Artie Shaw


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US jazz clarinettist, bandleader, and writer. His bands were among the most popular in the late 1930s and 1940s.

A freelance musician for many years, he formed a band of his own, featuring a strong string section, in 1936; this failed. A more conventional swing band, formed the following year, had a surprise hit with ‘Begin the Beguine’, which was intended to be the ‘B’ side of a record. In his autobiography, The Trouble with Cinderella (1952), he revealed that he soon became disenchanted with popular music, but his excellent taste and musical skill kept him in the business. His rendering of ‘Frenesi’ featured a string section, and was number one in the charts for twenty-three weeks in 1940; ‘Summit Ridge Drive’ was made by a small group using a harpsichord instead of a piano, and ‘Concerto for Clarinet’ was a serious attempt at a jazz concerto (both 1941). ‘Gloomy Sunday’, featuring his hauntingly sad clarinet, was said to have caused more suicides than any other record. Like the other clarinettist of the period, Benny Goodman, Shaw employed black talent (trumpeter Roy Eldridge; singer Billie Holiday) when it was brave and inconvenient to do so.

Artie Shaw was briefly (1945–47) married to the film star Ava Gardner. He retired from music in the 1960s, first running a dairy farm, then trading in property. He also wrote adaptations for the theatre. His novel, I Love You, I Hate You, Drop Dead, was published in 1965.

Subjects: Music.

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