May 23, 2011
Artie Shaw, one of the early "rock stars" of the jazz world was born 101 years ago today. To celebrate his birthday, here’s the preface to Tom Nolan’s well-received book on Shaw, Three Chords For Beauty’s Sake: The Life Of Artie Shaw:
In the exuberant decade between 1935 and 1945, when America’s indigenous art form -jazz- was also the nation’s popular music, no musical performer was more famous, controversial, admired, and reviled than Artie Shaw: the brilliant, handsome, outspoken, and unpredictable clarinetist and bandleader whose hit recordings ("Begin the Beguine," "Frenesi," "Star Dust," "Summit Ridge Drive") sold millions, whose marriages to several beautiful women (including movie stars Lana Turner and Ava Gardner) made headlines, who risked alienating his public by calling a large chunk of them "morons," and whose frequent abdications from the kingdom of swing earned him a reputation as jazz’s Hamlet.
With no formal training, Artie Shaw became a virtuoso musician almost without peer: a clarinet player influenced as much by trumpeters, violinists, pianists, and even painters as by fellow reedmen. His lyrical solos seemed to evoke visual images: a bird in flight, a tree moved by wind, a sailboat in the moonlight. On a ballad, his harmonically adventurous playing explored every gorgeous nook and cranny of a melody; on a rousing swing tune, his euphoric horn soared high and joyous enough to raise the roof.
He grew up as a player in the 1920s jazz age of Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong; reigned in the 1930s and ‘40s swing era alongside Benny Goodman Duke Ellington, and Tommy Dorsey; navigated past the ‘40s bebop revolution of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie (who both admired his playing) to make beautiful and remarkable chamber jazz in the early 1950s.
Couldn’t say it better.