MARINE BARRACKS WASHINGTON, D.C. -- style="margin: 0in 0in 8pt;">In 1935, George Gershwin’s folk opera Porgy and Bess premièred in Boston before moving to Broadway in New York City. Despite its initial lukewarm reception, the opera eventually gained new popularity and is now one of the best-known and most frequently performed operas in the world.
Much of Gershwin’s original music from the opera, most notably the popular “Summertime,” has been recorded and arranged hundreds of times in different styles by various artists, especially in the style of Dixieland, which is a type of jazz based on the music that developed in New Orleans at the beginning of the 20th century. It is in that style that the Marine Dixieland Band will perform several selections from Porgy and Bess during two outdoor summer concerts at 8 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 23 on the west terrace of the U.S. Capitol and at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 24, in the Bumper Car Pavilion at Glen Echo Park in Glen Echo, Md.
“Gershwin was heavily influenced by the 1920s Dixieland styles,” said trumpeter Master Sgt. Daniel Orban, also leader of the Marine Dixieland Band. “His use of spirituals and gospel styles were the main ingredient in his opera and makes his score a ripe target for Dixieland arrangements.”
Porgy and Bess is considered one of the most famous and most successful American operas from the 20th century, as well as somewhat controversial at the time primarily due to its racially charged themes and cast of classically trained African-American singers. The opera is based on DuBose Heyward’s play “Porgy,” itself an adaptation of his novel of the same name. After Gershwin read “Porgy,” he proposed a collaboration with Heyward to create an operatic version. While all of the music is original and does not include traditional folk songs, Gershwin explained in a 1935 article in The New York Times why he called it a “folk opera:”
Porgy and Bess is a folk tale. Its people naturally would sing folk music. When I first began work on the music I decided against the use of original folk material because I wanted the music to be all of one piece. Therefore I wrote my own spirituals and folksongs. But they are still folk music – and therefore, being in operatic form, Porgy and Bess becomes a folk opera.
The story is set in 1930s Charleston, S.C., in the area known as Catfish Row, and follows the tragic love story of the disabled beggar Porgy and the beautiful Bess, who longs to flee from her life of crime and poor choices.
While the Marine Dixieland Band won’t perform the entire opera during the concerts, the group will perform arrangements of a few selections by Dixieland cornetist Jim Cullum, leader of the Jim Cullum Jazz Band. His band arranged the entire opera in Dixieland style, including narration. Regarding the arrangement, Orban said: “Cullums’ work, along with his colleagues, is some of the most virtuosic Dixieland playing I have ever heard.”
The concert selections include “My Man’s Gone Now,” featuring saxophonist Gunnery Sgt. Gregory Ridlington on clarinet; “Oh, Dere’s Somebody Knockin’ at De Do;” and the ever popular “Summertime.” “Summertime” and “My Man’s Gone Now” both have the cool, laid back feel of sitting on a porch in 1920s New Orleans enjoying a beautiful summer night, while “Oh, Dere’s Somebody Knockin’ at De Do” has the feel of a folk spiritual that will make one want to tap their toes or get up and dance. All three works capture the wonderful melodies of Gershwin’s original tunes while showcasing Dixieland at its best.
Prior to the Porgy and Bess selections, the band will perform a set of Dixieland standards made popular by “Satchmo” himself, Louis Armstrong, including the composition “Two Deuces” by Lil Hardin Armstrong, Louis Armstrong’s second wife. To her credit, many of “Satchmo’s” Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings were written by Lil. Other works in the set include Jack Palmer and Spencer Williams’ “I Found a New Baby;” Michael Edwards’ “Once in a While;” and Louis Armstrong’s own work “Swing That Music.”
“Dixieland music is America’s contribution to the arts, laying a foundation for popular music in the 20th century,” Orban explained. “New Orleans was an important global port and the center where many cultures met. The byproduct of multicultural music was born there as Dixieland. I enjoy playing this style because, as a performer, you can express so many emotions like happiness, sorrow, loss, and freedom.”
Along with Orban and Ridlington, the Marine Dixieland Band includes guitarist Master Sgt. Alan Prather, trombonist Gunnery Sgt. Ryan McGeorge, tuba player Master Gunnery Sgt. John Cradler, pianist Gunnery Sgt. Russell Wilson, and drummer Master Sgt. Dave Murray.
Both concerts are free and no tickets are required. Program is subject to change. Inclement weather cancellations will be made by 6 p.m. the night of the concert and updated at www.marineband.marines.mil and the Concert Information Line at (202) 433-4011.
Complete program and notes