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Swing Set

Artie Shaw: "Begin the Beguine"

By Published: May 12, 2005

It's easy to see where Shaw's frustration originated. He was an accomplished musician who even Goodman's ardent fans admitted was a brilliant player. He had aspirations to record classical music and was able to sit in quite comfortably with symphony orchestras, and his later bands swung hard while featuring daring improvisations and inventive charts. But most importantly his playing featured an unswerving melodic sense and a facility in every register. No one put it better than Whitney Balliett, who wrote that "his solos, whether embellishments of the melody or full-tilt improvisations, were faultlessly structured. He had a way of playing the melody that suggested that this is the way it should sound...he demonstrated considerable emotion on an instrument that resists it.


Shaw titled his autobiography The Trouble With Cinderella, and his life was a Cinderella story if there ever was one: a young, Jewish kid records a neglected song and rides it to fame and fortune. The success of "Beguine led to a year where Shaw produced some of the best music of the era, and temporarily dethroned Goodman as the King of Swing in the Down Beat poll that year. It's puzzling why such a talented performer would suddenly decide to leave music behind him, but there's no doubt that Shaw, with his adventurous approach and devil-may-care attitude gave us some undeniable gems like "Begin the Beguine. .

McDonough, John. "End the Beguine: the Unapologetic Genius of Artie Shaw 1910-2004. Down Beat, vol. 72 no. 3, March 2005.
Schuller, Gunther. The Swing Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
The Swing Era: 1938-1939. Jay Gold, ed. New York: Time Life Records, 1970.
White, John. Artie Shaw: His Life and Music. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004.

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