Artie Shaw has been gone since 2004 and he last played the clarinet in public around fifty years before that, so the people who heard him play must be diminishing day by day.  But he remains an astonishing musician and a public figure capable of stirring up controversies.  I offer three ways of looking at the King of the Clarinet.

One is a glimpse of the intelligent but highly prickly writer, as evidenced by this letter for sale on eBay:

Another is through Tom Nolan’s superb biography, THREE CHORDS FOR BEAUTY’S SAKE, which I’ve reviewed here:

But these pieces of paper don’t always get us close to the music. 

Rather than coop yourself up with the Bluebirds or the new Mosaic set, why not come out and hear New York City’s finest jazz musicians play a tribute to Artie?  The reed-playing Andersons, Will and Peter Reardon, have planned two weeks of Shaw-inspired jazz at 59e59 in New York City.  They’re not only fine clarinetists but fine musicians: these concerts will be lively and evocative but far from note-for-note recreations of famous Shaw solos.  The Anderson Twins Sextet will include Jon-Erik Kellso, Ehud Asherie, and Kevin Dorn.     

The first week  — Tuesday, May 18, through Sunday, May 23 — will be an instrumental fiesta, with the band exploring the rivalry (real and imagined) between Artie and Benny Goodman (something their respective fans keep arguing about)  Details:  The next week will move away from clarinet-a-la-rancor and add the gifted singer Daryl Sherman, who sang with Artie’s “last” band and no doubt has some good stories to tell in between songs:

For those who haven’t been to this theatre, it is (reassuringly) located at 59 East 59th Street in New York City: or (212) 753-5959 for more information.

6 responses to “ARTIE SHAW, THREE WAYS


  2. John P. Cooper

    How could anyone sell a letter like that from the great man himself? It’s so warm and welcoming and is such a vivid reminder of all the wonderful music that Shaw left us. There, in his own hand, he reaches out to an admirer and makes him feel so good.

    Beautiful stationery, too.

  3. I feel as if I have to do a post called EVERYBODY HATES ARTIE: he certainly stirs up a good deal of resentment: your response is mild compared to what’s online, John! MS

  4. John P. Cooper

    Well – I didn’t want to go to far overboard.

    I knew some younger dancers who worked with his band about 10 years ago and they said he was very nice to them….of course, half of those dancers were attractive women in their 20s.

    Georgie Auld said working with Robert De Niro on NEW YORK, NEW YORK was about as much fun as getting a case of the clap. Was Shaw better or worse than that? I dunno…

    Evelyn Keyes in her auto-bio had quite a bit to say about her ex hubby Artie, little of it flattering. I guess this new book will tell us what kind of people Artie let get close to him and considered as friends.

    Oh, well…….there are odd-balls everywhere.

    Is the story he told on the Johnny Carson show in the book? About playing a dance on a barge in a Texas river and what happened there?

  5. It doesn’t sound familiar; consider yourself invited to narrate it! MS

  6. John P. Cooper

    This was back in the early 70s, IIRC. Shaw was affable that night on the old TONIGHT SHOW with Johnny Carson and he told a story about his band booked to play a gig way down in Texas. back in the 1940s.

    They get there and there is no one there; no one in sight for miles. Just a big barge in the river tied up to shore. The place is in the middle of nowhere.

    Finally, little by little, cars and trucks start coming in from all directions and before long they have a good crowd and the dance is on.

    So folks are dancing around and this one couple keeps dancing by the front of the bandstand and each time they do, the guy winks at Shaw or gives him the high sign or makes a knowing face.

    So Artie is baffled and at the set break he goes over to the guy and says “I’ve seen you winking and waving and laughing, but I don’t get it.” And the guy looks at him and says, “You’re not Artie Shaw.” Well, Shaw is dumbfounded and the guy repeats that he is not Artie Shaw.

    So, Shaw takes out his license and library card and whatever other ID he had on him to convince the guy that he really IS Artie Shaw.

    So the guy is finally convinced and Artie asks him, “What made you think I wasn’t Artie Shaw?”

    And the guy says to him, “What would Artie Shaw be doing here?”

    (rim shot!)

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