When is was kid of about seven or eight I had a phonograph record player. My favorite of all my hand-me-down records, which I played repeatedly, was Rhapsody in Blue performed by Oscar Levant.
It is still a personal favorite. Of all the Rhapsody in Blue interpretations, I most enjoy hearing Khatia Buniatishvili's playing---I rather enjoy watching her too.
In late 1923 bandleader Paul Whiteman asked composer George Gershwin to write a concerto-like piece for an all-jazz concert in honor of Lincoln's Birthday to be given at Aeolian Hall in New York City. Gershwin declined Whiteman's request on the grounds that he would have insufficient time to compose the work.
Soon after, on the evening of January 3, while George Gershwin played a game of billiards at the Ambassador Billiard Parlor, George's brother, Ira Gershwin, interrupted their billiard game to read aloud the January 4 edition of the New-York Tribune. The Tribune article falsely declared that George Gershwin had begun "work on a jazz concerto" for Whiteman's concert.
The news announcement puzzled Gershwin as he had politely declined to compose any such work for Whiteman. In a telephone conversation with Whiteman the next morning, Whiteman informed Gershwin that Whiteman's arch rival Vincent Lopez planned to steal the idea of his experimental concert and there was no time to lose. Whiteman thus finally persuaded Gershwin to compose the piece.
With only five weeks remaining until the premiere, Gershwin hurriedly set about composing the work. He later claimed that, while on a train journey to Boston, the thematic seeds for Rhapsody in Blue began to germinate in his mind.
Whiteman's orchestra performed the rhapsody with "twenty-three musicians in the ensemble" and George Gershwin on piano. In characteristic style, Gershwin chose to partially improvise his piano solo. The orchestra anxiously waited for Gershwin's nod which signaled the end of his piano solo and the cue for the ensemble to resume playing.
Upon the conclusion of the rhapsody, the audience tumultuously applauded Gershwin's composition.