Shaw Granercy 5

When we think of the great small bands of the Swing Era, early and late, Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five is both memorable and overshadowed . . . perhaps because (unlike the Goodman small groups, the Crosby Bobcats, and others I can’t call to mind) it was a studio aggregation, so we don’t have a large history of live performances in concert or recorded off the radio.  (I’ve seen a photograph of the 1945 group with Roy Eldridge and Dodo Marmarosa, apparently performing as part of the Shaw big band presentation, but I don’t think the 1941 group existed outside the Victor studios.)

It was a superb — and quirky — group, with an affectionate kinship to the Raymond Scott and Alec Wilder small bands.  Its instrumentation accounted for much of that — pianist Johnny Guarnieri on harpsichord — but its very tight arrangements were also remarkable.  Al Hendrickson was an excellent electric guitarist — in the dawn of that era; Billy Butterfield, Nick Fatool, and Jud deNaut were also brilliant.

I was delighted to see and capture this four-song evocation at the 2015. Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, where such heartfelt expertise is the main dish.  Led by the masterful drummer Richard Pite, this new Gramercy 5 — what would that be on your smartphone? — soared and rocked.  The noble participants: the brilliant clarinetist Lars Frank, Martin Litton, harpsichord; Rico Tomasso, trumpet; Martin Wheatley, electric guitar; Henry Lemaire, string bass.  And they perform four classics: SUMMIT RIDGE DRIVE, KEEPIN’ MYSELF FOR YOU, SCUTTLEBUTT, and SPECIAL DELIVERY STOMP.  A quarter-hour of compact pleasure:

Hot modernism in its own way, and it hasn’t aged.  Try to make your way to the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party — where such good surprises proliferate.

May your happiness increase!


  1. Bill Gallagher

    Sweet! Nicely done.

  2. Good morning, Bill!

  3. Wow… Just… Wow.

  4. Michael: On the 1945 Spotlight Band broadcasts there is generally one
    selection with the Gramercy Five per broadcast (there were issued on Jazz Unlimited CD 201 2088) and according to Simosko’s Shaw biography (page 192-93) there are at least 2 tracks from broadcasts with the 1941 Gramercy Five, although still unissued, I believe.

  5. Don "Zoot" Conner

    I loved the Gramercy Five,Artie could stretch out and when he did you knew you were listening to the greatest clarinetist who ever lived.Apologies to Buddy Franco,who was second. Beautiful post,Michael.

  6. Michael P. Zirpolo

    The 1940-41 Gramercy Five did indeed appear before live audiences during its short life. Shaw started experimenting with the G5 sound in the summer of 1940. I do believe, based on comments of Johnny Guarnieri, that the harpsichord he used was a specially built electric instrument, that was portable. The only issued live recording of this G5 is “Dr. Livingstone, I Presume,” from a January 22, 1941 broadcast from the Hollywood Palladium. The unissued G5 selection is “Cross Your Heart,” from the Burns and Allen radio show of January 21, 1941, on which Shaw’s music was featured in 1940-41. Shortly after that, Artie left Hollywood to return with the Burns and Allen show to New York, leaving Hendrickson and De Naut, who were Hollywood-based, on the west coast. Even though Butterfield, Guarnieri and Fatool returned east with Shaw, I have found nothing to indicate that the G5 continued to perform, even though Artie himself continued appearing with this version of his big band in the east until late March of 1941.

    Some time in the fall of 1940, while the Shavians were appearing at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, Artie played a concert at San Quentin prison with the G5. In his later years, he stated that the audience there was one of the best of his entire career.

    Michael P. Zirpolo,
    “Shavian Matters” and
    “Shavian Matters Revisited.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s