Philip Copeman

Author and Activist


When my long standing associate, eminant musicologist and fellow foot soldier in the struggle to free the soul of Africa, Deon van Vuuren of Pianoforte, suggested I take a look at Rhapsody in Blue (1924) by George Gershwin, he sparkled the idea by noting that Steinway Artist Charl du Plessis will be playing Rhapsody in Blue with the Cape Philharmonic on 23 August. Classical musicians love to turn to Gershwin when they want to play something hip, but very few actually ever get the groove of blues and they live trapped behind the complexities of the written score. Rahapsody in Blue offers them a gateway.  August looks like an opportunity to examine and play this piece and find out if it truly does live up to its billing as the father of classical crossover.

Musicologists familiar with the classical record, are often puzzled by the apparent disappearance of classical music as an expanding repertoire after the 1930s. Jass lovers know that it is not that the music dissappeared, but rather that it morphed into a new form played by Jazzmen. Gershwin offers a bridge between the hard coded Classical pieces that are orchestrated and played by large musical groups and the on coming train of the much shorter 32 bar jazz blues rondos that makes up most to the music of the latter 20th century. The promise of Rhapody in Blue is the mystical cross over from Classical to Jazz.

Rhapsody in Bleu also offers the Neo Classical Rocker some really great licks to fill out their rep.  Buried in t the cleverness of key changes, color shifts and tempo swings are some really great grooves that push the envelope of the Blues Scale (1-3b-4-5b-5-7b)

Get the Score

As I am a strong proponent of the open source movement, I looked for some source code of Rhapsody in Blue. I found a PDF for Piano Solo at arranged by Radek Mazurkiewicz. There is also a 5 piece Woodwind quintet. Can't find any other free orchestrations. I am trying as a means of creating a lead sheet, a guitar part, drum, percussion and a Double Bass part that will coordinate with the Piano solo version. Must be creative commons. Will keep you posted on that progress. Anyone that wants to help here, this would be appreciated.

Lets get this straight -  up front - Rap in Blue is a classical piece. If you only know 12 bar blues rondos that you jam with your mates down at the pub on Friday nights, this is gonna sound really strange. However it is possible to learn this piece no matter what the state of your reading is, but you will need patience and you will have to be prepared to work hard at it.

I am aiming at a small group, starting at Jazz Trio, Rock Trio, Rock or Jazz Quartet. Big band or Orchestral players should head off to one of the proprietary scores.

For the bluesman there is this to hold onto – Rap in Blue does go round and round like a blues standard, but the statements jump key, jump bar length, but most importantly change pace, with little warning. The challenge is to move out of the rondo thinking and keep with the discipline of the piece.

Classical sight readers, need to pay very careful attention to the gliss notes and slurs, the flattening and tension is central to the blues feeling. You are not going to read your way through this piece, you have to gets its groove. In this piano solo Gershwim really gets the blues, give him a chance to breath. Bluesmen call this your "licks". Practice the licks.

Play it:

Time is 4/4 common at 80 bpm. This is very slow. Satrt slow, there are tons of double tailed and trippled tailed 16th notes down the line to keep you twitching. No need to rush it.

Bar 1 – A scale run in G Minor 7. Everyone has to practice this as you never know when you may be called upon to play it to opwn the piece. If you have a horn use it – otherwise use Piano or Guitar. I will pracrice the base part for extreme cases.

Bars 2 to 15, think of this as “the head” of a jazz piece. This is Blues in Eb Major. Before you even start, make sure that you can play the two main themes in Bars 2 to 5 and Bars 11 to 14. Don't compromise here, get the dynamics and phrasinge xact. These will hold you in good stead for the rest of the piece. Don't go on until you can swing you way through these 15 bars, as soloist and sideman.

Bars 16 to 23 Now we do it all over again in Ab. The two main themes are reversed in the new key.

If you get as far as this and you want to go on, post me a message on the forum

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