Jerry Willard

George Gershwin: That Certain Feeling

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The guitar adaptations of famous and not-so-famous Gershwin numbers (Scandal Walk is a nice inclusion) on this album are a strong attraction. They are by classical guitarist Jerry Willard himself, and they're quite distinctive in style. It might have been good if this booklet told us more about how they were put together and less about the songs themselves; discussions of lyrics on an instrumental release are not of primary relevance. According to the notes, Willard drew on a variety of sources: commercial arrangements of Gershwin's songs for other instruments (which are indeed numerous), Gershwin's piano roll recordings, and The Gershwin Songbook, Gershwin's own remarkable 1932 collection of piano arrangements of his songs. The last-named group seems to have exerted the strongest influence on Willard's transcriptions, which are technically complex, free in rhythm, and evocative of improvisation. The result is an unusual tour through Gershwin's hits, with a consistently high level of playing and a meditative yet precise sensibility largely unlike that heard in the many thousands of jazz treatments of Gershwin's tunes. It's as if a lutenist from the olden days had somehow been deposited in a Jazz Age hotel lounge. Reactions to this kind of playing will be personal, and sampling one of the more harmonically complex pieces, like Someone to Watch Over Me, track 11, will give the buyer an idea of his or her own -- after having to get by on boomy, in-your-face sound that's entirely at odds with the damped ambiance and the quiet conviviality that the music seems to demand.

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