[Dixielandjazz] Artie Shawc - OBIT - Washington Post
barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Fri Dec 31 07:56:28 PST 2004
Here's my vote for the best Shaw Obit. If list mates want a short course on
Artie Shaw, buy Dick Sudhalter's Book "Lost Chords - White Musicians and
their Contributions to Jazz". Oxford University Press. There are two
chapters on the man and his musical contributions.
Perhaps the best short summation of his rivalry with Goodman is this quote:
SHAW: "He kept insisting on asking me about other clarinet players. What did
I think of this guy? How did I evaluate that guy. On and on and on. Finally
I said 'Come on Benny, quit it. You're too hung up on the goddam clarinet."
GOODMAN: "But that's what we play isn't it?"
SHAW: "No, I'm trying to play music. Well that seemed like a brand-new
thought to him and for a moment I thought I saw a light bulb flicker; but
before you knew it, we were back to the clarinet."
Yep, Shaw sought to COMMUNICATED with his axe, while Goodman sought to
MASTER it. Both succeeded with their very different philosophies of making
Artie Shaw, brilliant musician, brilliant man, with all the baggage that
goes with being both.
He was also the primary reason I play clarinet today.
Swing Bandleader, Clarinetist Artie Shaw Dies
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 31, 2004; Page B06
Artie Shaw, 94, the dynamic, cantankerous swing-era icon who abruptly quit
the music business in 1954, disappointed by the industry's demand for pop
tunes over the jazz innovation he championed, died Dec. 30 at his home in
Thousand Oaks, Calif. No cause of death was reported.
A clarinetist and bandleader, Mr. Shaw sold more than 100 million records
with a stunning series of hit-making songs, including Cole Porter's "Begin
the Beguine" and Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust." His music so defined its
period that Time magazine wrote that on the verge of World War II, the
Germans' view of the United States was "skyscrapers, Clark Gable and Artie
Still, Mr. Shaw dismissed his most popular recordings as pap, preferring to
explore new sounds even if he alienated listeners and his music-company
He was among the first white bandleaders to hire a black singer full time,
in his case Billie Holiday. He used stringed instruments to fuse classical
and jazz music, delved into hard-driving bebop and formed "chamber jazz"
groups with harpsichord and Afro-Cuban sounds. His unconventional theme song
was the bluesy dirge "Nightmare."
His penchant for musical surprise earned rapturous praise from reviewers
rediscovering those works decades after he left the business. Many of those
songs were on the 2001 release "Artie Shaw: Self Portrait," which prompted
Los Angeles Times jazz critic Don Heckman to write that Mr. Shaw "produced
some of the most extraordinary American music of the 20th century."
In his heyday, the darkly handsome clarinetist resembled a matinee idol and
added to his allure by marrying actresses Lana Turner and Ava Gardner, two
of his eight wives. As early as 1938, he was earning $60,000 weekly from
jukebox recordings and playing dances and concerts. He was a formidable
rival of bandleaders Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie and clarinetist
Benny Goodman, his closest competitor.
On clarinet, Mr. Shaw had a fuller, more dulcet tone than Goodman. Although
Goodman was labeled the "King of Swing," jazz enthusiasts still debate
whether Mr. Shaw better deserved the sobriquet, and his fans compensated by
dubbing him the "King of the Clarinet."
To Mr. Shaw, there was no contest. He felt Goodman's recordings were
formulaic. "Benny Goodman played clarinet," he said. "I played music."
While many of his counterparts played long after the big-band era gave way
to rock-and-roll in the mid-1950s, Mr. Shaw gave it up without much trouble
and moved to Spain for five years. He cited a combination of exhaustion,
boredom, Internal Revenue Service probes and a desire to spend his time
writing books, which he did for the rest of his life.
"I was a compulsive perfectionist, and in the world we live in, compulsive
perfectionists finish last," he once told a reporter about why he left
His literary output included an autobiography, "The Trouble With Cinderella:
An Outline of Identity" (1952), a scaldingly self-critical book that
received positive notices; and two volumes of fiction, "I Love You, I Hate
You, Drop Dead!" (1965) and "The Best of Intentions and Other Stories"
(1989). He also spent years on a multivolume autobiography.
His prose tapped into his oft-chronicled private life. In addition to Turner
and Gardner, his wives included actresses Doris Dowling and Evelyn Keyes as
well as Elizabeth Kern, the daughter of composer Jerome Kern, and Kathleen
Winsor, author of the novel "Forever Amber." His first two marriages were to
non-celebrities Jane Carns and Margaret Allen.
He was married in most cases less than two years and often publicly
disparaged his wives as dimwits.
The divorces usually centered on an aspect of Mr. Shaw's gruff personality,
on display to a Washington Post reporter in 1978 when he explained why he
never saw his two sons, by Kern and Dowling. "I didn't get along with the
mothers," Mr. Shaw said, "so why should I get along with the kids?"
In the same interview, he said he never regretted the redirection from
music. "I don't care if I'm forgotten. I became a specialist in
nonspecialization a long time ago. For instance, I'm an expert fly
fisherman. And in 1962, I ranked fourth nationally in precision riflery.
"My music?" he added. "Well, no point in false modesty about that. I was the
best. And when you look at those of us who were big then -- Miller, Dorsey,
Basie, Goodman -- I think my life has turned out the best, too."
Arthur Jacob Arshawsky was born in New York on May 23, 1910, to an
impoverished Jewish family. He grew up in New Haven, Conn. According to his
autobiography, he was a shy youth made more so by anti-Semitism. Feelings of
insecurity were the "really basic reason" he changed his name, although for
years he claimed brevity was the cause.
At 13, he bought a saxophone, then left home three years later to play
professionally. By the mid-1920s, he had switched to clarinet.
In 1929 and 1930, he was with one of the top bands of the era, Irving
Aaronson's Commanders. While touring with that group, he was introduced to
the symphonic music of Stravinsky, Debussy, Bartok and Ravel, all of which
later influenced his use of classical motifs in swing. In the early 1930s,
he was in demand as a studio musician in New York.
In 1935, Mr. Shaw had a critical triumph with his composition "Interlude in
B-flat" at a swing concert at New York's Imperial Theatre. Contrasted with
the blaring bands on stage, Mr. Shaw's "hot" clarinet backed by a string
quartet and a rhythm section was a sensation.
He regretted the notoriety he received for his first hit, "Begin the
Beguine" (1938), which he played constantly for demanding fans. Mr. Shaw let
them know how he felt, calling jitterbuggers "morons." He called music
Other early musical successes were "Stardust" (featuring a legendary solo by
trombonist Jack Jenney), "Back Bay Shuffle," "Moonglow," "Rosalie,"
"Frenesi" and "Summit Ridge Drive."
In 1938, Mr. Shaw hired Holiday, and she recorded one of his enduring
songs, "Any Old Times." She left the next year, angered by southern crowds
hostile to her appearance with a white band. Music company officials also
were unhappy with Mr. Shaw's choice of a blues singer instead of a more
pop-oriented crooner who would appeal to dancers.
Not having Holiday, along with what he saw as the musical compromise of
playing standard dance music, was too confining for Mr. Shaw. He walked away
from the band, the engagements, the contracts and his followers, only to
return with bands that at times included singers Helen Forrest and Mel
Torme, trumpeter Roy Eldridge, trombonist Ray Conniff, drummers Buddy Rich
and Dave Tough and guitarists Barney Kessel and Tal Farlow.
During World War II, Mr. Shaw led a few Navy bands, sometimes playing as
many as four concerts a day in battle zones and demanding top-level
musicianship at each performance. His experiences resulted in a nervous
In the late 1940s, he performed classical music at Carnegie Hall and with
the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Leonard Bernstein. He started
and reformatted his jazz-chamber group, the Gramercy 5, throughout his music
By the mid-1950s, the rigors of touring were too stressful. He told a
reporter that he could not go on that way, putting it succinctly: "I saw
In the early 1980s, a Shaw big band was revived under the direction of other
musicians. The group spawned a Shaw resurgence, including Brigitte Berman's
Academy Award-winning documentary, "Artie Shaw: Time Is All You've Got"
(1985). It also led to rereleases of his work, including the chamber-jazz
music that dazzled jazz critics.
Where other musicians might feel vindicated for the reappraisal, Mr. Shaw
remained dissatisfied. In interviews and lectures, he seemed to enjoy
retelling the story of how his Who's Who epitaph read, "He did the best he
could with the material at hand."
He said he might consider amending that to a simple "Go away."
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