Playlist: George Gershwin’s “Summertime”

July 31st, 2022



Miles Davis's 1959 album "Porgy and Bess"

The 1959 recording of Miles Davis’s Porgy and Bess, which includes George Gershwin’s “Summertime”





…..During a stand-up comedy routine, the comic Richard Wright, famous for his sardonic, one-liner humor, once asked his audience, “If you saw a heat wave, would you wave back?”  Well, for a week the heat in Portland has been so oppressive that at times you can actually see it, but I wouldn’t be so  polite as to wave to it – I’d be more inclined to puncture it with a rigid and upright middle finger.

…..We live in a topsy-turvy, bizarro world, where it’s hotter in the Pacific Northwest in July than it is in Tuscon, Arizona, or Gallup, New Mexico.  Nine days of temperatures over 95 here, and today the third in a row over 100.

…..We do our best to shake it off and avoid it.  We get up earlier, which means many of us in my neighborhood are out the door by 7:00 AM to get to the store, to find a breakfast café, or, in my case, walk the sidewalks alongside gardens so parched that only the roses – famous in this city – are resilient enough to remain in bloom.

…..This morning I grabbed my ear buds and scrolled through Spotify to find some tunes to accompany me on the walk and landed on an oldie – Miles Davis’s 1959 recording of Porgy and Bess, tunes from George Gershwin’s classic 1935 opera.  The centerpiece of that opera is the spiritual lullaby “Summertime,” a song covered by jazz, pop, classical, and opera artists alike, and Davis’s version is of course exquisite, described by the music critic Will Friedwald in his 2002 book Stardust Melodies as “the best of all the jazz versions” recorded. “’Summertime’ is a miracle of Davis’s playing,” he writes.  “His tightly muted trumpet sounds both passionate and cool at the same time, full of feeling yet laid back and chilled out.”

…..Yes, that’s what I was hoping for, being “chilled out.”  Miles did the trick.   My walk was cool, the roses colorful, the heat wave not yet palpable.

…..And it got me to thinking of all the great versions of Gershwin’s classic piece we find especially listenable from June to September. Billie Holiday, Ella, Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Joplin (Janis), sure, but what of the lesser known but wonderful renditions by the likes of Earl Hines, Helen Humes, Oscar Peterson, Errol Garner, and Marcus Roberts?

…..So, I scrambled home to compile a Spotify playlist (using Friedwald’s book for assistance) devoted to mostly jazz artist’s recordings of this song, and this song only.  Forty-two versions of “Summertime” in much of its glory for your listening pleasure, and in the heat of this moment.









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