[JPL] Artie Shaw Obit
drjazz at drjazz.com
Thu Dec 30 17:37:29 EST 2004
Jazz giant Artie Shaw dies at age 94
By Arthur Spiegelman
LOS ANGELES, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Jazz clarinetist Artie Shaw, famed for his
classic recordings of "Begin the Beguine" and "Lady Be Good" as well as
turbulent marriages to movie stars Lana Turner and Ava Gardner, died on
Thursday at age 94, his manager Will Curtis said.
One of the giants of swing era jazz and a crusty, self-declared
perfectionist, Shaw put down the clarinet in 1954 and never played it
again, saying he could not reach the level of artistry he desired.
But in 1981, he ended a long musical intermission by reorganizing a band
that bore his name and played his music -- but with another clarinetist,
Dick Johnson, leading the orchestra and playing the solos.
Shaw traveled with the orchestra as a guest host and sometime conductor of
the band's signature opening number, "Nightmare."
His 1938 recording of "Begin the Beguine" made him a national figure and a
rival to another clarinet legend Benny Goodman. Shaw's bands in the 1930s
and '40s featured a Who's Who of jazz greats, including Billie Holiday,
Buddy Rich, Roy Eldridge and "Hot Lips" Page. At his height, he earned
$30,000 a week, a huge sum for the Depression Era.
Shaw called himself a difficult man, a view his eight former wives,
including actresses Evelyn Keyes, Ava Gardner and Lana Turner, might have
agreed with. He recalled once almost erupting when a woman asked if he
could play something with a Latin beat.
In a 1985 interview with Reuters, Shaw said he gave up playing when he
decided he was aiming for a perfection that could kill him.
"I am compulsive. I sought perfection. I was constantly miserable. I was
seeking a constantly receding horizon. So I quit," he said.
"It was like cutting off an arm that had gangrene. I had to cut it off to
live. I'd be dead if I didn't stop. The better I got, the higher I aimed.
People loved what I did, but I had grown past it. I got to the point where
I was walking in my own footsteps," he said in that interview.
So Shaw became a musical recluse, showing up as a guest on television game
shows, writing an autobiography and a novel, traveling and lecturing.
But starting in the 1980s, Shaw returned to the road with his revived band
as its host and sometime conductor of its opening number before turning
over to Johnson.
Among his other famous songs were "Lady Be Good," "Indian Love Call" or
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