Learn the lives and music of the Gershwin brothers

ENCINITAS –— Gershwin lovers are invited to spend a Saturday afternoon at the Encinitas Library in a discussion of The Lives and Music of George and Ira Gershwin led by John Santuccio. The event takes place in the community room at 2 p.m. Sept. 29.

Brothers George (composer) and Ira (lyricist) Gershwin wrote some of the most popular music in the American song book including standards such as “I’ve Got Rhythm,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “They Can’t Take that Away from Me,” “Embraceable You,” “I’ve Got a Crush on You” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

Santuccio will provide commentary while playing Gershwin favorites at the baby grand piano. Clips from the Gershwin movie “An American in Paris” with Gene Kelly will be shown. Gershwin composed the music on commission from the New York Philharmonic.

John Santuccio will lead a discussion of The Lives and Music of George and Ira Gershwin at 2 p.m., Sept. 29 at the Encinitas Library. Photo by Lillian Cox

Several years later, Santuccio served as orchestra manager for the New York Philharmonic.

“John’s career in music, at the New York Philharmonic, G. Schirmer and the Eastman School, gives him a rich history and exposure to the music of the Gershwin’s,” Jim Gilliam, Encinitas arts administrator, said.

Although Santuccio studied music beginning as a child, it wasn’t until retirement that he rediscovered the Gershwin brothers.

“George quit school at 17 or 18 to become a song plugger for a music publishing house on West 48th Street,” he said. “People would walk in and he’d plug songs by playing them on the piano.”

“At 18, one of his first songs was ‘Swanee,’ Al Jolson heard it and made a recording in 1918. It sold 2.5 million copies!”

From that time, George Gershwin earned enough money to support his entire family.

“I both love and admire George Gershwin — not only for what he accomplished, but the fact that it came straight out of his head,” Santuccio said.

“He went to (French composer) Maurice Ravel and said, ‘Would you give me composition lessons?’ Ravel replied, ‘You’re already a first-rate Gershwin! Why would you want to be a second-rate Ravel?”

Santuccio said Gershwin had a similar experience when he moved to Hollywood and asked his neighbor, Igor Stravinsky, to teach him more about composition. Stravinsky was considered to be one of the most influential composers of the 20th century.

“Stravinsky replied, “George how much money do you make from compositions? … Man, I should be taking lessons from you,’” Santuccio said.

A new generation discovered the Gershwin brothers in 2004 when Fantasia Barrino performed the classic “Summertime” from the opera “Porgy and Bess” that led to her winning “American Idol.”

“I think that is George’s best piece,” Santuccio said. “He got very interested in jazz. After reading the book (by Edwin duBoise Heyward), he thought about writing an opera and traveled to Charleston, S.C., to do research.”

“Porgy and Bess” was first performed in 1935. George Gershwin died of a brain tumor two years later. He was only 38.

“Mozart and George Gershwin both died around the age of 38,” Santuccio said. “Can you imagine if both had lived till 60?”

Santuccio has spent his career working in the music publishing business as well as in executive positions with the Syracuse (N.Y.) Symphony Orchestra, Charlotte (N.C.) Symphony Orchestra and San Diego Chamber Orchestra. He is also a Grammy Award winner.

The Encinitas Library is located at 540 Cornish Drive. The event is free.

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