[Dixielandjazz] Artie Shaw article by Cam Miller from the American Rag

Robert S. Ringwald robert at ringwald.com
Sat Mar 26 19:47:54 PST 2005

> Restless Quest.
> Good was not good enough for Artie Shaw
> By Cam Miller-American Rag
> It's ironic that clarinet virtuoso Artie Shaw outlived other big band
> leaders since it was Shaw who once called jitterbugs morons and music
> executives thieves and then walked away from his music while still in his
> prime.
> Now, Shaw is dead at 94. And for all intents and purposes you can close
> the books on the big band era: Basie, Ellington, Miller, Dorsey, Herman,
> they're all gone though like Shaw, some cast faint shadows over ghost
> bands bearing their names.
> But Shaw was in a league of his own.  His band was 20 years ahead of its
> time..  The Shaw ensemble was crisp, limber, cohesive, exquisitely
> disciplined with rich colors and musical shadings.  Moreover, his music
> was and still is fresh And while I admire the blend of the Glenn Miller
> Orchestra and enjoy the Benny Goodman Orchestra 's performances of
> Fletcher Henderson charts, their music is dated.  Not Shaw's, never was
> and never will be.  For positive, I direct you to free-flowing "The Maid
> With The Flaccid Air" and "Nocturne," an adventure in "third stream" jazz,
> two of the many highlights of the five CD boxed set, Artie Shaw: Self
> Portrait, " containing 95 selections that Shaw himself chose for the
> anthology.
> I never had the privilege of speaking to Shaw and heard his band only when
> I it was (and still is) under the direction of Dick Johnson. However, I
> never met , Einstein either but that didn't keep, me from recognizing his
> genius.  So it was with Shaw.
> When most people reach their nineties, they are but echoes of their I
> past.  Not Shaw.  His mind remained keen and his tongue barbed.  He was in
> demand as a university lecturer, radio and television talk show guest and
> speaker or conferee at jazz seminars.  Moreover, he always spoke his mind,
> often at the expense of those in the audience.
> Shaw was the epitome of restlessness.  As a result, he had all the
> permanency of a grasshopper.  Witness his married life, what there was of
> it.  Eight times he marched to the alter which equaled the number of times
> he ended up in divorce courts.  No marriage lasted more than two years
> except for the 28 years he was wed to but remained apart from actress
> Evelyn Keyes.
> The handsome Shaw's marriage to Hollywood beauties Lana Turner and Ava
> Gardner lasted four months and one year, respectively.  His collection of
> short-term wives also included Forever Amber author Kathleen Winsor and
> Betty Kerns, daughter of composer Jerome Kerns.
> He was also engaged to Betty Grable but turned his attention elsewhere and
> Grable had to settle for another band leader, Harry James.
> When asked how he could afford paying so many ex-wives, Shaw replied "They
> all are as rich as I am so I don't pay them anything."
> And when asked why he totally ignored his two sons, Shaw responded: "I
> never got along with their mothers so what makes you think I would get
> along with them (his sons)?"
> Shaw was born in New York where his father was a photographer and his
> mother, a seamstress.  His birth certificate shows he was born Arthur
> Jacob Arshawsky.  However, he ditched all the latter two names in favor of
> Art Shaw when he formed his first band.  But as he told San Diego Union
> entertainment columnist Don Freeman: "People said gesunheidt when they
> said Art Shaw so 1 became Artie."
> The restless nature of Shaw so evident in his personal life also was
> reflected in his music.
> Shaw's very first band, put together for a theater engagement in 1936
> consisted of three violins, bass, drum and the leader and in 1946 he
> became the first swing band leader to use a full string section and French
> horn for a landmark recording of "Frenesi".  Moreover, Shaw's most
> successful edition of his band within a band, the Gramercy Five, featured
> harpsichordist Johnny Guarneri.  And the clarinetist's final recordings in
> 1954 for Music Masters were essayed by a Gramercy Five made up of bop
> musicians and Shaw.
> Shaw's restlessness may have well stemmed from his endless quest for
> perfection.  Good was never good enough for him and his search for
> perfection is what ultimately led to his abandoning his band leading
> career in 1954.  And it is what kept him out of the music business
> entirely for another 30 years before forming the Johnson- led Artie Shaw
> Orchestra in 1981.
> In a 1985 interview, Shaw told a Reuters' reporter he gave up playing when
> he decided he was aiming for a perfection that could kill him. Quoting
> from a Reuters' dispatch, "I am compulsive.  I sought perfection.  I was
> constantly miserable.  I was seeking a constantly receding horizon.  So, I
> quit.  It was like cutting off an arm that had gangrene.  I had to cut it
> off to live."
> At the time, few took the 44-year old Shaw seriously when he said he was
> calling it quits forever.  He had said it before, any number of times, but
> on each occasion, he'd break up a band, re-form it, break it up, and then
> re-form it again.  But he put down his clarinet in 1954 and never played
> it in public again.
> For the record, Shaw directed six separate bands between 1936 and 1954,
> including one when he was in the Navy during World War II.  None lasted
> long but it's generally agreed that his 1938-1939 group that featured
> Buddy Rich was Artie's best.
> Shaw was driven once to form a new band when he had no intention to. His
> 1946 recording of "Frenesi" with studio musicians proved such a huge hit,
> Shaw put together a band to take advantage of a new-found interest in his
> music.  And the fact he could draw down $30,000 a week or more was a
> pretty fair incentive, too.
> He could always find good musicians even though Shaw could be a holy
> terror to deal with.  However, jazz artists knew playing the Shaw book was
> something to savor so they put up with his nasty disposition.  As a
> result, trumpeters Hot Lips Page, Roy Eldridge and Rich are just a few of
> the greats who were Shaw sidemen.  Add to that list another superb trumpet
> player, John Best, who told me he left the Shaw band in a huff, but was
> reunited with Shaw in his overseas Navy band and then joined Shaw’s first
> post-war band.
> " Artie was tough to get along with and I can't say I really liked him,"
> said Best. "But his band was so far ahead of anybody else's, who wouldn't
> want to play for Artie?"
> While Shaw valued his instrumentalists, he had little use for most of the
> female vocalists who came through the band, and there were scores of them.
> In fact, he told TV's Larry King that he had employed only two bona fide
> vocalists: Billie Holiday, whose recording of " Any Old Time" with Shaw is
> five-star all the way and Helen Forest, who might have been the swing
> era's premier "girl singer."
> As for Shaw's 1938 mega-hit recording of Cole Porter's "Begin The
> Beguine," when the bandleader was 28, he always thought of it as a
> millstone.  Nightly performances of the song were mandatory and Shaw grew
> to hate the tune.
> In an interview with a London reporter, Shaw recalled telling those
> gathered around the bandstand at the end of a dance, "Well, we made it
> through the night without having to play 'Begin The Beguine.' That was a
> helluva mistake because it set off a clamor for us to play the damned
> thing.  So we had to."
> Shaw was anything but a one-hit wonder, however.  He chalked up huge sales
> with his full orchestra's recordings of "Rosalie," "Bay Shuffle," and "Oh
> Lady Be Good" and the Gramercy Five's "Summit Ridge Drive." At last count,
> his records had sold more than one million copies and his recording of
> "Stardust" is said to have sold more than any other version.
> Shaw always considered his bands the best to perform in the swing era and
> didn't have many nice things to say about the others.  He told talk show
> host King that he regarded the Glenn Miller Orchestra as a commercial
> success "but that didn't make it good." And when asked what he thought of
> the Sammy Kaye Orchestra, Shaw replied" "I' m sorry, but we're not in the
> same business."
> Although Shaw and fellow clarinetist Benny Goodman were often thought of
> as rivals, Shaw dismissed the notion: "Benny may have considered me his
> rival, but I never thought of him as mine.  Hell, Benny and I were really
> pretty good friends.  It's just that Benny could be a bit of a bore at
> times.
> "I can remember having lunch with him one day and all he wanted to talk
> about is the clarinet.  He wanted to know what I thought about a certain
> clarinet maker, the kind of wood and model clarinet I preferred, my choice
> of teachers, that sort of thing.  Finally I told him I was tired of
> talking about clarinets and let's start talking about music.
> "I think that was the difference between us.  Benny played the clarinet, I
> played music." There was also another difference between Goodman and Shaw.
> The latter's complete command of the upper register which produced a warm,
> mellow tone.  Only Peanuts Hucko came close to matching it, but not
> Goodman, whose tone was much thinner once he reached the upper register.
> If Shaw's sticking by his decision to quit playing his horn came as a
> surprise, an even bigger surprise was his decision to re-form a band in
> 1981 and then choose a relatively unknown clarinetist to lead it.  The
> idea for Shaw to form another band, however, came from his former manager
> who suggested and then pushed for it to happen.  It took some convincing
> but Shaw finally bought into the idea.
> For a while, Shaw conducted the band for a couple of numbers when it
> performed in concert before turning the baton over to his hand-picked
> successor, Dick Johnson.  He also acted as band spokesman but not for
> long.
> " Artie had an IQ of 150 but he also was so damned blunt, it got him in
> hot water," recalled Johnson during a discussion with me at a San Diego
> Jazz Party.  "He went off at a reporter in Wyoming because the poor guy
> referred to him as the King Of Swing instead King Of The Clarinet" and he
> dumped on another newsman in Colorado over something so inconsequential I
> can't even remember what it was.
> "So, now I handle the press and Artie stays in the background.  He has
> other fish to fry."
> Shaw always had other fish to fry.  He was an expert fly fisherman, read
> voraciously, once captured an Oscar for the best original score and song
> for the 1940 flick Second Chorus, appeared in movies and television dramas
> and was a published author of three books.
> One of his books, The Trouble With Cinderella: An Outline Of Identity (
> 1952) was a brutal examination of himself and the other two are novels: 1
> Love You.  I Hate You Drop Dead (1965) and The Best Of Intentions And
> Other Stories (1989).  All three tomes were critically acclaimed.
> Shaw also had spent years on an autobiography that he hoped would be
> published as a trilogy but had turned The manuscript over to an editor
> after becoming exhausted by the project.
> Death came to Shaw in Thousand Oaks, California after being ill for some
> time.  And it brings to mind Shaw's retelling the story of how his Who's
> Who epitaph would read: "He did the I best he could with the material at
> hand." But then Shaw would add "I might amend it to a simple 'Go Away."'
> Some things never change.  Artie Shaw was one of them.
> The end.

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