The violinist said, "Really? Shaw remarked to Giddins: "I realized that Heifetz was aiming at Though he was a man with a variety of strong interests, from writing and painting to figure skating and sharpshooting, there is no doubt that Artie Shaw will be remembered for the music he created at the height of his powers between the late s and early 50s.
Photo credit for Home Page: Artie Shaw publicity photo from wikipedia. Skip to main content. Leave this field blank. Program :. Portrait of Perfection: Artie Shaw. Artie Shaw in studio. AP Photo. Portrait of Artie Shaw. Photo by William P. Song titles: 1. Summit Ridge Drive. Moon Ray. You could say the nine guys up there in the starting lineup are all geniuses. What are they? What qualities do you think brought you to that level? It goes back to the definition of a fugue. The instruments come in one by one, and the audience walks out one by one.
Everything is luck. But yes. There was a period in which I lost my mind. Too much success. The only thing worse than utter failure is unmitigated success. I lost who I was. I lost all sense of purpose. I read them, but I mostly thought they were pretty stupid. They want you to be the black, sweaty Negro. So I was a victim of that. People expect you to be stupid. But then the War came, and that was a bath of cold reality. When I came back to so-called civilization, and I went into analysis.
Whatever that is. There is no such thing as a Freudian one unless Freud gives it to you. It was in California first. So I went to a man named Abram Cardiner, a very famous man, who wrote books on… He was the beginning of the Cultural Anthropology idea — Margaret Mead, etcetera.
What do you mean by that? I learned a very important lesson. It can be summed up in three words. I only had one in the band each time. But the audience would not hold still. I was supposed to go on a tour when I had Hot Lips Page in the band. It was a very lucrative tour in the South, and I agreed to do it and signed the contracts. Then my agent came to me… It was Tom Rockwell in those days. Remember that agency?
It became GAC, and then the alphabet soup started. Lips can go with the band, but he has to sit 15 feet from the nearest man in the band. Was that primary reason? But people project a different energy and aura. I mean, what can you say? I believed in having the best people I could get. Let me push you forward a bit. And I was playing with peers. They were all good players, and you had to play very well in order to be what you were.
I was the leader of that group. The audience is left way behind. The mass audience is listening to Rock. They dominated the program. It was his doing. In , when that group was formed, I had quit the business. They wanted money. And I had to go and get that. So I had to get together a band. But the audience would not accept it.
They wanted to dance. They wanted a dance band. And by this time, this thing called Jazz had taken over, and it was such a confusion. You know, we are aliterate people. Aliterate, not literate. Not illiterate, aliterate. And musically, we are almost illiterate. So when you have some really good music, the audience does not respond to that.
Or they respond like apes to it. It has nothing to do with music any more. The audiences drive me nuts. The people who run the business do not insist on having any sort of dignity. Were you able to take that stance because of your financial means at the time? So the audience as it is, imperfect or alien as it may be, is necessary. I mean, someone like Ellington, say, being able to sustain a band for…. They had a hipper audience. Did you ever play for Black audiences, by the way? Did you ever go on that circuit at all?
It was always very liberating. You could do anything you want. They were much more receptive, and much more aware. Like Billie Holiday. Billie had a natural musical intelligence.
Artie Shaw & Mickey Rooney
It was part of the fabric of who she was from a very young age, I would think, so she heard it. It was part of her. She had no regard for what the composer wrote. I remember I made a recording with her years ago, when she was still recording for Columbia…Brunswick.
So there was a kind of unconscious musical intelligence at work. She had that to an enormous degree. And you try to do that. I had my own way. With a ballad, for example, I would hear it, and I would hear it the way I wanted to hear it and play it that way. But it was always recognizable. Why not write your own? I asked Bud Powell that one time. You lengthened the bars; instead of 8 bars, you made it You changed the chords and you changed the melodic structure. So did Hot Lips Page. What they did was different from other people.
What I did was different. Very few people copied me on clarinet because the sound I got came out of the formation of my embouchure and mouth and jaws, and my own musical ideas of how it should sound. People are all trying to sound like somebody else. In my day, it was Benny Goodman and me, and you could tell instantly which it was. We each had our own sound. Was Jimmie Noone one? Are there any that you favor? Do you listen…. I listen to piano players mostly. Brad Mehldau, for example.
Good ones. And as the times pass, people would accept more, and your ears change. I asked you about Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and you said they were great musicians but connected insufficiently with the audience. Is there anything else you could say about them? Why do you think that is? I think a lot of people listen to Dizzy. Dizzy had more regard for the trumpet. Benny was a superb technician, but musically there were a lot of gaps in his awareness.
He was limited. His vocabulary was limited. He wrote beautiful, enduring pieces…. We can talk about some of them. Billie has transcended it. I transcended it to a degree. People are still buying my records. You have to have a very specialized audience for that. His influence with drugs was as great as his influence with music. Is that good? He enlarged the musical vocabulary of this kind of music. He did things technically that no one had done before. He was a very, very accomplished man. I would call him a genius, in the sense that a genius is somebody who does something for which there is no accounting.
Armstrong was a genius. There were no predecessors. When he was playing, he was a remarkably good tenor man. But there are a number of those. He did things that were very good with the big band. He did some awful things, too. The band was like the little girl with the curl on the forehead. When they were good, they were good; when they were bad, they were horrid. But he chose the personalities. I was asking apart from your band, were there other big bands….
Lunceford at his best was awfully good. And Ellington at times was very good. Sy, when he worked for Lunceford, was very good. Lunceford was a good disciplinarian. He kept the men in line, and they did what they had to do. He was very good at that. Lunceford had a lot of respect for what he did, and I think he imbued the musicians with that. The leader of the band has a great deal to do with the temper of the band.
People send me CDs, and I listen to them, and some — very few — I really like.
I still think that Art Tatum was the standard of a great player. I think that Hank Jones has turned out to be a remarkable player. There are a number of people that I think are very good at the piano. I think there are certain tunes that should be left alone. The lyrics, too. Why do you lengthen the bars, change the chorus, why do you change the melody? Cleverness to impress other arrangers. There are books like that, writers who write for each other.
A crescendo and a waning. I was interviewed by a guy named Anthony Sommers. He came from Ireland, he was down here, and we did this. We talked about Sinatra; he was doing a book on him. He was able to sing. And we made him into an icon. It had nothing to do with singing. He was a man with utterly no principle. We were growing. But Sarah Vaughan was a good singer. Ella Fitzgerald was a good singer. There are singers around right now… I listen occasionally at night to a public radio station out here called KCLU, and they play jazz, and occasionally singers come along.
Kurt is a very good singer. I asked him one time… We worked together on a series of concerts, the big tents, those great big musical extravaganza places. What you could call a mindless man.
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But maybe it is. It tells me a lot about him. We did about half-a-dozen engagements. And I began to realize that this guy was intent on singing, like Goodman was intent on the clarinet. The philosophical basis for this was totally lost. They were not aware that there was such a thing. What does it say about the human condition?
Also, they use language so imprecisely that their thought is imprecise. What they mean is some of the music lasts. I did for a while, but I learned that if you want to get a vocabulary on piano, you have to practice it all the time. And I have a low tolerance for boredom. I have no interest in being an amateur forever. If I have to do something… I played golf for a while, and I got so bad I realized that the only thing you can do is live on a golf course. We can all be better than we are. I was talking for your own personal pleasure. I will do this occasionally. Most people like to blab. They get together, and they chatter.
And now and then, people come along that I can talk to. So it interests me, because a great watch is like a work of art. And so on. There are people like that, that I like to talk to. There never have been. The tenor of it? We spoke about some singers. You talked about Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Dizzy was a virtuoso, and he got lost in that sometimes. It happened to Oscar Peterson, too, often.
You spoke some about Sinatra and Benny Goodman, I guess, in a critical way…. I think that Benny was a remarkable instrumentalist. Not much of a musician. Anybody can learn to play a horn if he just devotes himself to do that. But some people are able to do it through that horn, go beyond the notes. Benny was very good at what he did, but it was limited.
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You said that today is an age of decadence, you actually referred to Sinatra…. It was probably the best band I ever had, and it could have been one of the most remarkable bands that ever was. Do you feel that you could have developed more had the band…. I keep trying to tell that to modern musicians. We had stuff there that was trailblazing. Nobody had ever done what we did. We did a sonata somebody wrote for me. We did things out of tempo. It was a great band. And the only engagement we ever had with that band that was completely perfect was at the Blue Note in Chicago.
Dave Garroway was a big music fan. He told me it was the most amazing musical experience of his life to hear that band. By that time, I had changed to the worst band I ever had. A bunch of guys that could barely read a stock arrangement. It was a terrible band. I was doing it as a joke, to see what the audience would like.
And I did that. And they loved it. In the last ten years Ellington has become like the avatar. He was a good band, but he was one of the good bands. But then, you know, he was smart. He did some pretty smart stuff. But the audience bought it. I think there were about five great bands in those days.
There was Goodman, there was me, there was Basie, there was Ellington and there was Lunceford. That about sums it up. They were doing a lot of things with big singers… It was known as the General Motors of jazz. Chick had a good band, but it was not up to that. Ella was the thing that made Chick. Hines was a great piano player with Louis.
So he was very interesting. But as a bandleader he was not significant, maybe because the big band era was over when he came along. Ellington, as is commonly known, used the band as — and his success in being able to sustain the band with popular songs and having copyrights — a way to sustain his own creativity and keep himself interested, as a kind of vehicle for personal growth. You could do the same thing if you wanted to. The band was my instrument. Instead of playing a clarinet, I had a band, which was my instrument. I played the clarinet with it. But it was an instrument. The orchestra is an instrument.
I mean, a band is not a series of players. Or a magazine. Like Harold Ross. He had Walker Gibbs, he had E. White, he had Thurber, he had writers there that he could match. But he welded them into an instrument. The bandleader is an editor. But he was never up to the band. They say you were a taskmaster, but very fair and a good person to work for.
I tried to be reasonable with them. Somebody once asked me if I considered myself reasonable. God, I was a great rehearser.
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We would rehearse all the time. But you had to rehearse the band. They liked the idea of the quest for perfection. Did you make it your business to go out and listen? That was a perfect band for me, as good as you could play and have an audience. But then I had to break the band up, for various reasons, and then I had to put a new one together. So you always tried to get the best people you could get to fulfill what you had in mind. You nonetheless were obsessive in your quest to extract every sound of the clarinet that suited your vision, which entailed being a virtuoso on the instrument.
The advent of Jazz had taken place, this so-called thing that people call jazz, with audiences listening. So I got the best men I could find. My view of the alto saxophone… I was a great lead saxophone player, but I also could play jazz. Johnny Hodges was a notable exception. But I felt that the clarinet would be a little more expressive, and also it could soar above the high brass notes.
When I was a kid I started playing clarinet. I played it as a double. Then later I got interested in the instrument, and I got better at it. But then when I got my band, I started to specialize on the clarinet. But was that the case for you as a…. He hears a sound in his ears and he tries to approximate it. Music is music. Because what he does with it is also important. People speak of the clarinet as being fraught with difficulties, the difficulties of adapting it to be bebop, etc.
I mean, there are guys who are virtuosos. I suppose you could be swifter. You could play from C to C faster. But that has nothing to do with music. An improviser has to have a style. But basically, playing for an audience, they would expect to hear certain things that sound more or less the same.
You have this instrument. It has its own requirements and its own difficulties. And you try to do something with it every time you play it that has never been done before. There was a phrase in there I played that went on and on and on. That was extemporaneous. Coleman had one sound, which you could describe as Herschel Evans, and Lester had another sound, which was his.
Lester I prefer, because it was a little purer musically. But Coleman was a remarkable player. But if you ask me my opinion, which I like better, it would be Lester.
Lester got into a series of areas that Coleman never approached. Talking about music is limited. There are a number of musicians who when they discuss the process of improvising, say they see sounds as corollary to colors, or that this sort of analogy goes on.
But how did the thought process of working out an improvisation function for you? Along the way, you might find a handle of a tree growing out of it — something. You grab whatever you can. Asking him what he planned.
Richard Sudhalter's Tribute to Artie Shaw on Piano Jazz | South Carolina Public Radio
He would drip paint. So you worked within the structure of the piece you were playing, and did what you could with that to make it something of your own. It requires a certain musical intelligence. And it requires a certain amount of instinct, too. Language is wiser than the people who use it. Language has been used for a long, long time by a number of people in different ways. Of course it is. We have three languages.
There are three different languages. I was playing something. But I have no use for those cliche phrases. I felt restricted by audience demands. I tell that to people today who ask me for advice. Follow your own. Find out what your deepest instincts are, and follow them. I finally came to begin to know who I am.
Musically I knew who I was. I wrote a piece for strings and clarinet. Nobody had ever heard of that before. And I think I read that by the time you were 16 or 17 you were making bucks a week? I was making arrangements. In those days you got 25 bucks for an arrangement, you know. And when I was working at CBS on the staff band, the scale they paid… Most of the men got bucks a week. It was very sneaky. Union stuff. So when I finally decided to take the job, when I was offered the job, I insisted on 25 bucks a week more.
But that was a significant amount. The money was there, and I was being paid in accordance with what the leader thought I was worth. It was in the Wylie Band where I began to really make some money. I ran his band for him. He just stood up in front of it and gave downbeats. I joined the Aaronson band, which was a terrible band, but it was a name band. They were going to New York, and that was my idea of where I wanted to go. We ran into each other. They heard I was out there, and we met. And so, when they came to Cleveland, they had talked it up, and Aaronson hired me. I remember that.
And every night I would go out around the South Side and find somebody to play with. He was a legitimate clarinet player. He knew how to play the clarinet. Unfortunately, Benny copied him note for note. Benny got a lot of stuff from him. I just thought Noone was a very good player, and I realized he did things on the clarinet that I had not done before, that I had not heard done before.
So he opened up doors for me. Some of us played until 6 a. I finished work at whenever it was, and there was no place to go. I wanted to play somehwere. And the band I was in, the Aaronson band, was a terrible band. So I wanted to get some playing done. I never could get the sound of a tenor that was comparable, say, to Ben Webster or Coleman Hawkins.
We used to have a saying when I was in the radio business… We were playing with a great pool of musicians. But were the people in Chicago playing music with a different attitude than the people you met in Harlem? The so-called Austin High gang, they were out there. I mean, jammed together.
Willie was one of the early guys. Earl came along a bit later. That was a whole different era than when Willie Smith was starting. They all influence each other. The music was different. Each composer had his own particular field. Is there something you can pinpoint that precipitated that anger in your life?
And they accept crap. There are very few people that are popular and making money and making a big audience that are doing anything worth hearing. I mean, we talk about the Beatles as if they were the anointed of God. People are illiterate. When I was playing in Cleveland and with Aaronson, I just thought the world was wide open. I was young. I had no idea that music was something that people did or did not understand.
There were shows on radio that I would have died if I had to play on.