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Old tunes get new life from The Gershwin Big Band

Members of the Gerswhin Big Band perform “American Rhapsody: The Gershwin Songbook” across the country.

Members of the Gerswhin Big Band perform “American Rhapsody: The Gershwin Songbook” across the country.

Photo courtesy of Majestic and Empire Theatre’s Facebook Page

Photo courtesy of Majestic and Empire Theatre’s Facebook Page

Members of the Gerswhin Big Band perform “American Rhapsody: The Gershwin Songbook” across the country.

Gillian Klein, Staff Writer

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Jazz, musical theatre, and opera blended together for a memorable experience in the Center for Faith and Life (CFL) on Friday, Oct. 21. When the Gershwin Big Band performed their show “American Rhapsody: The Gershwin Songbook,” they brought the sounds of iconic American music. This seventeen-piece band, led by singer Michael Andrew, came to campus as the third featured event of the 2017-18 Center Stage Series.

The Gershwin Big Band began their performance, taking the audience of approxmiately 300 people back to an era of swing, jazz, and 1950s American music.

The Gershwin Big Band is named after the prolific American composer George Gershwin. Gershwin is best known for his contributions to American film, including the 1924 orchestral composition “Rhapsody in Blue” and the orchestral composition for the 1928 film “An American in Paris.”

The Gershwin Big Band’s performance included lively music from a variety of eras all led by Andrew. Guest performer and soloist with the Christian Tamburr Quintet, Michelle Amato, sang alongside Andrew and had solos throughout the night.

The band played 29 Gershwin pieces, including a love song melody featuring several of Gershwin’s works. These pieces highlighted the international travels of George Gershwin, along with his older brother and lyricist Ira Gershwin. Pieces such as “A Foggy Day,” composed for the film “A Damsel in Distress,” and “Blues” from “An American in Paris,” differed in musicality and rhythm to demonstrate the influence traveling had on the Gershwin brothers.

The performance by the Gershwin Big Band was organized by the Performing Arts Committee (PAC). PAC begins to prepare for these events several weeks before they are set to take place to make sure all of the details have been coordinated, according to PAC member Katie Kennedy (‘20).

Photo courtesy of Center Stage Series’s Facebook Page
Michael Andrew is the lead singer of of the Gershwin Big Band.

“The PAC executive board meets two weeks before the show, and we discuss what the performers need, including things like tech, dinner, and equipment; what merchandise they may have for us to sell to audience members; usher numbers; concessions; and advertising,” Kennedy said. “The planning is broken up around the executive board for each chair, and we all work together to put on the best show we can with the performers.”

The weeks of planning led up to the moment when the audience gathered to hear “American Rhapsody” and the influences of jazz, a staple American sound, throughout each of their songs.

Attendee Brenna Sherman (‘19) said the Gershwin renditions took her back in time.

“Their arrangements of the Gershwin classics made me think of the Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Fred Astaire songs and movies I love,” Sherman said. “Their high energy, tight sound, and ‘Fascinating Rhythm’ [a piece the Gershwin Big Band performed] showcased the marvelous talents of George Gershwin.”

Andrew said he had a connection to the Gershwin family that led him to discover the American sound George and Ira Gershwin produced.

“I was doing some work for Todd Gershwin, the great nephew of George and Ira, and he wanted to know if there were other ways we could work together,” Andrew said. “I told him about the Atomic Big Band [a performance group Andrew created and performed with at the time] and [wondered] if we could focus on George and Ira’s work.”

Andrew’s passion for the American songbook grew over time.

“When on stage, you get a feeling you don’t get anywhere else,” Andrew said. “You feel you are meant to be there, answering a calling, and it’s this answering that drives my passion.”

Andrew’s passion for music, specifically singing, has been a part of his identity for as long as he can remember.

“As a kid, I loved singing,” Andrew said. “I listened to my dad’s records. My parents were from the generation that loved big band and swing, so that music always played in our household.”

The next featured musician in the Center Stage Series is clarinetist and saxophonist.Cohen will perform in the CFL on Nov. 4.

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