Possibly the greatest disservice ever done to American music occurred when United Airlines appropriated Gershwin’s, Rhapsody in Blue, for commercial use. They separated it from the world of occasional hearing, fond memory, and the wonderful experience of its signature melodic invention and emotional movement. They associated it with an unearthly, risky, hassled-filled, and ever-more claustrophobic activity. They also grossly over-exposed it and caused a rush of aversion that had everyone punching the Mute button on their remotes.
Shame, United, shame. As if bad service, cramped seating, and no pretzels weren’t enough.
It wasn’t like Top Forty, where two minutes and 18 seconds can enter your DNA and inform the rest of your life. It wasn’t a simple tune you whistled while doing the dishes. It seemed this beautiful music would forever be associated with baggage issues and security check-ins and parking problems.
What were they thinking? How could they be so insensitive? I refuse to fly on those planes.
Rhapsody in Blue
Fortunately, music is bigger than unthinking, unfeeling corporations and its true nature can rise above any abuse, its innate uniqueness transcend any cynical handling, and its creative heart remain immune from permanent breakage.
Marcus Roberts, talented piano player and wonderful musician, has rescued and rehabilitated this great work. His album, Portraits in Blue, features his take on this and two other Gershwin pieces and restores them to us for a future separate from United’s. Blind since his youth, he attended the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, where Ray Charles went before him. He played with Wynton Marsalis for years, and has recorded many solo and trio albums.
He has re-imagined this music for us and made the world safe again. Thank you, Mr. Roberts!
Close your eyes and let yourself be transported to wherever it takes you.