references to klezmer music — e.g. “the klezmer band at Ira’s bar mitzvah” — but the term is not defined. The terms “ragtime” or “blues” are also not explained. In life, Gershwin was very much influenced not only by the Jewish music of his youth but also by his exposure to African American music.
The book offers a very well written and illustrated glimpse into the creative process of a musical genius and could serve to open further discussion with young readers on the contributions of Jews to American music.
A CD of Rhapsody in Blue (from an original piano roll played by Gershwin himself) accompanies the book. For ages 8 – 10.