Slade illuminates George Gershwin’s creative process, from inception to premiere of “Rhapsody in Blue.”
“I frequently hear music in the very heart of noise.” Gershwin’s assertion in the epigraph propels this playful portrait of one of American music’s greatest innovators. Young George plies New York’s streets, hearing classical music in penny arcades and jazz outside Harlem clubs. He takes piano lessons, creates music scrapbooks, sneaks into concerts, and writes songs, selling his first at age 17. Later, “Swanee,” plucked out on a “bumpy bus ride,” sells millions of copies, making Gershwin famous. Seeking to legitimize jazz, bandleader Paul Whiteman plans “An Experiment in Modern Music,” inviting Gershwin to perform. George plans a “dazzling, daring piece.” Bound for Boston on business, he’s inspired by the train’s accelerating syncopation: “Rattle-ty-BANG! Rattle-ty-BANG!” His favorite musical forms “blended together into one beautiful rhapsody. George heard his concerto. He even saw the notes on paper!” Innerst’s acrylic-on-paper compositions, in a striking palette of indigo, sepia, and white, whimsically evoke both the period and the composer’s creativity. Young George roller-skates past brownstones with shop signs that reflect his musical immersion: “Sharp & Sons,” “Allegro Co.” The final spread marvelously integrates words and images as the premiere ends. “No one had ever heard anything like it. Except George. He’d been hearing beautiful music all his life.” George sits at the concert piano, in tails—and roller skates.
Bravo! (author’s note, illustrator’s note, timeline, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 6-9)