George Gershwin has been a major inspiration to multi-instrumentalists and identical twins Peter and Will Anderson. “Gershwin was one of these gems in American culture where he just didn’t have any boundaries,” Will Anderson says.
The Anderson brothers and their band bring an evening of Gershwin to Eugene at 7:30 pm Friday, Nov. 11, at The Shedd.
Gershwin indeed went beyond boundaries. Throughout his short but productive career as a composer, he wrote music in both the classical and jazz genres, including Rhapsody in Blue and “I Got Rhythm.” If you turn on a classical or jazz radio station and listen to it long enough, there’s a good chance you’ll hear at least one of Gershwin’s compositions.
The duo will play at least five instruments between them, including flute; clarinet; and alto, tenor and soprano saxophone. The rest of their sextet consists of Siri Vik (vocals), Randy Porter (piano), Garrett Baxter (bass), and Ken Mastrogiovanni (drums), who are all based in the Eugene and Portland areas.
Raised in the Washington, D.C., area, the Anderson brothers eventually moved to New York City to attend Juilliard.
“That opened a lot of doors for us,” Will Anderson says. “We got to play with, quite frankly, like kind of everyone that we had dreamed of playing with.” These musicians include Jimmy Heath, Frank Wess and Wynton Marsalis. The brothers entered Juilliard in 2005, got their bachelor’s and master’s degrees and graduated in 2011.
Both brothers first started on clarinet, and were influenced by several jazz clarinet greats, including Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw.
“Growing up in the D.C. area, we were also very active in performing classical music,” Will Anderson says. “The University of Maryland was a great resource for us, and we had several teachers there where we played Mozart and Brahms and other pieces.”
Despite their early classical music influences, the Anderson brothers today mostly focus on jazz. However, their concert at The Shedd will bring back some of those classical influences with the Gershwin tunes. This is because of Gershwin’s versatility with both genres.
“Speaking of incorporating classical elements into jazz, he’s the best example,” Will Anderson says. Prominent compositions include Rhapsody in Blue and the opera Porgy and Bess, in which one of its songs, “Summertime,” has become a jazz standard.
Anderson explains that Gershwin studied classical music in Paris, and then traveled to the American South to learn about African American music tradition.
“He incorporated that into Porgy and Bess,” Anderson says. “He’s extremely well-rounded.” This variety, Anderson says, is the main reason why he and his brother admire him.
Gershwin’s songs are important for jazz students to learn. One of these is “I Got Rhythm.”
“It’s something that’s memorized in practice for hours, by everyone from Kenny G to Branford Marsalis,” says Peter Anderson. “You can’t avoid learning his music if you’re going to play jazz.”
The brothers say they are excited to be performing in Eugene.
“The people in Oregon are great,” Will Anderson says. “It’s got a lot of free thinkers, and Oregon’s a place where people really care about the arts.”
The Anderson brothers will play about 14 tunes in the concert. But, as Will Anderson explains, they could easily do much more since Gershwin’s repertoire is so vast.
“I mentioned Rhapsody in Blue, ‘Summertime,’ ‘Embraceable You,’ ‘’S Wonderful’ — there’s just so many,” he says. “So, we’re going to try to play as many as we can.”