Personalities | Artie Shaw | Thirties | Jazz & Blues
(Clarinet, bandleader, composer, 1910–2004)
If the 1930s comes down to about half a dozen great brand names, Artie Shaw’s is surely one of them. After much freelancing in the early 1930s and several years of band-building, Shaw (née Arthur Arshawsky) hit his stride just as Benny Goodman peaked in 1938. But no one ever confused these two unique, clarinet-playing masters. Shaw had a big, broad-shouldered lyricism that could turn diamond-hard in high registers.
His lines were long, bobbing and eloquently fluent. Many clarinetists committed his ‘Stardust’ solo to memory. When drummer Buddy Rich joined in 1939, the band acquired a supercharged power. But if Shaw loved music and the perquisites of stardom, he disliked the spotlight. He abandoned music in a huff at the end of 1939, returning sporadically between bouts of writing and well-publicized marriages and leading the Gramercy Five in 1953–54. Ultimately, and still in his prime, he disowned the clarinet itself in 1955.
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