Gershwin & Bernstein: Jazz Influence, Operas & Musicals

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  • 0:01 Jazz: Play That Funky Music
  • 0:40 George Gershwin: Life
  • 1:25 Gershwin: Operas and Musicals
  • 2:07 Leonard Bernstein: Life
  • 2:48 Bernstein: Operas and Musicals
  • 3:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Jazz was one of the greatest contributions of American civilization to world culture. However, until the arrival of Gershwin and Bernstein, the genre was largely seen as lacking the refinement of other more classical forms.

Play That Funky Music

For hundreds of years, people have been playing music for the enjoyment of others, as well as acting and producing art for the pleasure of the masses. In making successful entertainment, there has to be something to catch the minds and hearts of the audience. Not surprisingly, other forms of music, including jazz in the last century, have influenced theater. Various musicals take their form through jazz music, and even an opera has been born of this medium! George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein were two such pioneers, creating some of the best-known work for the stage utilizing a jazz medium. Their work is still recognized today and is still performed in theaters worldwide.

George Gershwin

George Gershwin was born to Russian immigrant parents in New York City in 1898. From the time he was ten years old, the sounds of the city, including the rising jazz scene, were all around him, influencing his style and desire to become a musician. He worked as a composer for fifteen dollars a week after dropping out of school. Gershwin was influenced by his time in Paris, and it honed his expertise in jazz.

Many popular singers of the time performed Gershwin's work, which he wrote constantly. After working in Hollywood for some time, Gershwin passed away in 1937 at the age of 38. His work is still considered some of the best of the jazz period, and is performed now, with famous standards such as Rhapsody in Blue.

Gershwin's Operas and Musicals

George Gershwin's first opera was a one-act jazz number called Blue Monday. It was among the first to mix the new style of jazz music in with what was considered classical music to create a category all its own, known now as a folk opera. Blue Monday was a flop, and Gershwin wrote Porgy and Bess.

The characters were African American, and it was set in South Carolina. While Porgy and Bess was not popular at the time, it has since gone on to be one of the most well-known and widely performed operas in America. Gershwin also worked with his brother Ira on various musicals, including Lady Be Good, Show Girl, and Girl Crazy.

Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein was born in Massachusetts in 1918. He loved music even as a child, playing for hours with his sister at the family piano. Bernstein attended Harvard University, where he developed even more of a love for music. After graduation, he moved to New York, where he worked with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra as an assistant conductor.

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