From “Quartet” by David Glines, in the autumn 1978 issue of Chicago Review:
Whiteman, in blackface, wearing a straw hat and bow tie, burst in on Gershwin, who was listening to Milhaud’s La Creation du Monde, enjoying the blues parts. The raucous din of garbage can lids drifted up tinnily from elevator shafts, the click of dice was heard from alleys where men were playing craps. All the way from Brooklyn you could smell the cabbage cooking.
“Cabbage!” Gershwin choked out, approaching tears.
“Mississippi Mud,” Whiteman responded.
“Whiteman,” Gershwin crooned rhapsodically, “I was walking down Broadway today and the Blues hit me.”
“Wang Wang, Washboard or Weary?”
“Let’s go to Paris, Whiteman.”
“What would an American do in Paris, Georgie?”
“Dance! Get the Blues!”
They broke into a soft shoe shuffle then into a full scale Broadway production tap dance routine without even having to change their shoes. Taxicab horns honked out rhythms for them.
All night they danced, played poker, told jokes, smoked Havanas, wore visors and arm bands, Broadway babies near their ears. They were too hot to cool down. Then . . . the Blues hit Gershwin right there, in the wee hours on Fifth Avenue! “Man, the Blues!” Gershwin wailed. It all happened outside an all-night diner—inside a man sitting at the counter, wearing a fedora, hunched over a cup of coffee as the last Uptown bus was pulling out with nobody on it.
Whiteman, singing in a clown suit, was ascending a stairway to the Stars. New York looked like a thirty-minute etch in a nitric acid bath. Gershwin, his hair falling out, was imitating Al Jolson on bended knee. The band blared. Bix Beiderbecke blew. The stars were out in the Bronx. The wind whistled through the gray canyons of buildings. John Sloan, in his studio, was painting a nude. Pots and pans flew out the windows of the tenement buildings. Bix blew. The nude put on her clothes. They all had the Blues. Whiteman was chasing his hat along a gutter on 42nd Street. He never came back. The Blues had settled in.
IMAGE: Sixth Avenue Elevated at Third Street (New York City) (oil, 1928; original in color) by John Sloan