[Dixielandjazz] Artie Shaw Obit - Redux
barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Mon Jan 3 19:40:41 PST 2005
Not sure if this Shaw Piece was posted on the DJML or Not.
If so, Sorry to post it again. If not, you might want to read it. It was a
file obit in that the Times had it in the "vaults". The writer of it, John
S. Wilson, died in 2002. Prior to that he was the NY Time Jazz Critic.
There may be some factual errors in it, but they don't amount to much.
Note the paragraph about when Shaw and Goodman were studio musicians
together in NYC. (CBS radio). Sudhalter relates a cute story about them in a
band conducted by David Raskin who was also a reed player. Tune was "Lover"
and it had a neat Alto counter line that Shaw would normally play. Benny
asked him if he could play it. Shaw said sure so Benny played it.
Raskin stopped the band and said "Who's playing the Alto counter melody?"
Benny raised his hand. "'Give it to Shaw'" was Raskin's immediate and
In the Royalty of Swing
By JOHN S. WILSON
Artie Shaw's virtuosity on his instrument, his groups' highly original
arrangements and his explosively romantic showmanship made him one of the
most danced-to bandleaders of swing and one of the most listened-to artists
of jazz. He quit performing in 1954 , but the many re-releases of his discs,
a ghost band, and his informed but often sardonic comments on music and many
other subjects kept him in the public ear.
Although his musical career closely paralleled that of Benny Goodman, his
archrival, who died in 1986, the two men had little in common in their
approaches to music.
"The distance between me and Benny," Mr. Shaw said several years ago, "was
that I was trying to play a musical thing, and Benny was trying to swing.
Benny had great fingers; I'd never deny that. But listen to our two versions
of 'Star Dust.' I was playing; he was swinging."
Mr. Shaw impressed and amazed clarinetists of all schools. Barney Bigard,
the New Orleans clarinetist who was Duke Ellington's soloist for 14 years,
said he considered Mr. Shaw the greatest clarinetist ever. Phil Woods, a
saxophonist of the bebop era, took Charlie Parker as his inspiration on
saxophone, but he modeled his clarinet playing on Mr. Shaw's. John Carter, a
leading post-bop clarinetist, said he took up the instrument because of Mr.
And in 1983, when Franklin Cohen, the principal clarinetist of the Cleveland
Orchestra, was to be featured playing Mr. Shaw's Concerto for Clarinet, he
listened to Mr. Shaw's recording of the work and said he found his playing
"Shaw is the greatest player I ever heard," he said. "It's hard to play the
way he plays. It's not an overblown orchestral style. He makes so many
Mr. Shaw and Mr. Goodman were born a year apart (Goodman in 1909; Mr. Shaw
on May 23, 1910); both had Jewish immigrant parents and grew up in the
ghettos of major American cities. Mr. Shaw grew up on the Lower East Side of
Manhattan, Goodman on the west side of Chicago. They began playing
professionally as teenagers, and by 1926 they were both far from home
performing with major bands of the day: Goodman in Venice, Calif., with Ben
Pollack; Mr. Shaw in Cleveland with Austin Wylie.
In the Depression era, they settled in New York City and were the top two
choices for the woodwind sections of radio-network and recording-studio
orchestras. Frequently, they sat side by side in these ensembles.
By then, however, Mr. Shaw had decided music was a dead end. He intended to
be a writer, and he had become a voracious reader. At band rehearsals, his
music rack often held a book he was reading along with the compositions he
But his interests reverted to music after he was asked to play at a concert
at the Imperial Theater in New York in May 1936. It was called a swing
concert, and it included well-known swing bands like the Casa Loma Orchestra
and the bands of Tommy Dorsey and Bob Crosby. Although Mr. Shaw was not yet
known to much of the public, he was asked to put together a small group to
play while the band onstage was changed.
"Just for kicks, I thought I'd write a piece for clarinet and string
quartet, plus a small rhythm section," Mr. Shaw recalled. "Nobody had ever
done that, sort of a jazz chamber-music thing."
An Instant Hit
His Interlude in B flat brought down the house. The audience refused to stop
applauding, but Mr. Shaw had nothing else to play because this was the only
thing he had written for the group. Finally, they played it again.
On the basis of this success, he was urged to form a band. He was not
interested until he learned that with a successful band he could earn as
much as $25,000 in six months, which was the amount he needed to complete
The band he formed was an enlargement of the group he had used at the
concert: a string quartet and his clarinet, with one trumpet, one saxophone
and a rhythm section. But when he arrived in the real world of dance halls
and nightclubs, he found himself bucking a tide that clamored for what he
later described as "chewing drummers and loud swing fanaticism." So he
formed a new band with the same instrumentation as Goodman's, promising it
would be "the loudest band in the whole damn world."
With the new ensemble, he got a new name. Originally named Arthur Arshawsky,
he had already shortened that to Art Shaw professionally. But when he became
a bandleader on radio, there were complaints that an announcement of his
name sounded like a sneeze. So he made one more change, to Artie Shaw.
As this band developed during a long run at the Roseland-State Ballroom in
Boston, the original concept changed to a concentration on smoothly swinging
treatments of the music of Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers,
Vincent Youmans and others.
What 'The Beguine' Began
This new concept was epitomized in an arrangement by Jerry Gray, a violinist
in Mr. Shaw's original string-quartet band, of "Begin the Beguine." Released
in the fall of 1938, Mr. Shaw's recording of the Porter song became a
classic of swing era jazz and allowed him to take over the swing band
pre-eminence that Mr. Goodman had held for three years.
Mr. Shaw, however, was not prepared to put up with the demands of his fans,
the bobby-soxers who mobbed him and tore his clothes, and whom he called
morons. In December 1939, the tension finally made him walk off the
bandstand at the Cafe Rouge of the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City and
"I wanted to resign from the planet, not just music," he said later. "It
stopped being fun with success. Money got in the way. Everybody got greedy,
including me. Fear set in. I got miserable when I became a commodity."
He disappeared to what was then a little-known village in Mexico - Acapulco
- where he was ignored for three months until he rescued a woman from
drowning and reporters found out who he was. Then he returned home to
He owed RCA Victor six more recordings on his contract, so he formed a
31-piece studio band with 13 strings and recorded, among other things, a
tune he had heard a group playing on a wharf in Acapulco. It was called
"Frenesi" and, like "Begin the Beguine," it set off a new career for him
just when he was trying to get out of an old one.
The success of "Frenesi" meant he had to form a traveling band once again.
This one included a small group, the Gramercy Five, a variation of Goodman's
small groups except that it added a jazz harpsichord, played by John
Playing in the Jungles
In December 1941, Mr. Shaw flew to California and married Elizabeth Kern,
the daughter of Jerome Kern, before enlisting in the Navy. After an initial
period of anonymity in the service, he became a chief petty officer and was
ordered to form a band. When he heard the band members he had been given, he
went AWOL ("tacitly," as he said) in order to see the Secretary of the Navy,
James V. Forrestal.
"I want to get into the war!" Mr. Shaw told him. "And if I have to run a
band, I want it to be good."
Mr. Shaw left the meeting with permission to enlist a band to be taken to
the Pacific. He recruited some of the best musicians he had worked with in
civilian life, including Claude Thornhill, Dave Tough, Sam Donahue and Max
Kaminsky. The band played up and down the Pacific, on tiny islands and in
jungles. It played so relentlessly that in 1943 it was sent to New Zealand
to rest, and a year later it was dissolved. Mr. Shaw received a medical
In the next 10 years he formed several short-lived bands, including one that
played modern classical music in a New York jazz club called Bop City, and
one that was in tune with the bebop era but that was scorned by audiences
who had come to hear "Begin the Beguine" and "Frenesi."
In March 1954, after a playing with a small group at the Embers in New York,
he announced his retirement at age 43. He never performed again, although in
1983 he formed an Artie Shaw Orchestra to play his old arrangements and some
newer music. It was directed by Dick Johnson, a saxophonist and clarinetist,
and Mr. Shaw appeared with it occasionally as a nonplaying conductor.
"I did all you can do with a clarinet," he said in a 1994 interview. "Any
more would have been less."
A Writer's Ambition
Two years before his retirement, he wrote a well-received autobiography,
"The Trouble With Cinderella."
He continued to write, and published two books of short stories, "I Love
You, I Hate You, Drop Dead!" and "The Best of Intentions," and had begun a
three-volume novel about a troubled young musician. He became a cattle
farmer, a producer and distributor of films, a successful competitor in
shooting high-powered target rifles, and a lecturer on the college circuit
offering a choice of four subjects: "The Artist in a Material Society," "The
Swingers of the Big Band Era," "Psychotherapy and the Creative Artist" and
"Consecutive Monogamy and Ideal Divorce," in which he presented himself as
"the ex-husband of love goddesses and an authority on divorce."
His source material for this last lecture came from his experience with
eight wives, who included, in addition to Miss Kern, three movie stars (Lana
Turner, Ava Gardner and Evelyn Keyes) and an author (Kathleen Winsor, who
wrote the 1940's best-seller "Forever Amber").
"People ask what those women saw in me," Mr. Shaw said in an interview with
The New York Times. "Let's face it, I wasn't a bad-looking stud. But that's
not it. It's the music; it's standing up there under the lights. A lot of
women just flip; looks have nothing to do with it. You call Mick Jagger
All his marriages ended in divorce.
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