Our Love is Here To Stay — Rhapsody & Rhythm: The Gershwin Concert Experience at PNC Bank Arts Center

By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

As a result of watching the film, Girl Crazy, on his black and white television set, Richard Glazier — a nine-year-old boy from Indianapolis, Indiana — became an instant fan of composer George Gershwin and his brother lyricist Ira Gershwin, the musical sensations who created the songs for the film.

As a budding musician, the young Glazier became so enamoured with the music of the Gershwins that his Aunt Esther took him to the library to do research on the duo and, afterwards, they came home with books and sheet music for little “Richie” to pore over. Aunt Esther also encouraged Richard to listen to her collection of old 78 rpm records where he became obsessed with the Gershwins’ music notably George’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Soon after, when Aunt Esther suggested he write a letter to Ira Gershwin, Glazier did, and he asked the revered lyricist for an autographed photo of Ira’s beloved late brother, George. Four months later, Richard received a package in the mail from Ira Gershwin in Hollywood, CA, containing a photo of George along with an autograph Ira had carefully cut out from a canceled check that had been signed by his brother.

This powerful childhood experience set in motion a series of events which led Glazier, now one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Gershwins and their music, to create Rhapsody & Rhythm: The Gershwin Concert Experience. The show is a live performance event featuring stories about the Gershwins, in addition to some of the greatest American music ever written.

Performed by Glazier at the piano and assisted by Sylvia McNair and Michael Andrew on vocals, Rhapsody & Rhythm: The Gershwin Concert Experience was presented to an audience of over 5000 music lovers on Sept. 7, 2016, at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ.

The show — free to NJ residents aged 55 and over — was sponsored by the Garden State Arts Foundation. Since 1984, the GSAF has provided free programs for senior citizens, families, and children at the PNC Bank Arts Center and other locations throughout New Jersey.

According to Ronald Gravino, Vice President of GSAF’s Board of Trustees, “no federal, state, local, or Garden State Parkway toll money” is used to fund any GSAF presentations. Rather, the programs are presented by donations from such long-time GSAF partners as PNC Bank, Live Nation Entertainment, Serius XM ’60s on 6 radio, WOLD Oldies 1079 radio, Sills Cummins and Gross, and the Hon. Jerold Zaro, in addition to support from such new partners as The Two River Times, the Hon. Jerry Langer, The Hovnanian Foundation, New Jersey Resources, First Energy, and Sen. Joseph M. Kyrillos, Jr., along with contributions from the general public.

Rhapsody & Rhythm: The Gershwin Concert Experience opens with Glazier performing a spirited version of the 1930 George and Ira Gershwin standard, “I’ve Got Rhythm,” on the Steinway grand piano. Following appreciative applause by the large crowd, Glazier is joined on stage by vocalists Sylvia McNair and Michael Andrew and the trio presents a delightful version of “’S Wonderful,” written by the Gershwins for the 1927 Broadway musical Funny Face.

“It’s ’S Wonderful to be here in NJ!,” says Glazier, who goes on to present an intriguing and informative history of George and Ira Gershwin and their music to the responsive crowd at the PNC Bank Arts Center this September afternoon.

According to Glazier, “Gershwin’s parents came to America — near here — through Ellis Island.” “As a kid,” continues Glazier, “George thought music was for sissies. But when a piano was brought into their family’s tenement apartment for his brother, Ira, to play, George got interested.”

At this point, George started taking piano lessons, but, says Glazier, he used his immense musical talent to “improvise over pieces like the ‘William Tell Overture.’”

Eventually, according to Glazier, Gershwin “dropped out of high school to become a songwriter in New York’s Tin Pan Alley” but not only that — he ultimately went on to become Tin Pan Alley’s “premiere songwriter.”

And as if to prove what a musical prodigy George Gershwin was, Glazier performs a joyous version of “Rialto Ripples Rag,” a piece Gershin wrote in 1917 at the age of 19.

Glazier goes on to reveal that George Gershwin wrote the song, “Swanee,” with lyricist Irving Caesar in 1917 for singer Al Jolson. It became Gershwin’s first hit — and biggest hit — selling one million copies of the sheet music and two million records. Ironically, says Glazier with twinkle in his eye, “it was a song about the South written by two Jews from New York.”

In 1927, the Gershwins published “The Man I Love.” According to Glazier, however, when a certain emcee improperly introduced the song, many mistakenly came to believe it was written by “George and his lovely ‘wife,’ Ira.”

Altogether over the course of their careers, George and Ira Gershwin wrote 1200 songs together, many of which they created for Broadway shows. In some cases, even though the shows weren’t successful, the Gershwins’ songs still were. For example, Glazier notes that even though the show, Strike Up the Band, was a bust — suggesting, “With a plot about America and Switzerland in a war over chocolate, how could it not be?” — he goes on to explain that at least one song became a hit, 1930’s “I Got a Crush On You.”

Following a lovely version of “But Not For Me” from 1930’s Girl Crazy, Glazier plays a commanding version of “An American in Paris” on the piano to tremendous applause.

Next, the entire trio performs a medley of Gershwin hits including “Lady Be Good,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” all featuring brilliant accompaniment by Glazier on the piano and sparkling vocals from Andrew and McNair.

Glazier reveals that George Gershwin finished his first opera, Porgy and Bess, in 1935, but it only ran for 132 performances. George was brokenhearted as he thought it was a failure. Later on, however, it became known around the world as a triumph with songs like “Summertime” which Sylvia McNair sings for the crowd at the PNC Bank Arts Center with authority, grace, and style.

Glazier further adds that George wanted to write more classical pieces but, in order to do so, needed to make money to support himself; as a result, he agreed to write songs for the movies. During the last six months of his life, Glazier says, George created “some of his greatest songs for Hollywood films.”

Glazier reveals that the last song George and Ira wrote together was “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” which Ira finished several weeks after George’s death in 1938. According to Glazier, the chorus, “The more I read the papers/The less I comprehend/The world with all its capers/ And how it all will end/Nothing seems to be lasting/But that isn’t our affair/We’ve got something permanent/I mean in the way we care,” was Ira’s personal tribute to his late brother.

At this point, Michael Andrew performs a stunning and touching rendition of “Our Love is Here to Stay,” bringing a tear to the eye to some in this crowd as they connect the emotion of the story to the song as it’s so beautifully rendered.

After which, Glazier goes on to ask the audience to join him on George and Ira’s 1928 hit, “Embraceable You.” While he skillfully accompanies them on the piano, the audience sings and fills the large ampitheater with both sound and feeling.

Glazier concludes the afternoon’s performance with a brilliant solo piano version of one of the pieces he most loved as a nine-year-old back in Indianapolis: George Gershwin’s 1924 instrumental masterpiece, “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Summing things up, Glazier reveals why the music the Gershwins composed is so significant, saying it will “live forever” simply because, as he explains, “this music is in our blood.” Adding that the Gershwins’ music is “so much more than songs” — it’s “the fabric of our country” — Glazier contends “it represents what is great” about the USA in that — like our nation itself — it “fuses the sound of many cultures into one unique American voice.”

Backstage, after the show, each of the artists has something to share about his or her experience performing at the PNC Bank Arts Center this afternoon.

Glazier, for example, says, “It’s great to look out on the audience and see the smiles. Even though it’s a large venue, it’s still an intimate setting.”

Vocalist Sylvia McNair, considered by Glazier to be “a great interpreter of Gershwin songs,” reveals, “To sing music I love — with people I love — in a place I love — is a wonderful experience!”

Lastly, singer Michael Andrew — referred to as “one of the best singers of our time” by television personality Merv Griffin — talks about the NJ crowd of 5000+ who just experienced this musical event together saying, ““One of the best — most responsive — audiences we’ve seen. They really appreciate the music.”

And even though the music of George and Ira Gershwin has been around for a century now, it seems likely that audiences — just like this one at the PNC Bank Arts Center — will continue to “appreciate the music” for at least another hundred years or more.

Why?

Thanks to captivating performances of Gershwin classics by such talented interpretive artists like Andrew, McNair, and, especially, Richard Glazier…

“Our love is here to stay.”

For more on Richard Glazier — including concert information, musical recordings, and more — please go to richardglazier.com. For more on free upcoming Garden State Arts Foundation performances at the PNC Bank Arts Center for NJ residents 55 and older — including Jerry “The Geator” Blavat’s Salute To Motown featuring The Contours, The Marvelettes, & The Elgins on Sept. 13 and Tony Orlando on Sept. 22 — please go to gsafoundation.org.

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