Skip to main content
Select Source:

Shaw, Artie

Artie Shaw

Clarinetist, bandleader, composer

Artie Shaw seemed to have everything. At the height of his career he was lauded as one of the most popular musicians of the 1930s and 1940s; he formed successful bands, earned up to an estimated $30,000 a week, and married some of the most desirable women in America. Yet he disbanded groups soon after he formed them, scorned the money he earned, and divorced eight times. At the age of 44, he simply quit his musical career. At the time of his death in late 2004, the clarinet-playing band leader was considered to be "the last surviving giant of the Swing Era," according to Terry Teachout in Commentary.

Shaw was born in 1910 to Jewish parents on Manhattan's Lower East Side. His father worked as a tailor and spoke Yiddish; his mother was a seamstress. When Shaw was seven years old, his family moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where, for the first time, Shaw—nee Arthur Arshawsky—was shamed for being Jewish. Already a sensitive child, he withdrew. "I had an enormous need to belong, to have some feeling of roots, to become part of a community, all out of a terrible sense of insecurity coupled with an inordinate desire to prove myself worthy," Shaw recounted years later in his 1952 autobiography The Trouble With Cinderella: An Outline of Identity.

Shaw reasoned that money, success, and fame might fulfill his yearnings, and felt he could achieve these as a musician, first as a saxophonist, then as a clarinetist. He began playing at the age of 12. His father left the family when Shaw was a freshman in high school. Shaw quit school and did nothing but play his instrument. "I went at it daily for as much as six or seven hours," Shaw wrote in his autobiography, "and then quit only because my teeth ached and the inside of my lower lip was ragged and cut from the constant pressure of the mouthpiece and reed." He was 14 years old.

Fervid Dedication to Craft

Shaw learned that any great artist's latent talent is brought to the fore by desire and dedication to his craft. For a person to create something he "must be prepared to spend his life at it—if he wants to do it well, or even as well as he can," he reasoned in The Trouble With Cinderella. Spurred by the need to support his family when his father deserted them, Shaw decided to earn a living by playing commercial music. He ran away from home at age 15 and lived, variously, in Nashville, New Haven, New York City, and Hollywood. For the next ten years Shaw practiced, learned from local musicians, sat in with local bands, became a studio musician, went on tour with larger bands, played with theater orchestras, learned to arrange music, and began composing. In 1936 Shaw formed the first of many bands he would subsequently lead.

By 1938 Shaw had signed with Victor's Bluebird label. In printing the label for his first recording, he became "Artie." Down Beat's Howard Mandel, critiquing recordings from that period, declared: "In Shaw's lips and hands the clarinet bent as pliantly as a blade of grass; it thrilled him to make glissandi, fast or sad melodies, and wonderful virtuosic turns."

As his playing began to change and mature, so did Shaw's artistic vision. "Shaw was, in his best years, an uncompromising searcher for the lofty and the expressive, for real musical substance, not only in his own playing but in the styles and concepts of his bands," Gunther Schuller observed in his book The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930–1945. The incredible popularity of the 1939 recording "Begin the Beguine," a Cole Porter song, thrust Shaw and his band, which included a young Buddy Rich on drums, into the limelight. To Shaw's dismay, however, this and other recordings, including "Frenesi," "Summit Ridge Drive," and "Star Dust" became successful for what he saw as the wrong reasons. Shaw was creating music he wanted people to listen to, not dance to. Years later he told John S. Wilson of the New York Times, "If they want to dance, it's their business. My business is to play music that is very, very hearable. Mozart wrote dance music but nobody dances to it. It's a matter of training an audience."

"From that general period until 1954, Shaw sifted in and out of music like a reprise," Robert Lewis Taylor noted in the New Yorker. "He worked up a number of fine bands, but scuttled them quickly when they grew popular; he felt crushed by success and was angered by adulation." Shaw even suffered several nervous breakdowns and retreated from the music business many times, only to return with new groups and new combinations: small ensembles, large groups, a jazz group surrounded by a symphonic ensemble of strings, woodwinds, and his famous Gramercy Five harpsichord. But nothing worked to his satisfaction. "The fact that Shaw had at least eight different bands between 1936 and 1955 … is symptomatic of both his searching and his confusion, and ultimately of his inability to find what he was looking for," Schuller contended.

Walked Away at His Peak

Shaw quit playing his clarinet in 1954 and left the music business. He cited countless reasons for his sudden departure: the insensitivity and ignorance he encountered in the popular music business; the stifling effect of the public's continued demand for his past hit recordings; creative stagnation; and his desire to pursue other interests such as creative writing. Teachout felt that "one may take his innumerable protestations on this subject with a grain of salt—he must also have known that his brand of jazz no longer appealed to the general public." For all the justifications Shaw made over the years, Christopher Porterfield noted in Time, they failed to stop "the conviction, still held by many fans, critics, and fellow musicians, that a gift like Shaw's is something you just don't abandon."

Mel Torme, who had performed with Shaw, had another idea regarding his retirement. "Artie Shaw was never, ever, not one day of his life, comfortable being a performer," he told National Public Radio (NPR) in a 1994 interview. "I mean, he hated being out in front of the crowds, and he loved playing the clarinet. But if he could have played the clarinet in his living room just for himself, I think he would have been just as happy as pie."

Shaw is notably one of the few bandleaders who integrated his bands. His first featured singer was a young Billie Holliday. Among his band members were Oran "Hot Lips" Page and Roy Eldridge. His views on race attracted him to the Communist party. Although he was apparently never a member, in the 1950s he was blacklisted and ordered to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee in May of 1953. He moved to Spain in 1956.

At the behest of promoters, Shaw briefly emerged in 1983 during a resurgent interest in big bands, to organize a band bearing his name, although he did not perform himself. To lead the orchestra, he appointed Dick Johnson, who had played with bands including those of Benny Goodman and Buddy Rich.

For the Record …

Born Arthur Jacob Arshawsky on May 23, 1910, in New York, NY; died December 20, 2004, in Newbury Park, CA; son of Harry (a tailor) and Sarah (a seamstress) Shaw; married and divorced June Carns, Margaret Allen, Lana Turner, Elizabeth Kern, Ava Gardner, Kathleen Winsor, Doris Dowling, and Evelyn Keyes; children: Steve Kern (with Kern), Jonathan Dowling (with Dowling). Education: Columbia University, extension work in literature.

Toured with various bands and orchestras, 1925–31; freelance studio musician, 1931–34; bandleader of various swing and jazz bands, 1936–54; appeared with his band in films, including Dancing Co-ed, 1939, and Second Chorus, 1940; retired from music in 1954; after 1954, pursued various activities, including film and theater production, college and university lecturing, and writing; organized a band bearing his name that he infrequently conducted, 1983; subject of Academy Award-winning documentary Artie Shaw: Time Is All You've Got, 1986.

Awards: Various awards include National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame Award, for "Begin the Beguine" and "Star Dust," 1977; American Society of Music Arrangers Presidential Award, 1990; Down Beat Hall of Fame, 1996; Smithsonian Institution James Smithson Bicentennial Medal, 2003; National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship, 2005 (posthumous).

A Private Personal Life

Throughout his life, Shaw seemed reluctant to discuss his personal life beyond his own musings in his autobiography. Nor did he write much about his many romantic affairs, marriages and divorces. He bristled and snapped at interviewers who wanted to know about his marriages. The precedent was set in his memoir, in which he wrote, "I am not going to go into the intimate details of any of my various ventures into the marital state. But one thing can be safely and accurately said about all these attempts—I made an unholy botch of every last one of them…. [The] divorces, in every last instance, made utter good sense all the way round. At least three of these ex-venturers are still friends of mine." Shaw had two sons from two of his marriages, although neither child had a relationship with him, even in their adult years.

In his musical career and other endeavors, the drive that propelled Shaw toward his ideals also served to push them out of his reach. "The closer an artist gets to perfection," he explained to People's Richard Lemon, "the further up his idea of perfection is, so he's chasing a receding horizon."

After he gave up music, Shaw turned to writing and dabbled in other ventures. In addition to his 1952 memoir, he also wrote two collections of short stories and an unpublished roman a clef. "Most of his latterday energies went into a monstrously long, still-unpublished autobiographical novel called The Education of Albie Snow," wrote Teachout. "It may well be that this book, should it ever become available, will shed light on the peculiarities of temperament that led him to put down his horn."

Of Shaw's writing ventures, Jerry Jerome, who played with Shaw, remarked, "I still wonder whether part of it wasn't just some need to see himself as above being just a musician. He didn't want to be on the plane of ordinary people; he wanted to be an intellectual, in the worst way." Shaw read voraciously and reportedly hungered for knowledge with fervor. He reportedly said that he had always longed to be a writer, but being a musician was the singular result of his talent, which ultimately made him a good living.

Looking Back

Shaw assembled a box set of his collected recordings in 2001. "A lot of the music that bands like mine were playing 50 or 60 years ago was functional: people danced to it," he wrote in the liner notes. "I certainly had no idea that a half-century later people would think of it as 'concert' music. Or just music, period…. At some point—probably while I was in the Navy, as a result of seeing the way those men reacted to our music—it began to dawn on me that whether I realized it or not I'd created a good-sized chunk of durable Americana. Something lasting."

Shaw's last notable appearance was in a multi-part documentary on jazz, produced for public television by Ken Burns. His apparent final interview was with Tamara Conniff, co-executive editor of Billboard and daughter of the late Ray Conniff, who had played with and been an arranger for Shaw. Shaw told her he had no regrets. "I look back at my life, and I have no regrets. I can't think of anything I did that I'm sorry about. It was what I had to do then. Would I do that now? No. I'm no longer that guy. But what I did was what I wanted to do."

Shaw died December 30, 2004, at his home in Newbury Park, California. He had long suffered from diabetes; his health reportedly began deteriorating after he suffered a broken leg. After his death, Johnson offered a more logical reason for Shaw's abrupt retirement. "I think he was having teeth problems," he told the Providence Journal. Teeth are an important part of creating the sound in a reed instrument such as the clarinet, and Johnson said he had noticed that Shaw's sound changed in his later years. "You don't have what you have today, to be able to save everything…. So I think he had some [teeth] out, and he just never told anybody."

Shaw walked away from music when his tone was "crystalline, his lines distinctively long and sinuous, full of witty, sometimes startling interjections and exuberant flurries," Porterfield noted, and left a musical legacy stained by "the richness of what was, the wistfulness of what might have been." Schuller concluded that Shaw's personal sense of unattainable achievement should not dim his place in history: "That Shaw was able in his finest accomplishments to sweep us along in his searching and discoveries and at one point—1939—represent the best the Swing Era had to offer, we can hold him forever in highest esteem."

Selected discography

Singles

"Begin the Beguine," Bluebird, 1938.
"Any Old Time," Bluebird, 1938.
"Nightmare," Bluebird, 1938.
"Traffic Jam," Bluebird, 1939.
"Frenesi," Victor, 1940.
"Summit Ridge Drive," Victor, 1940.
"Star Dust," Victor, 1940.
"The Blues," Victor, 1940.
"Concerto for Clarinet," Victor, 1940.
"Moon Glow," Victor, 1941.
"Evensong," Victor, 1942.
"Suite No. 8," Victor, 1942.
"September Song," Victor, 1945.
"Little Jazz," Victor, 1945.

Reissues and compilations

(With Mel Torme and the Mel-Tones) Artie Shaw & His Orchestra, Vols. 1-2, Musicraft.
The Best of Artie Shaw, MCA.
The Complete Artie Shaw, Vols. 1-7, RCA/Bluebird.
The Complete Gramercy Five Sessions, RCA/Bluebird.
Free for All, Portrait Masters.
The Last Recordings, Musicmasters, 1992.
Personal Best, Bluebird/RCA, 1992.
The Uncollected Artie Shaw, Vols. 1-5, Hindsight.

Selected writings

The Trouble With Cinderella: An Outline of Identity (autobiography), Farrar, Straus and Young, 1952; DaCapo Press, 1979.
I Love You, I Hate You, Drop Dead! Three Variations on a Theme (novellas), Fleet, 1965; reissued, 1997.
The Best of Intentions: And Other Stories, John Daniel, 1989.

Sources

Books

Pendergast, Sara, and Tom Pendergast, editors, St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, Vol. 4, St. James Press, 2005.

Schuller, Gunther, The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930–1945, Oxford University Press, 1989.

Shaw, Artie, The Trouble With Cinderella: An Outline of Identity, Farrar, Straus and Young, 1952; DaCapo Press, 1979.

Writers Directory 2005, Vol. 2, St. James Press, 2005.

Periodicals

Associated Press, June 16, 2005.

Billboard, January 15, 2005.

Commentary, March 2005.

Down Beat, November 1980; April 1985; February 1986; November 2003; March 2005.

High Fidelity, November 1984.

Jazziz, October 2003.

Newsweek, January 2, 1984.

New Yorker, May 19, 1962.

New York Times, August 16, 1985.

New York Times Book Review, April 18, 1965.

People, June 1, 1981; October 29, 1984.

Providence Journal, May 22, 2005.

Publishers Weekly, August 4, 1989.

Stereo Review, June 1981; October 1982.

Time, May 18, 1992.

Variety, January 10, 2005.

Additional information was taken from the National Public Radio (NPR) shows All Things Considered, April 29, 1996, and Morning Edition, March 8, 2002; December 31, 2004.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Shaw, Artie." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Shaw, Artie." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/shaw-artie-0

"Shaw, Artie." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved December 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/shaw-artie-0

Shaw, Artie

Artie Shaw

American clarinetist and swing bandleader Artie Shaw (1910–2004), at the peak of his career in the years just before World War II, was matched by few other musicians in popularity and technical skill. Almost as compelling as his musical feats was his attitude toward his own success, which ranged from ambivalence to outright distaste. In his autobiography, The Trouble with Cinderella, he spelled the word "$ucce$$."

Shaw's legion of fans was international. An often-quoted Time magazine article from the war years stated that to ordinary Germans, America meant "Clark Gable, skyscrapers, and Artie Shaw." And when he sought to retreat from the spotlight, that only increased public fascination with his unusual career and a spicy private life that included eight failed marriages, several of them to headline-making Hollywood beauties. After Shaw laid down his clarinet for good in 1955, however, the publicity died away and Shaw's purely musical legacy came into sharper view. Artie Shaw's hit recordings, such as "Begin the Beguine," "Stardust," and "Frenesi," matched musicianship and popular appeal in a marriage very few other musicians of the twentieth century would accomplish.

Suffered from Anti-Semitic Remarks

Shaw was born Arthur Jacob Arshawsky in New York, New York, on May 23, 1910; his parents were Yiddish-speaking Eastern European Jewish immigrants who worked in the dressmaking business. For the first seven years of his life Shaw lived on New York's heavily Jewish Lower East Side, but financial problems forced the family to move to New Haven, Connecticut. There he encountered anti-Semitism for the first time. A classmate, he recalled in his autobiography, threatened him after he said the Lord's Prayer with the rest of his class, saying, "We don't want no goddamn Christ-killers saying the Lord's Prayer around here, see? Go on home and say your lousy kike prayers, and keep your dirty sheeny nose out of other people's prayers, you hear what I'm telling you?" Such experiences, Shaw wrote, "had more to do with shaping the course and direction of my entire life than any other single thing that has happened to me, before or since." As a teenager he changed his name to Art Shaw; "Artie" was a further modification suggested by a recording executive who thought "Art Shaw" sounded too much like a sneeze.

Although he studied the piano halfheartedly at his mother's behest, Shaw's real introduction to music came when he sneaked into New Haven's Poli's Palace Theatre while skipping school, and heard a saxophonist take a solo during a vaudeville act. Shaw asked his parents for a saxophone and lessons, but encountered strong parental resistance to his idea of becoming a musician; the best he could do was convince them to let him finance his own instrument purchases and lessons by working at a neighborhood delicatessen. He threw himself into practicing for as much as seven hours a day, stopping only when his lips were worn raw. Within a few months he had won five dollars in a talent contest. He was hired as a substitute sax player and then a full-time touring member of the Johnny Cavallaro dance orchestra. On Cavallaro's instructions he switched from saxophone to clarinet.

Shaw was hired by Cleveland, Ohio, bandleader Austin Wylie in 1925 and spent several years in that city, performing with Wylie's bands in theaters and, from time to time, in Chinese restaurants. He volunteered to write arrangements for the band, learning at first by trial and error with help from the other musicians, and he soon became a proficient orchestrator. Shaw tried to emulate the fiery new jazz styles that were coming out of Chicago, Illinois, and made a trip to hear trumpeter Louis Armstrong in person. In 1928 he traveled to Hollywood and joined another dance band, this one led by Irving Aaronson. That group moved in 1930 to Chicago, where Shaw encountered contemporary classical music, and then on to New York, where he decided to stay on and resume his interrupted education.

Shaw never obtained a high school degree, but he became a voracious reader and sat in on classes at Columbia University. For the rest of his life, Shaw would educate himself on subjects ranging from literature and art to Zen Buddhism. He made a living in the early 1930s as a recording session player, often with the CBS Orchestra, appearing on numerous recordings of the time. But he became frustrated with what he regarded as purely commercial activity. He listened to the music of jazz pianist Willie "the Lion" Smith and sometimes played in jazz groups that backed the young vocalist Billie Holiday, among others. Rehearsals would often find him with a book propped on the music stand beside the score he was supposed to be learning. Around 1933 Shaw dropped out of music and urban life in general, buying a farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and making a living from its products while trying to write a novel about cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, another major influence on his own style.

Surprised Audience with Classical-Jazz Fusion

Back in New York in 1936, Shaw was booked into the Imperial Theatre to play during an interlude, in front of the curtain, while the stage was set up for the headlining Tommy Dorsey and Bob Crosby swing bands. He seized the opportunity to experiment, forming a band with the then unheard-of combination of classical string quartet, rhythm section (with no piano), and his own clarinet, and writing an original Interlude in B flat for the group. When the audience cheered wildly, the players repeated the piece, having no encore planned. Promoters urged Shaw to form a more conventional swing band, and he agreed.

At the time he was unknown to national audiences, but the Artie Shaw Orchestra soon emerged as a rival to clarinetist Benny Goodman's swing band. The two clarinetists (and another major clarinetist-bandleader, Woody Herman) were often characterized as rivals, but Shaw emphasized the importance of forming one's own style rather than competing with other musicians. He hired Holiday as a vocalist, becoming one of the first white bandleaders to employ a full-time black ensemble member, but she departed after a few months of racist abuse from audiences. Signed to the Blue-bird label, Shaw and his orchestra recorded an instrumental version of Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" in 1938.

The recording featured a sequence of subtle Shaw solos (and inventive little solo fragments) and rapidly became a massive hit. Shaw contended for Goodman's title of King of Swing and, at a point when swing was the dominant form of American popular music, became one of the most famous figures in the American entertainment industry—"a sort of weird, jazz-band-leading, clarinet-tooting, jitterbug-surrounded Symbol of American Youth," as he called himself (according to Atlantic Monthly writer Mark Steyn). Shaw made other hit recordings and appeared on national radio broadcasts, but the bookish performer detested the frenzy of fame. On a bandstand in New York in 1939 (according to a jazz historian quoted by Jesse Hamlin in the San Francisco Chronicle) he told vocalist Helen Forrest, Holiday's replacement, that "I hate selling myself. I hate the fans. They won't even let me play without interrupting me. They scream when I play. They don't listen. They don't care about the music." Shaw walked off the stage and hid out in a Mexican seaside town.

Publicity hounds caught up with him after he rescued a drowning swimmer, and the episode, if anything, heightened Shaw's mystique. He formed a new band in Los Angeles in 1940, appeared in several films (including Second Chorus), and recorded hits that would become jazz standards—a flawless arrangement of the Mexican popular song "Frenesi"; his own "Summit Ridge Drive;" one of the definitive versions of the Hoagy Carmichael song "Stardust"; and a classical-influenced "Concerto for Clarinet." Shaw's personal life stayed in the headlines, as he dumped one pin-up girl movie star, Betty Grable, to marry another, Lana Turner. Shaw himself had matinee-quality good looks to go with his musical abilities, but his marriages, including one to star Ava Gardner, all soured soon after they began.

Sent to Pacific

In 1942 Shaw enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He was instructed to form a band that would perform for the troops, and played a heavy schedule of concerts in the Pacific theater for a period of 18 months, performing under bomb attack on the island of Guadalcanal at one point. He likely suffered from what would now be called post-traumatic stress disorder and spent time under a psychiatrist's care, an experience that gave The Trouble with Cinderella (1952) an introspective spirit rare among jazz biographies. A new marriage to Betty Kern (daughter of composer Jerome Kern) dissolved. Back in New York in 1944, Shaw formed a new band that some observers consider his best; it featured rising African-American trumpeter Roy Eldridge and guitarist Barney Kessel.

Shaw also revived a small group, called the Gramercy Five, that he started before the war; the name came from that of a New York City telephone exchange. The Gramercy Five served as a forum for some of Shaw's more experimental ideas, including the introduction of the harpsichord, a then-rarely-heard predecessor of the piano, into a jazz context. In 1947 Shaw again took a break from performing in order to study classical clarinet. He performed with a number of symphony orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic under the conductorship of a young Leonard Bernstein, and released an album called Modern Music for Clarinet that featured his arrangements of contemporary classical pieces.

Shaw's classical experiments were not enthusiastically received by his core of jazz fans, and neither did they follow him as he mastered the new angular bebop jazz style—something few other major swing performers succeeded in doing. The music of the large band Shaw formed in 1949, and the recordings he made with the Gramercy Five toward the end of his career, received only moderate levels of attention at the time but are highly esteemed today. Increasingly restless, Shaw took another break from performing in 1951 and moved to a dairy farm in upstate New York's Dutchess County. In 1955 he stopped performing on the clarinet and was never lured back, although he did emerge to conduct a revived Artie Shaw orchestra in 1983. Shaw felt that he had accomplished all he could on the clarinet and never touched the instrument again. "I sought perfection," he was quoted as saying by Steve Voce of the London Independent. "I was constantly miserable. I was seeking a constantly receding horizon. So I quit."

The final decades of Shaw's life were eventful ones, even if they had little to do with music. He built a house on the northeast coast of Spain and lived there with his eighth wife, Evelyn Keyes, for five years. Shaw, who had two sons (one by Kern, one by sixth wife Doris Dowling), moved to northwestern Connecticut in 1960 and to California in 1973. He took up shooting and was at one point ranked as the fourth-best precision rifleman in the United States. Shaw formed a film distribution company and was a fixture on the college lecture circuit; presenters could choose from one of four talks, one of which dealt with serial monogamy and divorce. According to Steyn, he called himself the "exhusband of love goddesses." The bulk of Shaw's energy was spent on writing fiction; in 1964 he published a trio of novellas under the collective title I Love You, I Hate You, Drop Dead. In his final years he worked on a giant novel about a young jazz musician named Albie Snow; it was never finished or published. Shaw died in Newbury Park, California, on December 30, 2004.

Books

Schuller, Gunther, The Swing Era, Oxford, 1989.

Shaw, Artie, The Trouble with Cinderella: An Outline of Identity, Farrar, Straus, and Young, 1952.

Simosko, Vladimir, Artie Shaw: A Musical Biography and Discography, Scarecrow, 2000.

White, John, Artie Shaw: His Life and Music, Continuum, 2004.

Periodicals

Atlantic Monthly, March 2005.

Commentary, March 2005.

Daily Telegraph (London, England), January 1, 2005.

Independent (London, England), January 1, 2005.

New York Times, December 31, 2004.

San Francisco Chronicle, December 31, 2004.

Smithsonian, March 2004.

Times (London, England), January 1, 2005.

Online

"Biography," http://www.artieshaw.com (February 13, 2006).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Shaw, Artie." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Shaw, Artie." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/shaw-artie

"Shaw, Artie." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved December 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/shaw-artie

Shaw, Artie

Artie Shaw

Clarinetist, bandleader, composer, writer

Fervid Dedication to Craft

Popular Success Unwanted

Walked Away at His Peak

Selected writings

Selected compositions

Selected discography

Sources

Artie Shaw had everything at the height of his career. One of the most popular and lauded musicians of the late 1930s and 1940s, he formed successful bands almost at will, earned up to an estimated $30,000 a week, and married some of the most desirable women in America. Yet he disbanded groups soon after he formed them, scorned the money he earned, and divorced eight wivessome within a few months after marriage. At the age of 44, he simply walked away from his greatest accomplishment, confirming what author George Bernard Shaw is credited as having said, There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your hearts desire. The other is to get it. Gunther Schuller noted in his book The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945 that to begin to solve the mystery of Artie Shaw one must answer how the rather mediocre clarinet player that Shaw was early in his career could become within ten years one of the two or three most outstanding clarinetists in all of jazzsome would say the greatest of them all.

The desire that precipitated this transformation developed in Shaws childhood. When he was seven years old, his family moved from his birthplace, New York City, to New Haven, Connecticut, where, for the first time, Shawnée Arthur Arshawskywas reviled for being Jewish. Already a sensitive child, he withdrew further. I had an enormous need to belong, to have some feeling of roots, to become part of a community, all out of a terrible sense of insecurity coupled with an inordinate desire to prove myself worthy, Shaw recounted years later in his autobiography, The Trouble With Cinderella: An Outline of Identity.

Shaw subsequently reasoned that money, success, and fame would fulfill his yearnings and felt he could achieve these as a musicianfirst as a saxophonist, then as a clarinetist. He quit school and did nothing but play his instrument. I went at it daily for as much as six or seven hours, Shaw wrote in his autobiography, and then quit only because my teeth ached and the inside of my lower lip was ragged and cut from the constant pressure of the mouthpiece and reed. He was only 14 years old.

Fervid Dedication to Craft

Shaw learned that any great artists latent talent is brought to the fore by desire and dedication to his craft. For a person to create something he must be prepared to spend his life at itif he wants to do it well, or even as well as he can. This is a matter of self-dedication, he reasoned in The Trouble With Cinderella. And so for the next ten years Shaw did just that: he practiced, learned from local musicians, sat in with local

For the Record

Born Arthur Jacob Arshawsky, May 23, 1910, in New York, NY; son of Harry (a photographer) and Sarah (a seamstress) Shaw; married and divorced from June Cams, Margaret Allen, Lana Turner, Elizabeth Kern, Ava Gardner, Kathleen Winsor, Doris Dowling, and Evelyn Keyes; children: Steve Kern, Jonathan Dowling. Education: Extension work in literature at Columbia University.

Toured with various bands and orchestras, 1925-31; freelance studio musician, 1931-34; bandleader of various swing and jazz bands, 1936-54; appeared with his band in films, including Dancing Co-Ed, 1939, and Second Chorus, 1940; retired from music in 1954. Since 1954 has pursued various activities, including fishing, dairy farming, marksmanship, film and theater production, college and university lecturing, and writing. Lectured annually at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Oxnard College. Reorganized a band bearing his name that he occasionally conducted, 1983. Subject of Academy Award-winning documentary Artie Shaw: Time Is All Youve Got, 1986. Militari; service: U.S. Naval Reserve, 1942-44; led two bands.

Selected awards: Honorary doctor of music, University of Nebraska, 1938; Hall of Fame Award, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, 1977, for recording Begin the Beguine and Star Dust; honorary doctor of music, California Lutheran College, 1987; Presidential Award, American Society of Music Arrangers, 1990.

Addresses: Agent Thomas Cassidy, Inc., 417 Marawood Dr., Woodstock, IL 60098.

bands, became a studio musician, went on tour with larger bands, played with theater orchestras, learned to arrange music, and began composing. In 1936 Shaw formed the first of many bands he would subsequently lead.

By 1938 Shaw had developed a real ability to spin long, elegant, vibrant, seamless lines, almost as if he [were] trying to capture on his clarinet what a violin, without the need to breathe, could do so naturally and effectively, Schuller claimed. Down Beats Howard Mandel, critiquing recordings from that period, declared: In Shaws lips and hands the clarinet bent as pliantly as a blade of grass; it thrilled [him] to make glissandi, fast or sad melodies, and wonderful virtuosic turns.

Popular Success Unwanted

No one could have convinced me of the misery I was heading for in my pursuit of the same old $ucce$$-Fame-Happiness-Cinderella constellation, Shaw wrote in his autobiography. As his artistic playing began to change and mature, so did his artistic vision. Shaw was, in his best years, an uncompromising searcher for the lofty and the expressive, for real musical substance, not only in his own playing but in the styles and concepts of his bands, Schuller observed. But societys definition of musical success differed; in the field of popular entertainment Shaw was trying to create art.

The incredible popularity of the 1939 recording Begin the Beguine, an old Cole Porter song, thrust Shaw and his band into the disparaging limelight. To his chagrin, this and other recordings, including Frenesi, Summit Ridge Drive, and Star Dust, became successful for what he saw as the wrong reasons. He was creating music to which he wanted people to listen, not jitterbug. Years later, he told John S. Wilson of the New York Times, If they want to dance, its their business. My business is to play music that is very, very hearable. Mozart wrote dance music but nobody dances to it. Its a matter of training an audience.

Shaw was never able to control his listeners. From that general period until 1954, Shaw sifted in and out of music like a reprise, Robert Lewis Taylor noted in the New Yorker. He worked up a number of fine bands, but scuttled them quickly when they grew popular; he felt crushed by success and was angered by adulation. Shaw even suffered several nervous breakdowns and retreated from the music business many times only to return with new groups and new combinations: small ensembles, large groups, a jazz group surrounded by a symphonic ensemble of strings, woodwinds, and his famous Gramercy Five harpsichord. But nothing worked to his satisfaction. The fact that Shaw had at least eight different bands between 1936 and 1955 is symptomatic of both his searching and his confusion, and ultimately of his inability to find what he was looking for, Schuller contended in The Swing Era.

Walked Away at His Peak

Shaw quit playing his clarinet in 1954 and left the music business. He cited countless reasons for his sudden departure: the insensitivity and ignorance he encountered in the popular music business; the stifling effect of the publics continued demand for his past hit recordings; creative stagnation; and his desire to pursue other interests such as creative writing. But these justifications, Christopher Porterfield noted in Time, have failed to dissuade the conviction, still held by many fans, critics, and fellow musicians, that a gift like Shaws is something you just dont abandon. Shaw returned in 1983during a resurgent interest in big bandsto help reorganize a band under his name, but did not perform himself, rendering it inconsequential.

In his musical career and other endeavors, Shaw sought goals and truthssome real and some imagined. But the drive that propelled him toward those ideals also pushed them out of his reach. The closer an artist gets to perfection, he explained to Peoples Richard Lemon, the further up his idea of perfection is, so hes chasing a receding horizon. Schuller concluded that this personal sense of unattainable achievement should not have dimmed Shaws place among us: That Shaw was able in his finest accomplishments to sweep us along in his searching and discoveries and at one point1939represent the best the Swing Era had to offer, we can hold forever in highest esteem. But Shaw, a man who walked away from music when his tone was crystalline, his lines distinctively long and sinuous, full of witty, sometimes startling interjections and exuberant flurries, Porterfield commented, leaves a lasting impression that is forever muddied, stained by the mystery of the richness of what was, the wistfulness of what might have been.

Selected writings

The Trouble With Cinderella: An Outline of identity (autobiography), Farrar, Straus, and Young, 1952.

I Love You, I Hate You, Drop Dead! Three Variations on a Theme (novellas), Fleet, 1965.

The Best of Intentions: And Other Stories, John Daniel, 1989.

Selected compositions

Composer of Interlude in B flat, 1936; Free for All, 1937; Any Old Time, 1938; Nightmare, 1938; Moonray, 1939; Back Bay Shuffle, 1939; Summit Ridge Drive, 1940; and Concer to for Clarinet, 1940.

Selected discography

Singles

Begin the Beguine, Bluebird, 1938.

Any Old Time, Bluebird, 1938.

Nightmare, Bluebird, 1938.

Traffic Jam, Bluebird, 1939.

Frenesi, Victor, 1940.

Summit Ridge Drive, Victor, 1940.

Star Dust, Victor, 1940.

The Blues, Victor, 1940.

Concerto for Clarinet, Victor, 1940.

Moon Glow, Victor, 1941.

Evensong, Victor, 1942.

Suite No. 8, Victor, 1942.

September Song, Victor, 1945.

Little Jazz, Victor, 1945.

Reissues and compilations

Artie Shaw: A Legacy, Book of the Month Club.

(With Mel Torme and the MelTones) Artie Shaw& His Orchestra, Vols. 1-2, Musicraft.

The Best of Artie Shaw, MCA.

The Complete Artie Shaw, Vols. 1-7, RCA/Bluebird.

The Complete Gramercy Five Sessions, RCA/Bluebird.

Free for All, Portrait Masters.

The Last Recordings, Musicmasters, 1992.

Personal Best, Bluebird/RCA, 1992.

The Uncollected Artie Shaw, Vols. 1-5, Hindsight.

Sources

Books

Schuller, Gunther, The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945, Oxford University Press, 1989.

Shaw, Artie, The Trouble With Cinderella: An Outline of Identity, Farrar, Straus, and Young, 1952.

Periodicals

Down Beat, November 1980; April 1985; February 1986.

High Fidelity, November 1984.

Newsweek, January 2, 1984.

New Yorker, May 19, 1962.

New York Times, August 16, 1985.

New York Times Book Review, April 18, 1965.

People, June 1, 1981; October 29, 1984.

Publishers Weekly, August 4, 1989.

Stereo Review, June 1981; October 1982.

Time, May 18, 1992.

Rob Nagel

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Shaw, Artie." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Shaw, Artie." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/shaw-artie

"Shaw, Artie." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved December 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/shaw-artie

Shaw, Artie

Artie Shaw, 1910–2004, American clarinetist and bandleader, b. New York City as Arthur Jacob Arshawsky. He began playing professionally as a teenager, becoming a studio musician in New York after 1929. In 1935 he formed his first band, an unusual grouping that included clarinet, string quartet, and rhythm section, which he used in a critically acclaimed performance of his jazz chamber piece Interlude in B Flat. A year later he established a more orthodox swing band, and with it recorded (1938) his first hit, a sweetly swinging version of Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" that quickly became a jazz classic. In 1940 he organized a smaller band, the Gramercy Five, which he reformed several times with various combinations of musicians, and from the mid-1940s to the mid-50s he led a number of big bands. Considered one of swing's two great clarinetists (the other, his rival Benny Goodman), Shaw was a virtuoso at his instrument. Among his greatest hits were early 40s recordings of "Frenesi," "Stardust," "Moonglow," and "Dancing in the Dark." He retired from music in 1954.

See his autobiography (1952, repr. 1992); biographies by V. Simosko (2000), J. White (2004), and T. Nolan (2010); B. Berman, dir., Artie Shaw: Time Is All You've Got (documentary film, 1985; Academy Award).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Shaw, Artie." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Shaw, Artie." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/shaw-artie

"Shaw, Artie." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/shaw-artie

Shaw, Artie

Shaw, Artie ( Arthur Jacob Arshawsky) (b NY, 1910; d 2004). Amer. clarinettist, bandleader, and composer. Played alto sax. at 15 in dance band in New Haven, Conn. Took up cl. at 16. Worked as arranger and mus. dir. for Austin Wylie Orch., Cleveland, until 1929. Toured as tenor saxophonist and went to NY, playing in Harlem. Free-lance musician 1931–5. Formed his own band 1936 and swing band in 1937 which had hit with 1938 recording of Cole Porter's Begin the Beguine. Other successful recordings were Frenesi and Concerto for Clarinet (1940). Played concs. with several sym. orchs. and gave recital at Carnegie Hall, NY. Formed and led several ‘big bands’ and smaller groups, the Gramercy Five (1940–54). His 8 wives incl. the actresses Lana Turner and Ava Gardner.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Shaw, Artie." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Shaw, Artie." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/shaw-artie

"Shaw, Artie." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved December 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/shaw-artie