(Kid Logic) Bela Fleck is sharing "Rhapsody in Blue(grass)" from his upcoming album Rhapsody in Blue, an homage to the legendary composer George Gershwin that expands and explores an American classic. Available February 12, a hundred years to the day Gershwin premiered "Rhapsody in Blue" at Aeolian Hall in New York City. Featuring the core band from his Grammy-winning My Bluegrass Heart, the single also commemorates the 100th birthday of the great Earl Scruggs.
"One day while on tour with My Bluegrass Heart, surrounded by these geniuses, a thought occurred to me - "Rhapsody in Blue(grass)?!" I kept the thought to myself, realizing it was either the greatest idea or possibly the very worst I had ever thought of," Fleck admits. "But it wouldn't go away. 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." Fleck is joined by his My Bluegrass Heart band: Michael Cleveland, Sierra Hull, Justin Moses, Mark Schatz and Bryan Sutton.
Rhapsody in Blue also includes "Rhapsody in Blue(s)" with longtime Bela collaborators Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and Victor Wooten, and the classic orchestration led by banjo instead of piano, performed by the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Eric Jacobson. The album also features a solo banjo rendition of Gershwin's "Rialto Ripples" and "Unidentified Piece for Banjo," a previously unrecorded and unreleased gem discovered at the Library of Congress. "Unidentified Piece for Banjo" is out now. Give it a listen!
On May 4, 2024 at Carnegie Hall, Bela Fleck: Rhythm, Raga & Rhapsody will feature the New York premiere of "Rhapsody in Blue" performed with the Aeolian Orchestra, conducted by Eric Jacobsen. The multi-artist night also includes My Bluegrass Heart (Michael Cleveland, Sierra Hull, Justin Moses, Mark Schatz & Bryan Sutton), tabla master Zakir Hussain, pianist Bruce Hornsby, and woodwind player Anat Cohen. Tickets are on sale now. The night is co-presented by World Music Institute and Absolutely Live Entertainment.
Born and raised in New York City, this project is a culmination of Fleck's lifelong love for Gershwin and his compositions. "A piano player can play Rhapsody a lot faster than I can," adds Fleck. "But the truth is, they've played it so much that it sometimes gets rushed through. I'd listen and think, 'There is so much in there but it's going by so fast that I'm not getting it all.' That gave me a window into a way to reinterpret those parts on banjo. It could be a new experience for listeners rather than hearing it banged out on piano for the twenty-fifth time. It might even be revelatory."
Over the last four decades, Bela Fleck has made a point of boldly going where no banjo player has gone before - and has earned 16 Grammy awards in nine different fields, including Country, Pop, Jazz, Instrumental, Classical and World Music along the way. As he neared the end of his Rhapsody rearrangement, Fleck began to wonder whether he could take his Gershwin homage further, perhaps by replacing the full orchestra with bluegrass instruments.
"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.'"