Pianist captures Gershwin spirit in concert

Saturday, November 3, 2001


Acclaimed as the foremost Gershwin interpreter on the concert stage right now, Gibbons lived up to the billing.

By Sam Blackwell ~ Southeast Missourian

It would not have meant much if the slender figure in tails who played note-for-note reconstructions of George Gershwin's arrangements Friday night were merely technically brilliant, which he was. In a 2 1/2-hour concert at Academic Auditorium, Jack Gibbons transcended flashiness to capture the Gershwin spirit -- his appreciation for life's cacophony, its odd rhythms and the soulfulness of a simple melody.

The melodies that poured from Gibbons' piano are some of the most familiar in the American consciousness.

Acclaimed as the foremost Gershwin interpreter on the concert stage right now, Gibbons lived up to the billing. His charming introductions of the American composer's tunes gave insights into the variety of real-life sounds in a sumptuous piece such as "An American in Paris" and into the difficulty of playing as Gershwin did, a style Gibbons described as "left hand leaping."

He confessed he sometimes wishes he had another hand.

The program started with the rollicking "Swanee," the Gershwin song Al Jolsen turned into a hit, and ended with the masterful "Rhapsody in Blue," which provoked standing cheers from the crowd of about 700. When he encored with "The Star-Spangled Banner," Gibbons could have been elected mayor of the city by acclaim.

In between, "Someone from Somewhere," a tune he gleaned from the movie "Delicious," was a delicate gem in Gibbons' hands. In the movie the song is played by a music box. Gibbons made the grand piano sound like one.

"Embraceable You" demonstrated that Gershwin sometimes liked to write songs that were simple and romantic, Gibbons said. Other tunes, such as "That Certain Feeling," showed how athletic and clever a pianist Gershwin was.

Gibbons' playing was sprightly, imaginative and stylish. Given a chance, you imagine him doing just as Gershwin did -- walking into a party, slipping onto the piano bench and spending the night there riding a wondrous flow of notes.

Playing Gershwin's music takes Gibbons before many different kinds of audiences. Thursday night, he performed before 118 people at the Bootheel Youth Museum in Malden, Mo. On Nov. 20, his schedule will take him to New York City's Carnegie Hall.

Gibbons was brought to Southeast after theater professor Dennis C. Seyer heard him play last year at Oxford in England.

Hurrah for Dennis Seyer, hurrah for George Gershwin and hurrah for Jack Gibbons.


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