Original Arrangement – “Summertime”

Id like to share my arrangement of “Summertime” with you.

In my opinion, Summertime is one of the best known and most important songs of all time…it may be the most covered also.

George Gershwin, who composed Summertime, has a really interesting story as does the song itself.

Gershwin’s parents were both Jewish and migrated to America from Russia to escape persecution and to establish a better life.

New York in those days was tough and young George learnt how to fight and stand up for himself.

He loved playing sport and games with the neighbourhood kids, he was well liked and popular especially with the girls.

He was a very active boy, a real ball of energy and when the family acquired a piano for the oldest son, Ira, George soon showed his big brother up which had a twofold effect.

Ira quit the piano and it was decided that George should be properly trained so his parents sought out the best teachers for him – all that energy was then poured into his music.

The brothers would eventually become one of the great songwriting teams, Ira wrote catchy and sophisticated lyrics while George wrote equally catchy and sophisticated music to match.

The Gershwin Brothers

In a later generation Duane and Greg Allman would form the Allman Brothers Band which was one of the most influential Rock bands.

Check out my blog “When Duane Begins To Slide” here.

I see similarities between Gershwin & Duane Allman.

They each loved learning but left school early.

They both collaborated with their brother and they were both tough; no one was going to push them around so they were very popular and born leaders.

The brothers were very musically ambitious and wanted to achieve at the highest level and they both did.

Sadly, they died young, Gershwin at age 39 and Duane Allman at 24, if we consider this it makes their achievements all the more impressive.

Duane Allman’s Biography

I’m currently reading Duane Allman’s biography written by his daughter Galadrielle Allman who was 2 when her father died.

As a young girl that had lost her father and had no memory of him she knew he was one of the greatest guitar players and wanting to know more about her father, she asked millions of questions, compiled the answers into the book titled “Please Be With Me”.

There was another similarity between Duane Allman and George Gershwin.

Today we think of America as a powerhouse in every way but in the 1800’s it was a cultural and musical backwater compared to Europe.

So in 1892 the Czech composer Antonin Divorak was engaged by the wealthy patron, Jeanette Thurber, to teach at her “National Conservatory of Music America” in New York.

Duane Allman

She wanted Divorak to help develop an American style of music.

Divorak’s conclusion was that America should borrow from Black American music so as to bring about a uniquely American music.

Duane Allman with his younger brother Greg were stunned when in their teens they attended a B.B. King concert and decided they needed to play that music.

They were heavily influenced by Blues.

Duane would go on to a lucrative and successful session career but became dissatisfied with playing on other people’s records wanting to get a band of his own and concentrate on creating his own music.

The Blues Influence…

The first recruit for this new project that would become “The Allman Brothers Band” was Jaimoe a black drummer who had played with Otis Redding and other great black Soul acts.

Jaimoe introduced a new world of music to Duane.

They spent hours listening to Miles Davis and John Coltrane recordings which would give the Allmans another direction and ultimately a unique sound with improvisation at the centre and core of their performances.

Jaimoe

In Galadrielle’s book she quotes Jaimoe talking about her father, he said “playing wasn’t just a matter of mastery. Duane had learnt the lesson of the Delta Blues, how a single naked melody could be completely captivating if a musician was willing to infuse each note with emotion”.

George Gershwin had achieved everything he could with popular music including a sizeable bank account along with an impressive list of hit songs but like Duane he wanted to create music that was “high art”.

He wanted to become a serious composer of concert music.

Porgy & Bess

Maybe his greatest achievement was his opera “Porgy & Bess” and Summertime is one of its songs.

Porgy and Bess is based on a novel and play by Dubose Heyward which tells the story of a Black community and particularly “Porgy & Bess”.

Gershwin wanted to base his opera on Black music he attended Black churches to hear their Spirituals while taking take notes.

That brings us back to Divorak and his pronouncement that America needed to borrow from Black music, that’s exactly what Gershwin & Allman did.

I’ve always loved the standard tunes like “Summertime” so I enjoyed putting this arrangement together and I listened a lot to Duane Allman’s playing so the solo I came up with for my arrangement is somewhat in the spirit of Duane Allman.

That’s the connection between these two great American musicians and Duane had influenced a lot of guitar players such as Derrick Trucks – George Gershwin has had an enormous impact.

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