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Gershwin fan's song ends on a mysterious note

A composer fleshes out a melody he found on a wad of paper in his coat pocket. Years later he recalls having removed the paper from George Gershwin's piano when he tuned it.

May 29, 2011|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times

Raymond White, senior music specialist with the library and curator of its George and Ira Gershwin Collection, said the 6-foot, 10 3/4-inch Steinway was built in 1925 and sits in a room dedicated to the pair. Also displayed is the typewriter Ira used to write lyrics, as well as original compositions and photographs.

George Gershwin owned several pianos, and the age of the Steinway, verified by its serial number, means that it could not have been used for the composition of "Rhapsody in Blue," which was written in 1924, White said.

Archivist Michael Owen, whose work with the trust is coming to an end, said it's possible George Gershwin wrote the 15-note melody that Kates has turned into "Some Time to Get to Know You."

But it's unlikely a wad of paper causing Gershwin's piano keys to stick would have gone unnoticed by those who played the Steinway during the 50 years that followed the composer's death, Owen said. It's a sentiment that White shares.

"If the paper clearly has George Gershwin's hand on it, there are enough people out there who would recognize it," Owen said. "It would certainly have some interest on the curatorial side."

That's bad news for Kates. He threw the wad away after he copied the 15 notes onto sheet music and fleshed it out with the bridge and the harmony.

Having "no original document would probably mitigate interest," Owen said. "We need the manuscript in its original hand to provide certainty."

Just because a tune has a Gershwin sound to it doesn't make it Gershwin music, he said.

Kates said he remains willing to give up the copyright to "Some Time to Get to Know You." He's keeping the rights to its lyrics, however.

As the Gershwins would put it, "They can't take that away from me," Kates said.

bob.pool@latimes.com

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