Gershwin's work a lesson in mutual understanding for some

| Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, 10:44 p.m.

Bassist Dwayne Dolphin says he was turned on to jazz “by a little Jewish guy.”

Trumpeter Sean Jones looks at the classic works of George Gershwin (1898-1937) and also sees a Jewish role in jazz.

For them, a concert celebrating the music of Jewish-American George Gershwin fits well into the August Wilson Center's “Great Collaboration: The Alliance of Blacks and Jews in the 20th Century.”

Not only did Gershwin borrow some of the blues style and harmony to include in his Tin Pan Alley hits, but they also became part of his bigger works such as “A Rhapsody in Blue,” Jones says.

Gershwin also wrote “Porgy and Bess,” an opera about black fishermen in Charleston, S.C., far removed from operas written about the royalty and elite of Western Europe.

That sort of mutual understanding is at the heart of the Downtown site's ongoing collaboration program. It is looking at that connection through a visual art presentation on the Berlin Olympics in 1936, when black and Jewish athletes were oppressed minorities. It also will examine the sharing of experience through dance and theatrical productions.

“In some way, they care about each other,” Dolphin says about Jews and blacks. “They each have been oppressed in ways, and so they can understand what each goes through.”

He says when he was attending Schenley High School, music instructor Ken Cook — the “little Jewish guy” — told him to embrace jazz because it is “the music of your birthright, the music of your people.”

“I can't believe the positive boost he gave me,” Dolphin says.

To examine that music, Jones will lead a quintet with Dolphin, drummer Roger Humphries, pianist Alton Merrill, and saxophonist Eli Digibri from Israel.

Digibri is a blazing a path in jazz these days, working with well known stars such as Herbie Hancock, Al Foster, Brad Mehldau and Ron Carter as well as releasing five albums of his own.

“He is just phenomenal,” Jones says of Digibri. “We are going to be able to do a lot of things in the quintet setting. We'll really be able to stretch out.”

Jones sees that freedom as giving Gershwin's music more of the jazz nature it borrowed.

Most of the music will be quintet versions of his hits or even material from “Porgy and Bess,” Jones says. But they might be able to do small-group looks based on melodies from “A Rhapsody in Blue.”

Dolphin says he is excited about having the ability to look at the composer's work in this setting.

“I've got something to say,” he says.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.

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