Béla Fleck to Pay Homage to George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ with New LP

Béla Fleck to Pay Homage to George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ with New LP

Photo Credit: Jeremy Cowart

Béla Fleck has unlocked the intent behind his impending project. The decorated musician shared that his latest work revolves around George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The impending set functions as a homage to the esteemed composer/ pianist and will arrive one hundred years to the day that Gershwin premiered the same work at Aeolian Hall in New York City. 

Fleck’s Rhapsody in Blue album includes three variations: “Rhapsody in Blue(grass),” “Rhapsody in Blue(s),” and the classic orchestration, but with banjo featured instead of piano, performed by the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Eric Jacobson. The set also boasts Gershwin’s “Rialto Ripples” and “Unidentified Piece for Banjo” cuts, an unrecorded and unreleased jewel discovered at the Library of Congress.

The previously unreleased cut was brought to Fleck by his friend Dr. Ryan Banagale, author of Arranging Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue, “It’s very much like a ragtime tune through a Gershwin lens, with a highly catchy melody and some surprising harmonic moves at the ends of phrases,” Fleck says. “He didn’t write out the harmony, but the implications seemed to point clearly towards ‘I Got Rhythm’ types of chords, though a little more quirky. To keep the authenticity of the piece, I played it on an old gut-string, five-string banjo.” 

Moreover, on May 4, 2024, at Carnegie Hall, Rhythm, Raga & Rhapsody will celebrate the music of Béla Fleck, including his New York premiere of “Rhapsody in Blue” performed with the Aeolian Orchestra, conducted by Eric Jacobsen. The occasion is also billed to feature My Bluegrass Heart (Michael Cleveland, Sierra Hull, Justin Moses, Mark Schatz, and Bryan Sutton), tabla master Zakir Hussain, pianist Bruce Hornsby, and woodwind player Anat Cohen.

Reflecting on the process, Fleck admits, “My first thought was, ‘Rhapsody in Blue(grass)’ is the most horrible idea I could ever imagine.” He continues, “But when we started to actually explore it, I realized that it actually sounded quite good. With the bluegrass version, we had the opportunity to stretch out, have some fun and make some different creative moves.” 

For the project, Fleck tapped the core band from his Grammy-winning My Bluegrass Heart band:  Michael Cleveland, Sierra Hull, Justin Moses, Mark Schatz, and Bryan Sutton. “Rhapsody in Blue(s)”—the blues version—features longtime Béla collaborators Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and Victor Wooten. 

“My wish is that George Gershwin might have loved it, that he might have thought, ‘Hmmm, this is not what I expected, but the musicians certainly brought something different to it,’” added Fleck, applying his hopes for a well-received set.

Pre-order Rhapsody in Blue. Scroll down to view the complete tracking list, and stream “Unidentified Piece for Banjo.” 

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Rhapsody in Blue Track Listing: 

Rhapsody in Blue(grass)

Unidentified Piece for Banjo

Rhapsody in Blue (featuring Eric Jacobson & the Virginia Symphony Orchestra)

Rhapsody in Blue(s) (feat. Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Victor Wooten)

Rialto Ripples

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