Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Artie Shaw: "It's The Sound Of The Horn - What You Do With The Instrument."

The famous jazz clarinetist, Artie Shaw, was born on this day in 1910. When he passes away in 2004 at the age of 94, 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.

Artie Shaw performing his Concerto for Clarinet, 1940

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." Technically, I think he was at the top. 

Readers interested in a more thorough examination of even more facets in the life of this restless musical genius can visit this link at Swing Music Net for his obituary and this entry for his Wikipedia biography.

For a sample of "the sound of the horn" in the hands of Shaw, here he is with his orchestra performing the two "monster hits" mentioned in the Entertainment Weekly post above:

We've enjoyed the wonderful sounds of Shaw and his orchestra for over eight years now.  Le the music go on!


Photos and Illustrations:
public domain screen shot from the film, Second Chorus, 1940

Title quote, Tom Nolan, Artie Shaw, King of the Clarinet: His Life and Times, W.W. Norton & Company, 2010.
Artie Shaw entry, wikipedia.org

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