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Gershwin, Porter & The Great American Songbook

The “Great American Songbook” is not actually a book. There is no physical or electronic entity declaring itself to be an exhaustive and complete compilation of every single song contained in a work with such a title. A better definition is that given by the Great American Songbook Foundation:

“The "Great American Songbook" is the canon of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early 20th century that have stood the test of time in their life and legacy.”

Culture writer Martin Chilton defines the term "Great American Songbook" as follows:

"Tunes of Broadway musical theatre, Hollywood movie musicals and Tin Pan Alley (the hub of song-writing that was the music publishers' row on New York's West 28th Street)". Chilton adds that these songs "became the core repertoire of jazz musicians" during the period that "stretched roughly from 1920 to 1960."

The Great American Songbook includes standards by George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, and Richard Rodgers, among others.

Gershwin and Porter, between them, are responsible for many, many songs in the Great American Songbook. Songs such as “Embraceable You”, “Someone To Watch Over Me”, I Got Rhythm” and “Summertime” (all Gershwin); “Night And Day”, “I Get a Kick Out Of You”, “In the Still Of the Night” and “Begin the Beguine” (all Porter); are just a fraction of their contribution.

They came from completely different backgrounds. George Gershwin was born in Brooklyn in 1898, and from an early age was steeped in the culture and environment of Tin Pan Alley. His first published song, at the age of eighteen, earned him the princely sum of fifty cents!

With his brother Ira providing lyrics, he went on to write many of the most beloved songs of the Golden Age, and many major musical works, among them being the sublime “Rhapsody in Blue”, “An American in Paris”, and his one, unique opera, “Porgy And Bess.”

Cole Porter was born into a wealthy Indiana family in 1891. He defied his grandfather’s wish for Cole to become a lawyer, and instead chose a career as a composer and songwriter, an unusual path for one born into wealth in those days. What was equally unusual was the fact that he wrote both the music and the lyrics for his songs. He went on to write literally hundreds of them throughout his long and successful career. He had a witty, urbane and sophisticated style, which drew comparisons with England’s Noel Coward.

The Gershwins’ “Fascinating Rhythm”, and Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” are two wonderful songs that long ago became jazz standards, and are still very much alive and vital today.

"Fascinating Rhythm" was first introduced by Cliff Edwards, Fred and Adele Astaire in the Broadway musical Lady Be Good, in 1924. There have been countless recordings, among them those of Petula Clark, Judy Garland, The Carpenters, Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett.

“You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” was written for the 1943 film Something to Shout About, where it was introduced by Janet Blair and Don Ameche. The song was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1943. Among the scores of recordings over the years, some notable ones are by Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Harry Connick Jr. and Nina Simone.

These evergreen classics from the Great American Songbook are a vital part of Oriana’s “Come to the Woods”, celebrating a century of great music from American composers and songwriters. While there is no guarantee that our versions will become ‘definitive’, there is, nevertheless, no doubt that Oriana’s readings of these great songs will please and delight our audiences. Oriana, Gershwin and Porter? What a fascinating rhythm that will be!

Secure your seats for “Come to the Woods” now, by visiting

Ian Rix

Oct 2021


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