Let’s Hear It for George Gershwin!

This evening, the 92nd Street Y – located on the upper east side of Manhattan – opens its 2015-16 season with a program dedicated to the music of iconic American composer and pianist, George Gershwin (1898-1937). Sold out months ago, the finale of tonight’s concert will be Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (1924), written for jazz band and piano. Rhapsody bridges the gap between Gershwin’s Tin Pan Alley and Broadway compositions (Strike Up the Band, Fascinating Rhythm, But Not for Me) and his classical work (Cuban Overture, Concerto in F, Porgy & Bess).

Gershwin 2
George Gershwin

Commissioned by famed bandleader Paul Whiteman, Rhapsody in Blue was introduced by Whiteman and his band with Gershwin himself at the piano. The piece caused a sensation (with the audience, if not the critics) at its world premiere on Sunday afternoon, February 12, 1924 at Aeolian Hall in New York City. It also fulfilled Gershwin’s ambition to be taken seriously as a composer.

Paul Whiteman is remembered as not only a successful bandleader but, also, as a trailblazer in American music. Although his moniker was the “King of Jazz”, he had much higher ambitions. Born into a musical family in 1890 – his mother was a former opera singer and his father held the position of supervisor of music for the public school system in Denver – he was surrounded by music throughout his childhood. By age 17, he was already a member of the Denver Symphony Orchestra and, later, of the San Francisco Symphony Opera. Following a stint conducting a U.S. Navy band, he created the Paul Whiteman Orchestra immediately following World War I. Within a few short years, Whiteman had expanded his empire to over two dozen bands and his annual income exceeded $1,000,000.

Whiteman Band
Paul Whiteman and his band

The concert at which Rhapsody had its premiere was part of a program entitled An Experiment in Modern Music. Whiteman preceded the concert with a brief lecture, during which he told the audience that he had conceived the afternoon as being “purely educational” and that the concert might “at least provide a stepping stone which will make it very simple for the masses to understand and, therefore, enjoy symphony and opera”.

Whiteman had programed an extremely long afternoon – 26 compositions – and the audience was clearly losing its interest (if not its mind) until the penultimate composition (or, in Broadway parlance, the 11:00 number), Gershwin’s Rhapsody.

The opening clarinet solo – instantly recognizable – was not explicitly what Gershwin had originally composed. During a rehearsal, clarinetist Ross Gorman played an extremely exaggerated glissando (an Italian musical term, meaning to glide from one tone to another) as a joke. Loving what he heard, Gershwin insisted that he perform the opening exactly that way at the performance, and that’s how it’s been done ever since.

Gershwin and Whiteman

The performance of Rhapsody in Blue that afternoon saved the concert and most, if not all, of the other compositions are today largely forgotten. However, the finale of the concert, Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No 1, survives (as any high school graduate will tell you).

The reviews were wildly mixed and, during his lifetime, Gershwin got little respect from the critics for his “classical” endeavors. Nevertheless, within 3 short years, Whiteman’s band had performed Rhapsody 84 times, and its recording had sold over a million copies (in 1927, the entire population of the United States was 114 million).

Originally orchestrated for Whiteman’s band by Ferde Grofé, it was adapted in 1926 for a theatre orchestra and finally, in 1942, for a full symphony orchestra.

The great success of Rhapsody is that it has penetrated the national consciousness. While Gershwin often described the piece as “a musical kaleidoscope of America”, it has been more specifically associated with New York City.

And way beyond. For instance:

Those of you with long memories may recall the opening ceremonies from the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles:

1984 Olympics

And, while I don’t personally endorse it:

United Airlines

But my personal favorite and, in my opinion, that which most truly informs Rhapsody in Blue, remains:


The band for tonight’s concert will be Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, an institution in New York City. Vince is known for his commitment to preserving and authentically presenting 1920s and 1930s jazz and popular music, so he and the Nighthawks are an inevitable fit for this program.

Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks

For more information on tonight’s concert, please check out this link to the 92nd Street Y – and enjoy!

92nd Street Y – Opening Night Concert

Travel Fantasy: Let’s Fly Around the World

NOTE: If you’re not a travel wonk (and totally obsessed) as I am, you may not enjoy this post at all – or your eyes may glaze over or, worse, get permanently crossed. Proceed AYOR!!

So, how did I not know about this one? It was only a couple of months ago that a good friend (and fellow obsessed traveler) – AB-M – told me that there is this thing called “Round the World Air Fares” that is offered by the 3 airline alliances: One World (American Airlines), Sky Team (Delta) and Star Alliance (United).

It works like this:

You go to a dedicated website, input your itinerary and class of service, choose your flights, and off you go. What’s really interesting is that there don’t seem to be any blackout dates and the round-the-world fare is deeply discounted by comparison to what you might spend if you were purchasing each travel segment separately. You can also choose which class of service in which you want to fly: economy, business or first class – it’s all there for the taking.

There are a few caveats: you must fly in one direction, you must cross both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and there will be a minimum and maximum number of flight segments you are allowed. There are time rules, also, but they tend to be very liberal.

Cathay Pacific
Leavin’ on a Jet Plane

So how much will this flight of fancy cost us? Very generally speaking:

Economy: About $4,600 per person
Business: About $9,900 per person
First: About $15,300 per person

By way of comparison, let’s suppose you wanted to fly around the world, but paid for each segment individually without choosing the round-the-world fare. How much would it cost you:

Economy: About $13,650 per person
Business: About $27,700 per person
First: About $43,500 per person (whaaaat?)

If you were so-inclined to fly round-the-world, there is a huge savings to book the tickets via one of these airline alliances, right?

Since AAC CPA and I have gold status for life on American Airlines, we tend to go with them for most of our air travel, when we can. Having said that, our gold status gives us basically: NOTHING. And, since we fly mostly on miles, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for us to achieve Platinum or Executive Platinum status. Boo-Hoo!

Anyway, I got it into my head that it would be really cool to fly around the world. So, just for fun, I’ve developed the following itinerary and tried it out on all 3 airline alliances to see how it would shake out.

Here’s my fantasy – and slightly bizarre – itinerary:

New York (JFK) to Hong Kong (HKG)
Hong Kong to Tel Aviv/Jerusalem (TLV)
Tel Aviv to Paris (CDG or ORY)
Paris to London (LHR)
London to New York (JFK)

Why did I choose these particular locales? Well, we’ve never been to Hong Kong and I’ve heard amazing things about flying on Cathay Pacific (which is part of the One World Alliance). Tel Aviv? I haven’t been to Israel since the last millennium and AAC has never been. Plus, I’ve heard rumors that Cathay Pacific may inaugurate nonstop flights from Hong Kong to Tel Aviv next year. (Do I detect a theme here?) Paris and London are no-brainers, as they’re two of our favorite cities and are sort of on the way home. Actually we’ve been to those 2 cities so many times that they almost ARE home.

I started with the One World Explorer website:

One World Alliance

Under Round-the-World fares, choose oneworld Explorer and go from there. The interface is very user-friendly, and it’s and all difficult to play with it.

Warning – here comes the real wonky part:

Starting with JFK – HKG, no problem. Cathay Pacific flies a daily nonstop. 16 hours!! But we’ve heard that it’s a great airline and you’ll be well treated.

Plus – and fellow-wonks, this is IMPORTANT – the Cathay Pacific flight also operates as a codeshare on American Airlines. So if, for instance, you’re in American’s AAdvantage Mileage Program and you can book the flight using the codeshare, you should be entitled to AA miles (in addition to bonus miles if you’re flying in a premium cabin). Woo-Hoo!

Cathay Pacific
Cathay Pacific First Class Suite

Hong Kong
Let’s go to Hong Kong!!

From HKG – TLV, at the present time (until Cathay Pacific initiates nonstop service), the best way to fly is Cathay Pacific to London (LHR), and then onwards to TLV on British Airways. (We’re also enrolled in BA’s Executive Club, so we should pick up some Avios miles on the 2nd segment.) Total travel time here is about 20 hours (ouch!!) whereas, if you can fly from HKG – TLV nonstop, it’s more like 12 hours. For what it’s worth, the HKG – TLV segment on Cathay Pacific is in 1st class, and the LHR – TLV segment is in business class. If Cathay Pacific eventually flies nonstop from HKG – TLV, it’s been rumored that the only premium cabin will be business class.

Tel Aviv
Let’s hit the beach in Tel Aviv!

Jerusalem by night.

Or a dip in the Dead Sea?

(Are your eyes glazing over yet??)

After our week in the Holy Land, it’s off to chic Paris. In the One World Alliance, this is kind of a stinker itinerary, as you have to fly through LHR on British Airways, change planes and then to Paris. Instead of a 4 – 5 hour nonstop (if it were available), you’re now facing total travel time of 8½ hours. This is one of the compromises of flying within one of these airline alliances and a core lesson to learn: you can’t always get from point “A” to point “B” without making a few stops along the way.

AAC - Paris
AAC CPA in Paris – May, 2015

Paris to London is no biggie – now it’s an easy 80-minute flight from CDG to LHR. After what you’re already been through, this is nothing!

AAC CPA does London – May, 2015

Finally, on the flight back to New York, you have 2 options: either fly on American Airlines, which has 3 nonstops every day (but only 1 with a first class cabin), or British Airways. Again, if you want to collect AAdvantage miles, go with AA. If you want Avios, BA is your man.

When I attempted this itinerary on the Star Alliance (United) and Sky Team (Delta) websites, there were immediate problems. If, for instance, you wanted to fly in first class, almost all of the Star Alliance flight options were downgraded to business class, so it would make sense to choose “business class” as your class option and save thousands of dollars (duh?). Additionally, because of this particular itinerary, in some cases there were as many as 2 changes of plane to get from one city to another. That doesn’t sound like fun.

And, not for nothing, did you realize that – once you’ve completed your circumnavigation of the planet – there’s even a club for you to join:

Circumnavigators Club

Yes, it’s the vrai – a special club for special people!!

So here are the takeaways:

  1. If you want to fly round-the-world, use an airline alliance to book your ticket – the savings will be HUGE and you won’t have to worry about things like blackout periods; and
  2. As you think about your specific itinerary, be aware that each alliance has its pros and cons with respect their favored cities and the ease with which you can get from here to there.

But, in the end, it’s all about the adventure of travel and the idea of making a circumnavigation of our planet makes me kind of tingle.

So what is YOUR favorite itinerary on your round-the-world fantasy adventure?

Bon voyage!!

PS. Here are links to the other airline alliance websites for booking round-the-world fares:

Sky Team Alliance Round-the-World Fares (Delta Airlines)

Star Alliance Round-the-World Fares (United Airlines)