Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue is perhaps the most memorable piano concerto of all time. Instantly identifiable by the opening clarinet glissando and with its singable and catchy melodies, it is no wonder Rhapsody in Blue has been loved by so many.
A question many pianists ask is whether Gershwin's composition should be treated as a classical work and performed with great attention to the detail of the score or should it be treated as a jazz piece where the score is there to provide framework and ideas and it is the performer's job to interpret and communicate the music.
In this recording, Makoto Ozone takes this second option. It is important to consider the fact that Gershwin wrote this for Paul Whiteman and his jazz orchestra. In fact, the piece was somewhat "thrown together" and Gershwin's own solo passages were not written out for the original performance. He would simply nod at Whiteman once the solo passage was over.
Gershwin isn't the only composer who blurred the lines between classical and jazz and there were different views taken by various composers. Scott Joplin intended his rags to be played as written. He wanted to raise the style of music to a higher quality. In contrast, percussionist and ragtime composer George Hamilton Green also wrote detailed scores as Joplin did, but in the scores, he clearly encourages "noodling" and provides examples in how to incorporate improvisation to interpret the piece in performance.
It is with this spirit of interpretation that Ozone delivers this performance of Gershwin's monumental piece. He truly has an understanding of jazz and classical music as well as a deep connection to the spirit that Gershwin wrote in this piece. In some ways, it is strange when he leaves on his own improvisations and departs from material we know and love so much. On the other hand, this "freshness" and interpretation helps us to much better understand this piece as an early fusion of jazz and classical, something that doesn't fit squarely in either category. Ozone truly "gets" Gershwin, and there is no question that this is a great interpretation.