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Obituary: Artie Shaw

By Published: June 4, 2005
During the '40s Shaw would quit a few more times, each time returning with a new approach. In 1947, while on hiatus, he studied long form music and returned to the stage that same year touring the country with symphony orchestras. The IRS came calling in 1949, which forced him back in the big band business with what some consider the best modern band of the era, a non-dance band infused with bebop. It featured players that would help define jazz music during the '50s: Don Fagerquist, Sonny Russo, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Irv Kluger and arranger Johnny Mandel were all members. Ironically, Shaw would use an arrangement of "S'wonderful" by former band member Ray Conniff that, recorded a decade later by his singers, would help define easy listening music for more than a decade. "People don't understand, it's not music that is evil'only words," said Shaw.

During the early '50s Shaw focused on his other love - no not his wives (actresses Lana Turner and Ava Gardner were amongst his eight marriages) - but writing. His book, the semi-autobiographical The Trouble with Cinderella: An Outline of Identity, was well received in 1952. A dozen years later he went to print with his second book, a series of three novellas, entitled I Love You, I Hate You, Drop Dead! It focused on marriage and divorce.

His final recording sessions took place during March and June of 1954 and consisted of his new Gramercy 5. The musicians were Tal Farlow and Joe Puma (guitars), Joe Roland (vibraphone), Tommy Potter (bass), Hank Jones (piano) and Irv Kluger (drums). Shaw and company let loose on previous G5 selections, standards and new head arrangements. Shaw's own playing was both aggressive and fluid. Listening to "The Chaser" you can hear him pressing each key, while his performance of the ballad "Don't Take Your Love From Me" flows effortlessly and seamlessly. So why did Artie Shaw stop playing at age 44? "I did all you can do with a clarinet," he said. "Any more would have been less."

During the next 50 years Shaw would live a very private, unassuming life surrounded mostly by his 15,000 books. He would spew as many words onto paper as he voraciously read. His third book, The Best of Intentions went to print in 1989, and he had spent many years writing a fourth about a supposed fictional musician coming of age during the early days of jazz. The book runs more than 90 chapters and was only recently sent to a publisher. In the last few years, Shaw annotated and selected the songs for the 2001 Bluebird release, Artie Shaw: A Self Portrait, which was nominated for two Grammy Awards. He was also presented with a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement in February 2004. On January 7th, he was to be presented with the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) Jazz Master Award.


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