- The Washington Times - Friday, October 9, 2009

Brian Wilson and George Gershwin?


In a seemingly unlikely pairing, the former Beach Boy has been given permission by the Gershwin family to complete some of the late, great composer’s unfinished works.

Mr. Wilson will record two solo albums for Walt Disney Records’ Disney Pearl imprint — one covering the songs of George Gershwin and his brother, Ira. For that recording, the Gershwin estate has given Mr. Wilson — who co-founded the Beach Boys and wrote many of the band’s greatest hits — access to rare, unfinished pieces of music by George Gershwin, from which he will craft collaborative compositions.

Mr. Wilson, 67, says he chose to record George and Ira Gershwin songs because he considers the late composers of classics including “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Summertime” critical influences on his music.

“I’ve always loved George Gershwin. The earliest music I remember hearing is ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’” Mr. Wilson says, referring to the composer’s groundbreaking 1924 orchestral piece. “Along with Irving Berlin, Gershwin basically invented the popular song, but he did something more. He had a gift for melody that nobody has ever equaled, yet his music is timeless and always accessible. This is the most spiritual project I’ve ever worked on.”

Born Jacob Gershowitz in Brooklyn in 1898, George Gershwin had a musical genius that spanned both classical and popular genres to give the world some of its most enduring melodies. Along with pop standards including “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,”“The Man I Love” and the jaunty “Strike Up the Band” (from the musical of the same name), Gershwin also broke new ground with his symphonic work “An American in Paris” and his celebrated opera “Porgy and Bess.”

He died of a malignant brain tumor at age 38 in 1937 — just two months before the release of the film “Shall We Dance,” which brought him an Oscar nomination — his only one — for best original song, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” written with his brother.

Ira Gershwin died in 1983.

Like George Gershwin, Mr. Wilson — hailed as “one of the few undisputed geniuses in popular music” during the Beach Boys’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — ranks among American popular music’s seminal tunesmiths.

Along with his brothers Carl and Dennis, cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine, the Southern California native formed the Beach Boys while still in his teens. With Mr. Wilson — a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2007 — as chief songwriter and arranger, the band enjoyed dozens of hits and helped change rock’s sound through his innovative melodies and harmonies. “I Get Around,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” “California Girls,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Fun, Fun, Fun” and the No. 1 smash “Good Vibrations” remain indispensable staples in the rock ‘n’ roll canon. The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” (1966) also is regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time.

“The Gershwin families are delighted that the legendary musician Brian Wilson has chosen to record a collection of George and Ira Gershwin songs for his next project,” said Todd Gershwin, George Gershwin’s great-nephew and a trustee of the George Gershwin family trusts, in a joint statement with Michael Owen (of the Ira Gershwin estate).

Said David Agnew, Walt Disney Records president and general manager of the Disney Music Group: “We are honored to be in business with one of the greatest musical artists of all time. It is impossible to overstate the impact Brian has had on contemporary music and culture — it has been nothing less than profound. We look forward to partnering with Brian on this exciting new voyage in his musical journey.”

Mr. Wilson will follow his Gershwin project with an album of classic Disney songs, which the artist promises to “Brian-ize” with his trademark vocal stacks and unique arrangements, the company said. Release dates for the albums have yet to be determined.

Mr. Wilson’s latest album, “That Lucky Old Sun,” was released in September 2008.

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