Artie Shaw died in 2004 at 94 and this month marks the centennial of his birth but the clarinetist/band leader made his last recordings over half a century earlier with his final Grammercy Five (a sextet and quintet). That complete recorded output is on the first two volumes of The Last Recordings. Vol. 3
has contributions from Shaw's two post-WWII Swing big bands, also featured, respectively, on The Complete Spotlight Band 1945 Broadcasts
and The Complete Thesaurus Transcriptions 1949
. After he broke up that 1949 big band, which featured a saxophone section the veteran baritone saxophonist Danny Bank called the best he'd ever worked with (Herb Steward, Frank Socolow, altos; Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, tenors and Bank), Shaw briefly led a pop-oriented dance band before retiring, resurfacing for a few months in 1954 with those final Grammercy Five bands. Shaw's other notable recordings as a leader were all made in the three or four years before the USA entered World War II in 1941. They included his mega-hits "Begin the Beguine," "Stardust" and "Frenesi."
Shaw's reputation goes hand in hand with his notoriety as a glamorous personality (his eight wives included Lana Turner and Ava Gardner among four actresses, plus bodice-ripper novelist Kathleen Winsor and Jerome Kern's daughter Betty), verbal wit and talent as a writer (his post-musical career). Shaw, with his periodic Greta Garbo-like shunning of fame, was the perfect, often coveted, interview subject, contributing to his own legend with epigrammatic, acerbic and seemingly candid views in articles and, as can be witnessed here, in interviews to liner-note writers. The general consensus was that Shaw was fed up with the commercial aspects of the music businessthat's why he quit. Here's two pertinent quotes: "I'm through with dance bands. There are so many times you can play 'Stardust.'" (1948)
"The 1949 band was the real reason I got out of the music business. It was a bust! All the public wanted was 'Beguine' and 'Frenesi'you could become a one-tune player. ... I couldn't handle that." (ca. 1991)
And yet the recordings made by that 1949 big band included one or more versions of all those hits mentioned in the quotes and he did lead a (embarrassingly forgettable) pop/dance band in 1950. In fact, a majority of the recordings the 1949 band made could be called, whether swingers or ballads, danceable music in a neo-Swing vein. When Shaw says of that band "It was a bust!," he means commercially. Despite his protests to the contrary, the musical evidence suggests that Shaw was never a radical innovator or iconoclast, but a very talented jazz musician who wished to reach a wide audienceand make a lot of money. Yes, he was proud of he and his bands' musicianship. After all, he was one of jazz' greatest clarinetists and a demandingly perfectionist bandleader. But he was following in Woody Herman's footsteps when he hired Cohn and Sims and in Gene Krupa's when he featured Roy Eldridge (heard to advantage with the 1945 big band and Grammercy Five here). And the Grammercy Five bands of 1954 took their cues from such popular groups of the time as George Shearing and Dave Brubeck'sShaw's 'chamber jazz' ideas were really his adaptations of cool jazz.
It's instructive to hear (on Last Recordings, Vol. 3
, CD 1) what Shaw did after disbanding the admittedly swinging, but definitely commercially-pegged, 1945 band. He went into the studios with orchestras including strings (he first burst on the Big Apple scene in 1935 featuring a string quartet and rhythm section and "Beguine" was recorded by a big band replete with a full string section) and, pandering more to the pop ethos of the time, featuring vocalists, the most distinguished of them Mel Tormé, often with his vocal group The Mel-Tones.
On those more commercial recordings, as well as with his 1945 and 1949 bands, Shaw was the main soloist, his clarinet played with cool fervor and technical panache. But make no mistake about it, Shaw was the main attraction as a soloist. Only with the 1954 combo would he finally extend the solo roles of his sidemen, notably pianist Hank Jones, guitarists Tal Farlow and Joe Puma, vibraphonist Joe Roland and even bassist Tommy Potter (a Bird and Diz alumnus). The music on The Last Recordings, Vols. 1 and 2
are the gems of these CDs, supple, cool, fluent chamber jazz performed with admirable dynamic interaction, yielding quiet masterpieces of mainstream modern jazz that reveals more facets with every listening.
Tracks and Personnel The Last Recordings Vol. 1
Tracks: Vol. 1; Tracks: CD1: Imagination; Besame Mucho; My Funny Valentine; Too Marvelous for Words; I Can't Get Started; The Sad Sack; Dancing on the Ceiling; Someone to Watch Over Me; Mysterioso; The Chaser. CD2: Pied Piper Theme; Love of My Life; Rough Ridin'; Yesterdays; Lyric; Bewitched; Bothered & Bewildered; Lugubrious; S'posin'; Tenderly; When the Quail Comes Back to San Quentin.
Personnel: Artie Shaw: clarinet; Hank Jones: piano; Tommy Potter: bass; Irv Kluger: drums; Joe Roland: vibraphone; Tal Farlow or Joe Puma: guitar The Last Recordings Vol. 2
Tracks: CD1: How High the Moon; Stop and Go Mambo; I've Got A Crush On You; Begin the Beguine; The Chaser; Stardust; Summit Ridge Drive; Autumn Leaves; Scuttlebutt. CD2: Back Bay Shuffle; Autumn Leaves; Dancing in the Dark; Cross Your Heart; Don't Take Your Love From Me; Frenesi; September Song; Grabtown Grapple.
Personnel: Artie Shaw: clarinet; Hank Jones: piano; Tommy Potter: bass; Irv Kluger: drums; Joe Roland: vibraphone; Tal Farlow or Joe Puma: guitar. The Last Recordings Vol. 3
Tracks: CD1 Mixed Bag: 1945-46: Tracks: The Hornet; The Glider; Love of My Life; Let's Walk; Love for Sale; My Heart Belongs to Daddy; Begin the Beguine; Get Out of Town; What Is This Thing Called Love?; Guilty; I've Got the Sin in the Morning; Changing my Tune; It's the Same Old Dream; Anniversary Song; For You: For Me: Forever More; I Believe; When You're Around; Connecticut; Sunny Side Up. CD2 The Big Band 1949: Tracks: Krazy Kat; I Cover the Waterfront; Fred's Delight; Stardust; Aesop's Foibles; Orinoco; They Can't Take That Away From Me; Smooth'n Easy; I Get A Kick Out of You; Afro-Cubana; So Easy; 'S Wonderful; Innuendo; Similau; Carnival; Mucho de Nada.
Personnel: CD1: Artie Shaw: clarinet: with big band featuring soloist Roy Eldridge: trumpet (for complete personnel see Spotlight Band 1945) (1-4); studio orchestra: big band with strings: and vocals by Mel Torme: The Mel-Tones: Kitty Kallen (5-18); same as Vol. 1 (19). CD2: Artie Shaw: clarinet; Pan Palladino: Don Fagerquist: Dale Pierce: Vie Ford: trumpets; Sonny Russo: Fred Zito: Angie Callea: Porky Cohen: trombones; Herb Steward: Frank Socolow: alto saxophones; Al Cohn: Zoot Sims: tenor saxophones; Danny Bank: baritone sax; Gil Barrios: piano; Jimmy Raney: guitar; Dick Niveson: bass; Irv Kluger: drums. The Complete Spotlight Band 1945 Broadcasts
Tracks: CD1: Tabu; If I Loved You; Little Jazz; Out of This World; Begin the Beguine; Summit Ridge Drive; Together; Lucky Number; My Heart Stood Still; Stardust; Atchison: Topeka and Santa Fe; I Cover the Waterfront; Scuttlebutt; Gotta Be This or That; Just Floatin' Along; Blue Skies; I'm Gonna Love That Guy; On the Sunny Side of the Street; Summertime; Hop: Skip and Jump; It Had to be You; Jumpin' On the Merry-Go-Round. CD2: Bedford Drive; Dancing in the Dark; Along the Navajo Trail; Softly As in the Morning Sunrise; The Sad Sack; Out of this World; S'Wonderful; Hindustan; Can't You Read Between the Lines; Love Walked In; I Can't Get Started; Grabtown Grapple; It Might As Well Be Spring; The Glider; S'Wonderful; Night and Day; Let's Walk.
Personnel: Artie Shaw: clarinet; Stan Fishelson; George Schwartz: Bernie Glow: Roy Eldridge or Ray Linn: trumpets; Ollie Wilson: Gus Dickson: Rob Swift: Harry Rodgers: trombones; Rudy Tanza: Louis Prisby: alto saxophones; Jon Walton: Herbie Steward: tenor saxophones; Chuck Gentry: baritone sax; Barney Kessel: guitar; Morris Rayman: bass; Dodo Marmarosa: piano; Lou Fromm: drums; Imogene Lynne: vocals. Complete Thesaurus Transcriptions 1949
Tracks: CD1: They Can't Take That Away from Me; Softly As in a Morning Sunrise; Things Are Looking Up; Stardust; Tea for Two; I Only Have Eyes for You; So In Love; You Do Something To Me; He's Funny That Way; Let's Fall In Love; Moonglow; So Easy; Innuendo; Gue Le Le; Summit Ridge Drive; Grabtown Grapple; Smoke Gets in Your Eyes; I Get A Kick Out of You; Begin the Beguine; I Concentrate on You; S'Wonderful; Orinoco; Love Walked In; Krazy Kat. CD2: I Cover the Waterfront; Carnival; Comes Love; Together; Too Marvelous for Words; How Deep Is the Ocean; Don't Take Your Love from Me; Exactly Like You; Pied Piper Theme; Cross your Heart; The Very Thought of You; Love Is the Sweetest Thing; Bedford Drive; Love of My Life; Smooth and Easy; Cool Daddy; Easy to Love; Minnesota; Similau; Fred's Delight; Time On My Hands; Love for Sale; Orinoco; Mucha De Nada; I Get A Kick Out of You; Love Walked In.
Personnel: Artie Shaw: clarinet; Don Fagerquist: Don Paladino: Vic Ford: Dale Pierce: trumpets; Fred Zito: Porky Cohen: Sonny Russo: Bart Varslona: trombones; Herb Steward: Frank Socolow: alto saxophones; Al Cohn: Zoot Sims: tenor saxophones; Danny Bank: baritone sax; Gil Barrios: piano; Dick Niveson: bass; Jimmy Raney: guitar; Irv Kluger: drums; Pat Lockwood or Trudy Richards: vocals; Chino Pozo: janguel: VB Niesto: percussion on 2 tracks.