Porgy and Bess: Summertime, It Ain’t Necessarily So, and I Loves You Porgy
The opera Porgy and Bess premiered in Boston on 30 September 1935, opening on Broadway at the Alvin Theatre on 10 October 1935.
Porgy and Bess 1935
Porgy and Bess is an opera, first performed in 1935, with music by George Gershwin, libretto by DuBose Heyward, and lyrics by Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward. It was based on DuBose Heyward’s novel Porgy and the play of the same name which he co-wrote with his wife Dorothy Heyward. All three works deal with African American life in the fictitious Catfish Row (based on the real-life Cabbage Row) in Charleston, South Carolina, in the early 1920s.
Originally conceived by Gershwin as an “American folk opera”, Porgy and Bess premiered in New York in the fall of 1935 and featured an entire cast of classically trained African-American singers—a daring and visionary artistic choice at the time. Gershwin chose African American Eva Jessye as the choral director for the opera. Incorporating a wealth of blues and jazz idioms into the classical art form of opera, Gershwin considered it his finest work.
The work was not widely accepted in the United States as a legitimate opera until 1976, when the Houston Grand Opera production of Gershwin’s complete score established it as an artistic triumph. Nine years later the Metropolitan Opera gave their first performance of the work. This production was also broadcast as part of the ongoing Saturday afternoon live Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts. The work is now considered part of the standard operatic repertoire and is regularly performed internationally. Despite this success, the opera has been controversial; some critics from the outset have considered it a racist portrayal of African Americans.
Summertime is by far the best-known piece from the work, and countless interpretations of this and other individual numbers have also been recorded and performed. The second best-known number is It Ain’t Necessarily So. The opera is admired for Gershwin’s innovative synthesis of European orchestral techniques with American jazz and folk music idioms.
Porgy and Bess overview and audio links at TimeGoesBy.net.
From the Wikipedia profile of the song Summertime:
Summertime (George Gershwin, Dubose Heyward) is the name of an aria composed by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. The lyrics are by Dubose Heyward. It rapidly became a popular jazz standard.
Gershwin is said to have based this song on a Ukrainian lullaby, Oi Khodyt Son Kolo Vikon (A Dream Passes By The Windows), which he heard in a New York City performance by Oleksander Koshetz’s Ukrainian National Chorus.
Gershwin began composing the song in December 1933, attempting to create his own spiritual in the style of the African American folk music of the period. It is sung multiple times throughout Porgy and Bess, first by Clara in Act I as a lullaby and soon after as counterpoint to the craps game scene, in Act II in a reprise by Clara, and in Act III by Bess, singing to Clara’s baby.
From WICN.org’s “Song of the Week” article:
“Summertime”, reputed to be the most recorded jazz song in history, debuted as a lullaby sung by Abbie Mitchell in the opera Porgy and Bess. The opera was first performed in Boston in September 1935, and was favorably reviewed there, but was not well received when it opened in New York in October of that year. The show closed in December 1935 after it ran out of money, having completely depleted the initial $70,000 investment. A few days after it opened on Broadway with an all-black cast the Highlights from Porgy and Bess album was made using two white opera singers. The original cast did not record the music until 1940.
The opera generated racial controversy from the start. Many African-Americans thought the opera promoted racist stereotypes and some celebrated black artists refused to perform the work. Initially, jazz musicians seemed slow to adopt the music. They may have questioned whether a white composer and a white novelist could adequately portray the lives of poor blacks living in a Charleston ghetto. Billie Holiday was one of the first jazz musicians to record music from the opera. She and her orchestra recorded “Summertime” in July of 1936 and it rose to 12th place on the music charts that September. In 1939 a performance of “Summertime” by saxophonist Sidney Bechet was the first hit for the newly created Blue Note Records and helped establish the label. Over time other members of the jazz community did warm up to the music, as evidenced by a 1957 album recorded by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong singing and scatting songs from Porgy and Bess and the 1958 Miles Davis recording of the opera arranged for big band. “Summertime” appeared on the R&B and pop music chart in 1966 when Billy Stewart’s radical R&B interpretation of the song rose to 10th place.
Billie Holiday – (session information and credits from Billieholidaysongs.com) Session #9 New York, 10 July 1936, Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra (Vocalion) Bunny Berigan (tp) Artie Shaw (cl) Joe Bushkin (p) Dick McDonough (g) Arthur ‘Pete’ Peterson (b) Cozy Cole (d) Billie Holiday (v).
Sidney Bechet – Recorded in New York, June 8 June 1939 – Musicians: Sidney Bechet (soprano sax), Meade Lux Lewis (piano), Teddy Bunn (guitar), Johnny Williams (bass), Sid Catlett (drums).
Reviewer Thomas Cunniffe writing for jazz.com:
Sidney Bechet’s version of “Summertime” is one of the great recordings in jazz history. Bechet takes the Gershwin song’s 16-bar form and simple harmonic structure and treats it like an extension of the 12-bar blues. With Teddy Bunn providing single-string commentary on his guitar behind Bechet’s soprano, it is as if Bechet and Bunn were playing the parts of Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong from a classic blues recording. Bechet solos throughout the 4-minute recording (certainly one of the longest jazz solos recorded to that time), utilizing much of his unique musical vocabulary, including rasps, growls and various speeds of vibrato. Bunn’s responses are almost all from the blues vernacular, except in one spot where he quotes the familiar countermelody from the original opera score.
Charlie Parker – Summertime is the first track on side B of Bird With Strings – recorded 30 November 1949 and released in 1950. Musicians: Charlie Parker – alto saxophone; Mitch Miller – oboe; Bronislaw Gimpel, Max Hollander, Milton Lomask – violins; Frank Brieff – viola; Frank Miller – cello; Myor Rosen – harp; Stan Freeman – piano; Ray Brown – double bass; Buddy Rich – drums; Jimmy Carroll – arranger and conductor
Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald – from their album Porgy and Bess, 1957
Reviewer Thomas Cunniffe writing for jazz.com:
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong recorded two relaxed, swinging albums for Verve before Norman Granz had the inspiration to use them in a deluxe 2-LP set featuring 16 songs from Porgy and Bess. While not the first Porgy and Bess concept album, Ella & Louis’s version is one of the best. Both were in top vocal form at the time of the recording, and while Louis’s trumpet chops were not as strong as they had been in years past, he could still perform stunning solos. On “Summertime,” Russ Garcia’s arrangement adds a few subtle touches to the original orchestration. Armstrong plays a majestic first chorus on trumpet, followed by Ella’s smooth and creamy vocal. After a subtle key change, Louis takes a solo vocal chorus. When Ella returns, she spins a beautifully conceived variation on the melody while Louis supports her with some of the tenderest scatting he ever recorded.
Miles Davis — a track from his album Porgy and Bess released in 1958. The album features arrangements by Davis and collaborator Gil Evans. The album was recorded in four sessions on July 22, July 29, August 4 and August 18, 1958 at Columbia’s 30th Street Studio in New York City. It is the second collaboration between Davis and Evans and has garnered much critical acclaim since its release, being acknowledged by music critics as the best of their collaborations. For many jazz critics, Porgy and Bess is regarded as historic. – adapted from the Wikipedia article
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Bill Evans Trio – London – 19 March 1965 – Personnel: Bill Evans (p), Chuck Israels (b) Larry Bunker (d)
Ella Fitzgerald, 1968 – TV special
Katelijne van Otterloo – date unknown
Katelijne Van Otterloo (Vocals)
Erik Robaard (Bass)
Michiel Buursen (Piano)
Wim Kegel (Drums)
George Pelupessy (Percussion)
Michiel Buursen (Arranger/Music Director)
It Ain’t Necessarily So (George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin) – In Act II, Scene 2 the song is sung by the character Sportin’ Life, a drug dealer, who expresses his doubt about several statements in the Bible. The role of Sportin’ Life was created by John W. Bubbles. Other notable incarnations of the character include those by Cab Calloway and Sammy Davis, Jr. in the 1959 film. – from Wikipedia, adapted
Miles Davis – from Porgy and Bess, 1958 – Musicians: Miles Davis (flugelhorn), Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums),Johnny Coles, Bernie Glow, Ernie Royal, Louis Mucci (trumpets), Joe Bennett, Frank Rehak, Jimmy Cleveland Dick Hixson (trombones), Willie Ruff, Julius Watkins, Gunther Schuller (French horns), Bill Barber (tuba), Cannonball Adderley (alto sax), Phil Bodner, Romeo Penque (flutes), Danny Bank (bass clarinet) – Arranged by Gil Evans.
Oscar Peterson – Oscar Peterson, piano; Ray Brown, bass; Ed Thigpen, drums – the album: Oscar Peterson Plays the George Gershwin Songbook – 1959.
Ray Charles and Cleo Laine — 1976
I Loves You Porgy (George Gershwin, Dubose Heyward, Ira Gershwin) is an aria from Act II, Scene 3 of Porgy and Bess. It has been recorded by a number of popular vocalists and jazz musicians, most notably Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. Nina Simone’s recording of the song (from Little Girl Blue, 1958) was a Top 40 hit in the United States in 1958. A live version is featured in her 1964 album Nina Simone In Concert. Bill Evans’s piano trio version recorded at the Village Vanguard in 1961, available on the CD re-issue of the album Waltz for Debby, is also acclaimed. – Wikipedia
Billie Holiday – Session #59 New York 10 December 1948 Bobby Tucker and his trio (Decca) Bobby Tucker (p) Mundell Lowe (g) John Levy (b) Denzil Best (d) Billie Holiday (v)
Billie Holiday — Granada TV’s “Chelsea At Nine” February 1959
The video provider says:
“This was one of her last TV appearances before she passed away a few months later. This is videotaping would probably be one of Britain’s earliest surviving B&W quad videotape recordings.”
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Nina Simone – from her album Little Girl Blue,1958
(above) From a photograph of a stage setting in the original production of Porgy and Bess
- George and Ira Gershwin feature pages at Songbook
- George Gershwin biography (classical.net)
- George and Ira Gershwin, part 1: selected songs 1919-1927
- George and Ira Gershwin, part 2: selected standards 1928-35
- from Porgy and Bess: Summertime, It Ain’t Necessarily So, and I Loves You Porgy
- songs, part 3: selected film songs of George and Ira Gerswhin: six standards, composed 1936-37
- Interview: Paul Whiteman talks about George Gershwin and the creation of Rhapsody in Blue
- George Gershwin biography (classical.net)
From the musical Girl Crazy (1930)
Feature pages on individual songs from the films, 1937-38