LGBT-inclusive Atlanta Freedom Bands closes out its 24th season this weekend with a jazzy finale — “Gershwin!,” featuring selected works of the early 20th century Jewish-American composer George Gershwin.

“He didn’t live too many more years of age than Mozart did, and they both accomplished a staggering amount of musical compositions during their short life spans,” said Trey Clegg, guest pianist for the event.

Gershwin was heavily influenced by jazz.

“He spent quite a bit of time in river towns like New Orleans, Charleston, etc., in clubs listening to jazz and he began to fuse standard, classical Western music with jazz,” Clegg said.

The composer famously wrote “Porgy and Bess,” a jazz opera with an all-black cast, along with “An American in Paris,” “Catfish Row” and “Rhapsody in Blue,” all three of which will be performed by the Atlanta Freedom Bands this weekend.

“Gershwin was one of the early quintessential American composers. When Gershwin rose to prominence, it was still at a time when if you asked people about classical music and where all the great classical composers came from, all the people would say Europe,” said Ken Meltzer, the program annotator for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. “America wasn’t really considered a place for classical music to flourish. Along comes George Gershwin and with his ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ Gershwin demonstrated not only that Americans could compose and perform classical music, but there was even the possibility of incorporating the quintessential American form of music, which was jazz, into classical music.”

Before the concert begins, Meltzer will give a brief talk about Gershwin’s life and musical legacy, as well as share rare recordings of him performing his jazzy fusions. The fusion, in ‘Rhapsody’ at least, is quickly evident. Meltzer said the opening measures are a jazzy clarinet solo that “slides all over the place seductively” before melding into the piano concerto.

“You have the orchestra and the piano soloist, which is very much in the tradition of the European classical style, but the music they’re playing definitely has a firm footing in the jazz hall,” he said.

Clegg said “Rhapsody in Blue” is one of Gershwin’s most exciting and popular works. There are two versions — one for just piano, and one for a piano soloist accompanied by an orchestra. That’s what will be performed by Clegg and the Atlanta Freedom Bands, and he’s excited to share it with his audience.

“It’s just many great musicians coming together for one common cause, and that alone is worth coming out. Then you put this great music on top of it, and boom-bada-boom, it’s a star-studded evening,” Clegg said.

Atlanta Freedom Bands presents “Gershwin!”
Saturday, June 17, at 7:30 p.m.
North Atlanta High School, 4111 Northside Parkway NW, Atlanta
Tickets: $15 general admission, $10 seniors, $5 students, available at www.atlantafreedombands.com

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