[Dixielandjazz] ARTIE SHAW REDUX

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sun Jan 9 07:45:47 PST 2005

Posted w/o comment.

Steve Barbone

A Brilliant Farewell to Jazz

Artie Shaw

I once heard Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead insist, a little defensively,
that great artists don't retire. He's almost right, of course. The
clarinetist Artie Shaw, who died on Dec. 30 at the age of 94, quit band
leading in 1954 at the top of his game. In his life he did many things:
created robust Americana with big-band hits like "Begin the Beguine" and
"Frenesi"; experimented with piano-less jazz as early as 1936; legitimized
himself over and over again by playing classical repertory; wrote about his
own work with a kind of Olympian insecurity; married Ava Gardner and Lana
Turner. But the final recordings of his Gramercy Five sextet, from 1954, are
especially worth seeking out, whatever trouble it causes you. (A selection
of 15 are included on "Self Portrait," the five-disc retrospective that Shaw
himself conceived in 2001; if copies still exist, search for "The Last
Recordings: Rare and Unreleased," an out-of-print two-CD set, on the
Musicmasters label.) Including Hank Jones on piano, Tal Farlow on guitar and
Tommy Potter on bass, they are careful, clear, probing works of group
effort, those magic confluences of talent and risk that are supposed to
happen in jazz all the time, but don't, really. Two tracks in particular,
"Yesterdays" and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," played quietly, are
works of supreme insight, as much Hank Jones's perfect moments as Shaw's.
Only someone who had made art at this level could dismiss jazz after 1954,
as Shaw once did, as "esoteric and hate-filled." 

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