Episode 10: Jazz Connections


Students will examine an artist's connection to a piece of music and how the musician can communicate such a connection through her performance.

Grade Level

9-12 (can be adapted to suit grade level)

National Music Standards

6 Listening to, analyzing and describing music


Allyson Tomsky Allyson Tomsky playing on the streets of New York

In this episode Allyson Tomsky, a 17-year-old violinist, performs two movements from Three Preludes by George Gershwin, who came from the same neighborhood she does in Brooklyn, New York. She talks about connections both to Gershwin and to her hometown - she loves to play for people on the streets of New York and can't imagine living anywhere else.

George Gershwin, one of America's foremost composers, wrote for stage shows, vaudeville, and movies as well as the concert hall. Gershwin was born in 1898 to Russian immigrant parents in Brooklyn. He showed an early interest in music, learned to play the piano beginning at the age of 10, and by the time he was 15 had left school to become a "song plugger" in New York's Tin Pan Alley. A song plugger was a singer or pianist who was paid to perform sheet music live (in the days before radio or the Internet) for publishers who wanted to sell their songs. Tin Pan Alley was a New York City neighborhood (on West 28th street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues) where many publishers and songwriters had set up shop so that they could collaborate more easily. Performers looking for new repertoire would visit Tin Pan Alley and hear the latest songs.

At the age of 20, George Gershwin wrote his first hit song, "Swanee", and by 1924 had produced his first musical comedy, Lady Be Good, with his brother Ira. His career took off and new musicals followed almost every year, among them Strike Up the Band, Show Girl, and Of Thee I Sing (the first musical comedy to win a Pulitzer Prize). Gershwin was interested in composing in classical as well as jazz and popular styles, and went to Paris to study the music of composers he admired such as Ravel, Debussy, and Schoenberg. Schoenberg famously declined to give Gershwin the composition lessons he asked for, saying "I would only make you a bad Schoenberg, and you're such a good Gershwin already." (Norman Lebrecht, The Book of Musical Anecdotes)

Gershwin, the child of Russian immigrants, was able to use vernacular American music - jazz, folk, blues, and popular songs - to create some of the most enduring works in the classical repertoire, including "An American in Paris", "Rhapsody in Blue", and the great American opera, Porgy and Bess.


Computer with media player; speakers, projector if needed

Activity Instructions

  1. Explain to students that they will be watching a performance by violinist Allyson Tomsky. During her segment she describes her personal connection to composer George Gershwin.
  2. Watch Allyson's segment of the show.
  3. Discuss with students what they observed about how Allyson feels connected to Gershwin and other feelings of connection she describes. 

  4. Ask students to share their own experiences. Have they ever performed a piece by a composer with whom they felt a personal connection? What was that experience like?

Extra Credit! Have student bring in and/or perform a piece written by someone they feel a personal connection to.

Find out more!

About George Gershwin

The official web site of George and Ira Gershwin is:

George Gershwin George Gershwin at the piano; photo courtesy KET

The Library of Congress has an extensive Gershwin collection:

PBS has a program in the American Masters series that focuses on Gershwin's work (this may not be currently available for viewing in your area).

About Allyson Tomsky

Allyson Tomsky, violinist, age 17, studies at Mannes College The New School for Music in Manhattan. She was the 2006 Mannes Prep concerto competition winner and performed as a soloist with the Mannes Prep Philharmonic. Allyson has also been featured as a soloist and served as concertmaster of the Mannes Sinfonia. In 2001, she performed as a soloist with the New York Interschool Orchestra's Concert Orchestra as a winner of their concerto competition. As a member of the New York Youth Symphony, Allyson has also played in concerts at Carnegie Hall.

From the Top The Bernard Osher Foundation Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Carnegie Hall Don Mischer Productions WGBH From the Top