Earlier this year I mentioned that I play the saxophone in a community band and had a great time at our spring concert playing the tune “But Not for Me,” which was composed by George Gershwin. Yesterday during our fall concert, we played two more pieces by Gershwin so I thought why not do what I did then and discover what, if any ties they had to classic movies.
I hope you won’t mind though if I share a little story with you first. As I was getting ready for the concert, I was feeling way more nervous than usual (I could barely eat my lunch!) and was not feeling at all confident in my playing abilities.
But a funny thing happened as soon as we walked onto the stage, sat down, and started playing our first piece. All my nervousness seemed to vanish in an instant, and I realized that I love to perform on stage in front of an audience!
Now that might not sound like a big deal, especially to those of you who have any kind of stage experience, but as a once extremely shy introvert who has struggled my whole life with social awkwardness, unhealthy perfectionism, and a fear of doing pretty much anything in front of large groups, I never would have expected to find myself in that situation, especially since I don’t exactly possess a ton of musical talent. I’m not quite sure why I never felt that way at previous concerts, but it was quite an exhilarating revelation and now I can’t wait for our next one!
As for the two Gershwin pieces we played, the first was actually a medley of the songs “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Bidin’ My Time” and the other one was “Strike Up the Band.” They weren’t quite as fun to play as “But Not for Me” but it is always satisfying to play tunes that I am familiar with, so I really enjoyed performing them.
“Someone to Watch Over Me” was originally composed for the 1926 musical Oh Kay! and was introduced by English actress and singer Gertrude Lawrence. Lawrence, who was at one time close friends with English playwright Noel Coward, was known mostly for her career on stage in London and New York.
The song has been recorded by quite a few artists over the years including Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Rosemary Clooney, Barbra Streisand, and my personal favorite, Frank Sinatra. Sinatra also sings the song in the movie Young at Heart (1954), which co-stars another one of my favorite singers Doris Day.
“Bidin’ My Time” was featured in the 1943 version of Girl Crazy starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, the same movie that “But Not for Me” appeared in. I guess our director really likes music from that movie.
I love the scene in which Judy Garland sings the song with a quartet of singing, dancing cowboys. If you happen to check it out, which you can (and should!) here on YouTube, make sure to stick around till the end for a fun appearance in the number by Mickey Rooney.
The song was also recorded as a single by Teddi King, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and opera singer Willard White among others. My favorite version is Sarah Vaughan’s with her rich vocals bringing something extra special to the song.
As for the song “Strike Up the Band,” I was expecting to find out that it appeared in the 1940 movie of the same name, which like Girl Crazy starred Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. But I discovered instead that it was written for a 1927 Broadway musical and other than the title had no relation to the film.
Do you have a favorite version of any of these great George Gershwin standards? Have you ever performed them on stage? If so, I’d love to hear your story!