Clarinetist Artie Shaw does everything his advisors tell him not to do. He shouts down other bandleaders, kicks music publishers out the back door calling them racketeers, scowls at his admirers, refuses to turn on the charm or be civil, says he’s there to make music and not to pose. When kids come to dance, he plays what he likes, thinks they should like it. He plays no request numbers. In other words, he does as he damn pleases.
— Esquire’s Jazz Book, 1944
I’ve been meaning to try and work some more swing music into the busy schedule here on Old Time Blues, and with today (May 23) being Artie Shaw’s birthday, it seems like a prime opportunity.
Arthur Jacob Arshawsky was born on May 23, 1910 in New York City, his father hailing from Russia and his mother from Austria. He took up the saxophone at the age of thirteen, and soon switched to clarinet. In the mid-1920s, Shaw worked with Austin Wylie’s orchestra, before moving on to Irving Aaronson’s Commanders, and later Roger Wolfe Kahn’s orchestra and others. Into the 1930s, he found steady work as a studio player like so many other New York jazz musicians of the day. By the middle of the 1930s, Shaw had started his own orchestra, recording for Brunswick as “Art Shaw and his New Music”. He began a contract with the RCA Victor Company in 1938, with whom he produced his largest volume of hits, including “Begin the Beguine”, “Back Bay Shuffle”, and his theme song “Nightmare”. Where Benny Goodman was the “King of Swing”, many proclaimed Shaw the “King of Clarinet”, though Shaw felt it ought to have been the other way around, as “Benny Goodman played Clarinet. [He] played music.” In 1940, Shaw made his feature film debut with Fred Astaire in Second Chorus, which Astaire considered “the worst film he ever made”, and caused Shaw to swear off movie appearances. During World War II, Shaw enlisted in the Navy and led a band in the Pacific, while Glenn Miller was doing the same in Europe, and received a medical discharge after eighteen months. Throughout the 1950s onward, he experimented with artistic variations on jazz music. Artie Shaw was by his own admission “a very difficult man”, and was married eight times (probably making him the runner up for the title of “Most Married Swing Bandleader” after Charlie Barnet, who was married eleven times). Shaw died of diabetes at the age of 94 in 2004.
Bluebird B-7746 was recorded July 24, 1938 in New York City. The band consisted of Artie Shaw on clarinet, John Best, Claude Bowen, and Chuck Peterson on trumpets, George Arus, Ted Vesely, and Barry Rogers on trombones, Les Robinson and Hank Freeman on alto saxes, Tony Pastor and Ronnie Perry on tenor saxes, Les Burness on piano, Al Avola on guitar, Sid Weiss on string bass, and Cliff Leeman on drums.
First up is Artie Shaw’s famous rendition of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine”, described by Shaw as “a nice little tune from one of Cole Porter’s very few flop shows.”
Tony Pastor sings the vocal on Shaw’s swing rendition of the famous “Indian Love Call”.