Gershwin by Ruth Leon

Ruth Leon

review by Barry Forshaw

There have been many biographies of the greatest of all Broadway composers, but Ruth Leon's Gershwin, however concise, is one entry that brims with a contagious love and respect for its charismatic subject - and conveys every aspect of George Gershwin's genius with intelligence and empathy. Edward Jablonski, whose massive Gershwin tome must lie behind every attempt at chronicling the short-lived composer's hectic life and times, would smile with pleasure at this vivid and evocative memoir, and not just because he was Ruth Leon's mentor (a fact the author acknowledges in a heartfelt introduction), but because he would agree with Leon's thesis - that Gershwin (along with Scott Fitzgerald) was the ultimate encapsulation of the jazz age with all its energy and ebullience.

That proposition is conveyed through the story of his many successful Broadway shows (including such classic songs as Embraceable You and I Got Rhythm), his sole brilliant attempt at opera with Porgy And Bess, and his colourful, inventive concert works (not just the ever-popular Rhapsody In Blue but the more ambitious - and musically more complex - Piano Concerto in F). Ruth Leon's adroit conjuring of New York in the 1920s and 1930s is as accomplished as her picture of a fascinating - and ultimately tragically curtailed - life.

With the sterility and crassness of popular music of today holding total sway, this is a salutary testament to an age when the word genius could be authentically applied to the form of the popular song.