“When The Living Was Easy” . . . : Gershwin’s Summertime

Normally (yeah, what’s that now . . ) the end of May would be the start of summer with thoughts of vacation plans, beaches, outdoor concerts (yeah, about that . . .)

The song Summertime was written by George Gershwin in 1034 for his opera Porgy and Bess with lyrics credited to Ira Gershwin and DuBoise Heyward, the author of the novel Porgy on which the opera was based. Although Gershwin said that he did not use any previously written spirituals in his opera, musicologists and other music wonks have argued that it was based on a African American spiritual. Others have argued that it was inspired by a Ukrainian Yiddish lullaby. Most just split it down the middle.

Whatever the origins, Summertime has become possibly the most popular song written by an a American composer with over 25,000 recordings of the song. It’s one of the first jazz standards most of us learn. It’s harmony is flexible enough that you can jam over it with your trusty blues licks or you can add enough chord substitutions to make it a virtual harmonic ski trail (double back diamond, of course).

Below are some of my particular favorite versions of the tune.

Sidney Bechet (on soprano sax) was one of the first important soloists in jazz (he recorded before Louis Armstrong by several months), I love how he interacts with the guitarist.

Sidney Bechet – Summertime (1939)


Ella Fitzgerald with the Tee Carson trio. Live in Germany in 1968. So soulful.

Ella Fitzgerald – Summertime (1968)


Miles Davis with Gil Evan’s orchestral arrangements. Classic.

Summertime – Miles Davis (1966)


Ella Fitzgerald sang Summertime with a quiet solfulness. Janis brought intensity. Also dig he pseudo baroque instrumental intro.

Janis Joplin – Summertime


The Reverend Al Green. Gershwin meets Memphis.

Al Green – Summertime


Two of my favorite young guitarists, Billy Strings and Marcus King in a intimate guitar duet. Billy Strings channeling Doc Watson.

Summertime – Billy Strings & Marcus King


To better summer and better days.

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Posted in Classic Rock, Country/Bluegrass, Jazz, Music Appreciation and Analysis, Uncategorized

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