Simon Tedeschi: The Gershwin Collection

ABC 481 1872

Now that Simon Tedeschi has released two recordings separately for ABC Classics (Gershwin & Me; Gershwin – Take Two), this box set (both CDs) has been released. Tedeschi, who clearly has a great affinity with the music of George Gershwin, describes the style as a combination of “Russian melancholy, Cuban rhythms, African American blues language, all gulped down with a Manhattan gusto”.

Simon Tedeschi The Gershwin CollectionRialto Ripples Rag leaves no-one in the dark. It grabs you with its strongly articulated accents and robust playing, a hallmark that permeates the entire recording. Three Preludes was one attempt by the composer to make his mark in the classical arena. Strangely, this was a lifelong quest of Gershwin’s. In the mid-1920s, staying in Paris for a short period, Gershwin applied to study composition with the noted Nadia Boulanger who, along with several other prospective tutors such as Maurice Ravel, rejected him. She was afraid that rigorous classical study would ruin his jazz-influenced style.

Tedeschi chooses some of the finest arrangements to include here; Keith Jarrett’s arrangement of Someone to Watch Over Me, which is so seductive, and then there’s Percy Grainger’s take on Love Walked in and The Man I Love, showing Grainger’s sensitivity as pianist arranger.

Three pieces (with arrangements by the composer), ‘S Wonderful, Oh, Lady Be Good!, and Strike Up the Band, were all written for different purposes, one a popular stand-alone song, one for a musical and one for film, showing the diversity that was the composer’s music-making style.

The tenderness of Dave Grusin’s arrangement of Nice Work If You Can Get It, comes from a period in which this prolific American celebrated through his arrangements the work of Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Henry Mancini and Leonard Bernstein.

On this recording, however, you are not left just hearing Tedeschi as a fine (jazz) pianist and exponent of Gershwin, but also as an arranger, giving breath to his own Summertime, and I Loves You, Porgy, with hugely improvisatory flair.

Of course, no disc of Gershwin’s piano music could be complete without one of the landmark pieces in American music, Rhapsody in Blue. In January 1924, Gershwin reportedly learned from a newspaper article that he was meant to be writing a ‘jazz concerto’ for a programme of new American music to be given by the popular dance band leader Paul Whiteman a month later. Writing at manic pace, Gershwin composed a two piano version, which was then orchestrated by Whiteman’s arranger, Ferde Grofé. The composer, himself, was the solo pianist at its premiere.

On both Tedeschi recordings are versions of this work. A live recording with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Benjamin Northey) – using the Grofé orchestration, brings to life all the colours of New York City, from the underground subways, to the hustle and bustle of the sidewalk, and the streets conjested with cabs. It is manic, verging on the breathless, and at times sleazy, and even majestic. The second version included here is the piano solo version, which is equally engaging for its muscular drive.

The second CD, Gershwin Take Two, has many more pieces that perhaps are less known these days. Solo piano music features such as Promenade, Prelude (Novelette in Fourths), Prelude (Rubato), Merry Andrew, Three-Quarter Blues, Impromptu in Two Keys, as well as extracts or arrangements from shows.

Tedeschi also invites guest musicians to collaborate with him in some tracks, such as Nice Work If You Can Get It, with trumpeter James Morrison, which also shows Tedeschi’s own skill in jazz improvisation at the piano. A very dreamy Prelude (Melody No 17) sees the trumpet and piano duo explore the lyrical and harmonic gestures in this “song without words”. ARIA award winning singer, Sarah McKenzie appears, singing a sultry Embraceable You (from Girl Crazy), which contrasts with her alluring Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off (from Shall We Dance).

Other tunes from shows are Sweet and Low-Down (from Tip-Toes), Do-Do-Do, Clap Yo’ Hands (both from Oh, Kay!), Jazzbo Brown Blues (from Porgy and Bess), Liza (from Show Girl), My One and Only (from Funny Face), I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise (from George White’s Scandals of 1922), Do It Again (from The French Doll), Nobody But You (from La-La-Lucille), Who Cares? (from Of Thee I Sing), most of which had lyrics written by Ira Gershwin (George’s brother). The forgotten lyricists here are Gus Kahn, Buddy DeSylva and Arthur Jackson.

Gershwin is one of those composers whose life was cut short too early (from a brain tumour), and one whose music sweeps you up in a rapturous experience of sheer joy.

In Simon Tedeschi we have a world-class pianist, who, probably more than any other recent musician, has placed the music of George Gershwin on a plane equal with his own musical understanding and virtuosic playing, as well as his honest performance regarding the intentions of the composer. Tedeschi’s innate sense of the style marks him out as an authentic exponent; it is as close to channeling the great composer-pianist as it could be.

In the words of the legendary harmonic virtuoso Larry Adler who worked with Gershwin himself (and with whom Tedeschi has also worked): “I just wish Gershwin were here… Simon is one of the finest exponents of his music I have ever seen.”

Simon Tedeschi: Gershwin & Me

ABC 481 0032

Tin Pan Alley comes alive when Simon Tedeschi meets Gershwin in this sumptuous disc of piano music. You can feel the Manhattan energy in Tedeschi’s playing as he delves into the heart and soul of one of the world’s greatest song writers.

345622Having spent years living and working in New York City, Tedeschi has an affinity with such music, that he has earned accolades from some of the great jazz masters of all time.

“I just wish Gershwin were here … one of the finest exponents of his music I have ever seen,” said Larry Adler.

This recording has so much diversity in terms of original Gershwin music, arrangements and improvisations, that it stands out amongst similar discs.

Perhaps one of the really compelling aspects of this disc is its compilation of some wonderful arrangements of Gershwin classics by luminaries such as Percy Grainger in Love Walked In and The Man I Love, Keith Jarrett in Someone to Watch Over Me, Dave Grusin in his cocktail bar arrangement of Nice Work if You Can Get It and the composer himself (O Lady Be Good!, Strike Up the Band).

Tedeschi has also been inspired to provide improvisations of the favourites Summertime and I Loves You, Porgy, in which he weaves layers of musical ideas seamlessly.

For any piano student, there is always interest in Gershwin’s 3 Preludes which appear here, as well.

A little known piece also included is the Rialto Ripples Rag, composed in 1917 by Gershwin and Will Donaldson, who was another American Tin Pan Alley song composer. A song arranger at the Jerome H. Remick Music Publishing Company, Donaldson befriended and assisted the 16 year old George Gershwin with the latter’s career when starting at Remick’s, and also helped with this rag composition, receiving credit as co-creator of the work.

Finally, there is a live recording of Rhapsody in Blue (with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Northey), with all the pizazz that one comes to expect from this gem.

In Tedeschi’s playing, there is robustness, as well as expressive sensitivity, coupled with a fine technique and mastery of the idiom.

King of the Air – The Charles Kingsford Smith Musical

Music and Lyrics by Gavin Lockley

Lyrics and Book by Ann Blainey

The Metropolitan Orchestra & The Rum Corps Choir
Sarah-Grace Williams (Conductor)

Simon Tedeschi (Solo Pianist)


The writing of a musical is an extraordinary feat by anyone’s measure. Australian stories abound which lend themselves to the musical theatre genre. In the story of Charles Kingsford Smith (Smithy), Australia’s greatest pioneering aviator, is found a dramatic story of epic proportions, most notably, the first crossing of the Pacific Ocean from the United States of America to Brisbane, taking 10 days in 1928.

cks_L96364_350In Australian history, Smithy is one of its greatest heroes and most iconic personalities, whose name now adorns Sydney’s airport as a mark of permanent tribute to this great aviator. His tragic death in a missing plane incident over the Andaman Sea in 1935 turned this Aussie hero into a legend.

This recording presents the songs to be found in the yet to be staged musical, and celebrates the aviator’s erstwhile achievements, his fame and tragic death. (The first concert staging of the musical was held in March 2014 at City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney, and 3 workshop style performances were given in Nov-Dec 2013 at Trackdown Studios at Fox Studios, Sydney.)

Without seeing the visual spectacular that could be realised on stage, the recording reveals an engrossing tale unfolding orchestral beauty (commencing with the romantically lush King of the Air Piano Concerto), juxtaposed with Big Band episodes, Australiana passages (including a retake on Waltzing Matilda), ballads (Drink ‘til You Drop), dramatic film music sequences (Crossing the Pacific), and great musical theatre pieces, such as I Want to Fly (the standout solo song with the marvelous voice of Daniel Belle).

The composer has a gift for this genre, being a skilled songwriter and orchestrator, seeming to know what exactly will work for a modern theatre audience. The songs here certainly provide accessible solo material for any musical theatre singer’s repertoire.

SymphOfAust_KOTA_cover_image_D1__06698_stdSlower reflective numbers, such as Bring My Boy Back to me (sung by Meredith O’Reilly), I Don’t Want a Hero, and Down the Sweep of Ages (both sung by Renae Martin), contrast cleverly with the inspirational anthem Hang Out the Flags (sung by Philip Dodd). There is the obligatory love duet, There’s Magic in the Air Tonight (Daniel Belle and Renae Martin), and even a Gershwinesque song, New York Ticker Tape Parade.

An operatic moment provided by international soprano Yvonne Kenny AM appears in I’m Coming Home to Australia, and easily could have been plucked out of an earlier era and sung by the likes of Dame Nellie Melba, with its distinctly nostalgic air.

Showing hints of Frank Wildhorn or Stephen Schwartz, Lockley has created a stunning duo in I Can’t Turn Back (sung by Daniel Belle and Renae Martin).

Now, the next big challenge, for composer Gavin Lockley and his team, is to mount this as a fully staged production. From the songs on this disc, there seems to be much merit in such a proposition, thus bringing the heroic achievements of our greatest aviating legend to the stage for all to see.