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Accordionists join raft of Gershwin tributes

Thursday, September 24, 1998

By Kelly D. Burgess, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

George Gershwin wrote more than 1,000 songs, but none specifically for the accordion.That didn't stop local concert accordionist Henry Doktorski and 11 Duquesne University students from creating a squeezebox-led tribute to the composer just in time for the 100th anniversary of his birth Saturday.

Doktorski's "A Ragtime Rendition of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue," a compact disc featuring the full version of "Rhapsody" and 10 other Gershwin tunes, was released this week by Alanna Records, joining several other recent Gershwin CDs and dozens of special events planned worldwide to honor the composer.

On Saturday, the Library of Congress will dedicate the George and Ira Gershwin Room in its Jefferson Building. Working with his brother or separately, George Gershwin was one of America's most prolific songwriters, turning out dozens of songs each year before he died at age 38 of a brain tumor. Some of his best known works are "Rhapsody in Blue," "Strike Up the Band," and the opera "Porgy and Bess."

Doktorski, a Hampton resident, believes his versions of Gershwin's work are appropriate.

"This recording is unique because the orchestra is just 12 pieces, which gives it a ragtime feel," he said. "This is how Gershwin originally wrote the piece, but it was re-orchestrated for a large symphony by Ferde Grofe in 1942."

Although Gershwin didn't actually write for the accordion, Doktorski said his music has always been popular with accordionists. In fact, the second recording ever made of "Rhapsody in Blue" was released in 1928 on Victor Records and featured the accordion stylings of Basil Fomeen and Nick Hope. Unfortunately for accordion fans, it's no longer available in stores, according to Doktorski, author of "The Classical Squeezebox," a history of the accordion.

More traditional tributes to Gershwin also have been recently released. Among them: "Gershwin Standard Time" on Hip-O Records, features 18 songs by George and Ira Gershwin, and " 'S Wonderful: The Great Gershwin Decca Songbook" by MCA, contains classic covers of songs Gershwin wrote for Decca.



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