Gershwin fan's song ends on a mysterious note

George Gershwin
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. Bruce Lloyd Kates of Los Feliz wrote “Some Time to Get to Know You" in the early 1990s. His inspiration for the tune: from a wadded-up scrap of paper found inside what had been George Gershwin's piano.

People were always telling Bruce Lloyd Kates that the song he had written had a Gershwin-like sound to it. Kates, a piano tuner and composer, took that as a compliment. After all, he's a huge fan of George and Ira Gershwin's work and of 1930s-era music in general.

It wasn't until later that it dawned on Kates why his tune seems so Gershwin-esque: It came from George Gershwin's piano.

Kates was reading a Times article in 2005 about Gershwin's former Beverly Hills home being torn down when he recalled the time in the late 1980s when he was hired to tune the famed composer's piano.

The Steinway grand was in the home of Ira Gershwin, whose widow was preparing the instrument for delivery to the Library of Congress. When Kates noticed several keys sticking, he investigated and discovered a tiny wad of paper, a pencil stub and a paper clip wedged in the keyboard mechanism.

He pulled the paper out with tweezers and dropped it into his sport coat pocket. When he gave away the jacket a few years later he checked its pockets and found the wad.

Unfurling it, Kates discovered musical notes written on it.

“It looked like it was from a manuscript pad, a pocket notebook that composers carry with them to jot down music as it comes to them," recalled Kates, 68.

There were just 15 notes—in the key of C major—followed by a repeat symbol. They were written across the five lines printed on the crumpled paper to form a stave.

“At first I thought it was something that I'd written. I played the notes and they had a pleasant sound. Being a tunesmith, I decided to expand upon it and draw it to its logical conclusion," Kates said.

The eight bars needed a bridge, a coda and a harmony, he decided. When he finished the 32-bar tune, he immediately wrote some lyrics to go with it. His recollection of the Gershwin piano-tuning job suddenly connected the dots for him. It had been a memorable assignment for Kates, a Gershwin fan who favors music from the Depression era.

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