Monday, May 23, 2016

Featuring Artie Shaw On Clarinet

Today is the birthday of Arthur Arshawsky (1910-2004), the clarinetist, composer, band leader, and author better known as Artie Shaw. To say that Shaw was complex and difficult would be an understatement. He was married eight times, greatly disliked fame, and resented the conflict between creativity and the music industry so much that he virtually abandoned music in the early 1950s. Perhaps his life illustrated a never ending search for perfection by a man who could have approached it in any number of fields. When he died in December 2004 at the age of 94, he was recognized as one of the century's finest jazz clarinetists and a principal force in the development of the fusion of jazz and classical music that would become known as "Third Stream Music." 

Entertainment Weekly said this about him in his obituary:

Artie Shaw, one of the most popular bandleaders of the big-band era and the choice of many critics and musicians as the best clarinet player in jazz history, died on Thursday at his home outside Los Angeles. The ”Begin the Beguine” hit maker was 94 and apparently died of natural causes.
As a swing bandleader in the 1930s and ’40s, Shaw aspired to be considered a high-minded composer of art music, but his popularity kept getting in the way, with fans always clamoring to hear such monster hits as ”Begin the Beguine” and ”Frenesi.” Though he loathed the comparison, he was inevitably likened to Benny Goodman. Both were immensely popular, clarinet-playing big-band leaders, both were children of Jewish immigrants (Shaw’s given name was Arshawsky), and both had been among the earliest white ensemble leaders to integrate their groups racially (Goodman with players like Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton, Shaw with Billie Holiday and Roy Eldridge). During World War II, he joined the Navy and formed a band that crisscrossed the globe playing for U.S. troops; the band literally toured to exhaustion, leading to Shaw’s medical discharge.

File:Artie Shaw in Second Chorus 2.jpg
Screenshot of Artie Shaw from the 1940 film, Second Chorus

Fed up with music he turned to writing an autobiography, several novels and short stories, and an unfinished historical fiction trilogy on the jazz era. For a more thorough examination of even more facets in the life of this restless musical genius, visit this link at Swing Music Net for his obituary and this entry for his Wikipedia biography. There is also a 1982 film biography featuring Shaw available on You Tube.

Here is Shaw and his band performing Begin the Beguine, one the "monster hits" mentioned in the quote above:

Technically, I think he was at the top.


Photos and Illustrations:
public domain photograph,,

Text: entry

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