Concerts By The Canal: Anderson brothers dig deeply into Gershwin

Peter and Will Anderson will be playing Gershwin at Southminster United Church on Feb. 21. Photo: Lynn Redmile

Peter and Will Anderson are twins both genetically and musically. The brothers both play jazz music and both have a passion for the history of the form. They also both play the same reed instruments primarily clarinet and saxophone. Their life in music has taken them from the Juilliard School to a gig with Wynton Marsalis in the the Jazz at the Lincoln Centre Orchestra to concerts around North America and beyond. The last time they were in Ottawa they played a wide-ranging concert of standards. On Feb. 21 they’ll focus in on the music of George Gershwin. ARTSFILE asked them why. Will Anderson answered.

Q. Can you describe the Gershwin program. What songs are on the list?

A. We will include Rhapsody in Blue, I Got Rhythm, It Ain’t Necessarily So, Summertime, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Embraceable You, S’wonderful, and many more.  Although Gershwin only had a 20-year career, he was extremely prolific and we will try to fit in as many of our favourite gems as possible!

Q. Why Gershwin?

A. George Gershwin is one of the most striking geniuses of modern music.  He composed for Broadway, film, Tin Pan Alley, for symphonic orchestras, and even wrote a full blown opera. His music defines the sound of America and he was one of the the first crossover artists combining ragtime, European classical music, and Tin Pan Alley.  His songwriting also tends to be simplistic, making them extremely fun to reinterpret and improvise over.

Q. You are playing in a trio with a guitarist. Have you arranged the music to fit the ensemble? 

A. The guitarist will be Adam Moezinia. The music is all arranged for our trio. My brother Peter will be playing tenor sax, soprano sax, and clarinet, while I will be playing alto sax, clarinet, and flute. Gershwin’s music can be played with any instrumentation; his melodies, harmony and rhythm are universal and captivating with virtually any ensemble.  We arrange for the trio ourselves and aren’t re-creating any type of original orchestration.

Q. Did he write well for reed instruments? 

A. Gershwin was not particularly an orchestrator; he mainly composed just for the piano. Ferde Grofé orchestrated Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, assigning that opening melody to the clarinet. It was a great choice. The clarinet is a very special instrument for its large range, and flexibility in bending and smearing the pitch.  The melody is perfect for the clarinet.

Q. Saxophone get any love from Gerswhin?

A. Saxophone lends itself well to Gershwin’s music. His melodies use many bluesy notes and allow for vibrato and expression.

Q. Why do you two play reed instruments?

A. We both started playing clarinet at age nine, after being inspired from hearing Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing in a Chips Ahoy! television commercial. A year later we added the saxophone. We fell in love with players including Artie Shaw, Sidney Bechet, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Johnny Hodges, and Coleman Hawkins. What’s not to like?

Q. Are you interested in the music of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s? What is it about this period in American music that attracts your attention?

A. Of course. This period was a golden age of American music when great composers and brilliant jazz musicians overlapped. And it was the popular music of the day on the radio, television, and Broadway. The music has expression, emotion, and allows for so much individuality. Listen to Louis Armstrong — he paved the way.

UPBEAT! Productions presents the Anderson Brothers Trio
Where: Southminster United Church, 15 Aylmer Ave.
When: Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.