[JPL] Fw: NYTimes.com Article: Artie Shaw, Big Band Leader,
Dies at 94
tr at wfcr.org
Fri Dec 31 13:52:50 EST 2004
> Artie Shaw, Big Band Leader, Dies at 94
> December 30, 2004
> By THE NEW YORK TIMES
> Artie Shaw, the jazz clarinetist and big-band leader who
> successfully challenged Benny Goodman's reign as the King
> of Swing with his recordings of "Begin the Beguine," "Lady
> Be Good" and "Star Dust" in the late 1930's, died yesterday
> at his home in Newbury Park, Calif. He was 94.
> He apparently died of natural causes, his lawyer, Eddie
> Ezor, told The Associated Press.
> 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 incredible shadings."
> 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
> was playing.
> But his interests reverted to music after he was asked to
> play at a concert at the Imperial Theater in New York in
> May 1935. 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
> "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 his
> 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
> 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 disappear.
> "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 Hollywood.
> 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 Guarnieri.
> 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 discharge.
> 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
> 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 good-looking?"
> All his marriages ended in divorce.
> John S. Wilson, jazz
> critic of The New York Times, died in 2002.
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