December 31, 2004

END THE BEGUINE (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Artie Shaw, Star Bandleader of Swing Era, Dies at 94 (Associated Press, December 30, 2004)

Artie Shaw, clarinetist and bandleader whose recording of "Begin the Beguine" epitomized the Big Band era, died today at the age of 94, the manager of his orchestra said.

Shaw had been ill for some time, orchestra manager Will Curtis said, but he did not know the specific cause of death.

At his peak in the 1930s and '40s, Shaw pulled in a five-figure salary per week and ranked with Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller as the bandleaders who made music swing. But he left the music world largely behind in the mid-'50s and spent much of the second half of his life devoted to writing and other pursuits.

Brother Dryfoos informs us: "He stopped playing in the 50's and his last recordings with small groups were among his best ever. He also manage to marry both Ava Gardner and Lana Turner, so you've got to give the guy serious props. He was a brilliant, well-read, articulate man, who was more interested in being a musician than in being a pop star. When he realized he couldn't separate the two, he stopped playing."

We'd only add that the Mother Judd was on Password with him in the '60s and won, until the other star she had to play with tripped her up.

(Artie Shaw and the Mother Judd, February 26, 1963)

ARTIE SHAW | 1910-2004: A Jazz Icon and Iconoclast Who Despised His Fame (Claudia Luther, December 31, 2004, LA Times)

Benny Goodman, another clarinetist bandleader of the swing era and a rival, was perhaps more famous, which galled Shaw. But Shaw's innovations, musical depth and swinging style placed him firmly in the pantheon of 20th century big band and jazz musicians.

"He was a real master of the clarinet, virtually incomparable in the beauty of his tone and unique in his flawless control," said composer Gunther Schuller, who has written extensively about jazz.

Highest on many music buffs' lists — and Shaw's own — is the so-called 1949 band, one of his last, which expanded its scope well beyond the big band genre and other popular music that had begun to entrap Shaw with their success. The short-lived band recorded " 'S Wonderful," among other tunes.

By then, however, Shaw was so far ahead of his fans musically that he was forced to fire the musicians in order to hire a band that played the sort of popular songs Shaw hated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 31, 2004 10:20 AM

Artie Shaw was personable and intelligent. He and I seemed to have ESP, sometimes getting the word in 1 or 2 clues, and zooming through the lightning round, for anyone old enough to remember password. We won the first round for a total of $350 which seemed a fortune to me in those days. Even off-camera and between rounds, he was sociable, asking me about my child, "Brother Orrin" who was 14 months at the time! When I switched partners, I was paired with Tammy Grimes, and she played dumb blonde to the hilt!

Posted by: Dorothy Judd at December 31, 2004 11:13 AM

8 bands and 8 A-list wives: What a life. I read somewhere he quit because the pursuit of perfection was literally driving him crazy. Never satisfied, there wasn't anywhere else to go. I thank him for helping to wean me off rock and roll a few years ago with a greatest hits album.

Posted by: Rick T. at December 31, 2004 12:39 PM


Your mom looks like a lovely woman. What happened to you guys?

(Have a happy New Year!)

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at December 31, 2004 2:08 PM