SHAW, Artie: Concertos for Clarinet

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'Concertos for Clarinet' Original Recordings 1937-1940

Of all of the stars of the Big Band Era, none wasless suited for success than Artie Shaw. A ruggedindividualist, idealist, and elitist, Shaw wasjettisoned into the mainstream with his 1938 hitrecording of Cole Porter's \Begin the Beguine",which changed his life and eventually shortenedhis career. The problem with Shaw was that hehad difficulty understanding that 'music business'contained two distinctively different words and hespent much of his career trying to do one whilefighting off the demands of the other. The songsin this compilation were recorded during the mostcritical period in Shaw's career, beginning in 1937when his attempts at playing 'symphonic swing'(combining a jazz combo with a string section)failed and he gave in to commercial pressures byreluctantly forming what he called 'the loudestgoddamn band in the world'.

By July 1937 the strings were gone and, despiteits name, Art Shaw and his New Music (held overfrom his early sessions with the string ensemble)was just another swing band. But from the outset,the difference was the brilliance of Shaw's clarinetplaying. After the conventional opening of SweetAdeline, Shaw's horn emerges like a searchlightout of the darkness. His interplay with vocalistTony Pastor shows Shaw's facile ability to do justabout anything he wanted to on his clarinet.

Shaw's jungle-esque composition Chant isreminiscent of Jimmy Mundy's arrangement forBenny Goodman of "Sing, Sing, Sing", highlightedby the tom-toms of Cliff Leeman (although Shawhad shown that he favoured the clarinet/tom-tomcombination before Goodman and Gene Krupamade it a trademark at Goodman's legendary1938 Carnegie Hall jazz concert).

The two-part song simply called The Blues isin blues form as its title implies, but is really amedium tempo boogie-woogie kicked off by JohnBest's growling trumpet intro. When Shaw comesin two choruses later, it is with a vengeance:virtuosic flurries of cascading notes that precedesJohn Coltrane's 'sheets of sound' by two decades.

Over the years, countless comparisons have beenmade between the two kings of clarinet swing:Goodman and Shaw, but while Benny oftenswung harder, Artie continually exhibited betterchops and did more imaginative things in his solosthan Benny did.

The underrated and inventive singer LeoWatson solos on another Shaw original, ShootThe Likker To Me, John Boy from September1937, Shaw's last recording made for Brunswick.

By his next session (his first for RCA Victor), Shawhad dispensed with the name Art after a pressagent told him that 'Art Shaw' sounded like asneeze. From then on, it was Artie.

At the first Victor session, the old RudolphFriml operetta favourite Indian Love Call had themisfortune of being paired with "Begin theBeguine", which quickly became one of the biggesthits of the Swing Era. "Indian Love Call" provedShaw's orchestra capable of swinging as hard asthat of Goodman or any other band at that time,with Tony Pastor's gutty vocal driving the swingeven harder.

Shaw's first RCA session also saw theintroduction of Billie Holiday as his vocalist, abrazen act for its time that raised eyebrows andcaused controversy wherever the band traveled.

Black performers had occasionally performed asinstrumentalists with white bands, but few had thegumption to feature one out front as a vocalist.

But riding high on the success of "Begin theBeguine", Shaw now had the power to doanything he wanted, and what he wanted was thebest singer in the business at the time. Holidayrose to the occasion, her voice and style fullydeveloped by now after a stint with Count Basie in1937. Although her time with Shaw was brief, hervocal on Any Old Time is confident and selfassured;her years with Shaw would lead togreater stardom as a solo performer.

Non-Stop Flight is one of Artie Shaw's bestoriginal compositions and along with Softly, As InA Morning Sunrise, shows his ability to effortlesslyplay in the highest register of the clarinet. Thelatter song appealed to Shaw because of its minorkey, a favorite vehicle for Shaw that stemmed fromhis Jewish roots.

From 1936 to 1938, Shaw was without peeras a musician in his own band. But toward theend of 1938, he hired saxophonist Georgie Auldand drummer Buddy Rich, both of whom were asequally individualistic and irascible as their leader.

With their arrival (first Auld and then Rich),Shaw's rhythm became more insistent, the swingmore apparent.

Shaw's main complaint about the Swing Era,aside from calling jitterbugs 'morons', was thatbands relied too much on riff tunes and pat calland-response arrangements. Though this is whatmade for great dancing, Shaw bristled at beingcalled a 'dance band leader' and continued tostretch the limits of what conventions were inplace during the Big Band Era. Rosalie wasanother Cole Porter offering from a film of thesame name while Pastel Blue (co-written by Shawwith the great trumpet virtuoso Charlie Shavers)showed Shaw painting an Ellington-esque portraitwith his band; its ending culminated by Artieclimbing the scale to a stratospheric high 'C'(concert B-flat).

One of Shaw's most frenetic performancescomes on Traffic Jam, which is kicked off by Shawglissing like an ambulance siren before shiftinginto overdrive, propelled by Buddy Rich'ssupercharged drumming. Shouts from thenormally reserved band show what thecombination of Shaw's leadership and Rich'sdriving percussion could do in creating one of thetruly exciting moments in the Swing Era.

In November 1939, Shaw, fed up with thepressures of fame and the demands of hisaudience to play his songs the same way everytime, abruptly abandoned his band and fled toMexico, leaving saxophonist Georgie Auld incharge. By March 1940, a rejuvenated Shaw hadreassembled his band in Los Angeles, experimentingonce again with symphonic jazz. His groupdoubled in size, with a full-blown string sectionfeatured on a melody Shaw had brought back fromhis self-induced exile in Mexico. Frenesi wouldbecome Shaw's second biggest hit and thrust himreluctantly back to the top of the best seller's lists.

An exotic arrangement of the controversialGloomy Sunday (made popular by Billie Holiday)was the next number at the session. Although notas passionate in her delivery as Holiday, PaulineByrne nevertheless did her best with the song,which was adapted in 1936 from a Hungarianmelody with English words written by Tin PanAlley's Sam M. Lewis. The song was banned frommany radio broadcasts in the U.S. after allegedlycausing suicides among radio listeners.

Shaw's 1940 comeback also included an addeddimension to his orchestra, his own version of the'band-within-a-band' trend that had started withthe small Benny Goodman combos in the mid-30s. The Gramercy 5- (the name was inspired bya New York telephone exchange) consisted of aquintet of Goodman alumni who had beenperforming at the Avalon Ballroom on CatalinaIsland. Foremost among them were trumpeterBilly Butterfield and keyboardist Johnny Guarnieri,the latter playing harpsichord, an instrument thatevidenced Shaw's talent for coming up withdifferent sounds. Summit Ridge Drive (named forShaw's Beverly Hills street address) was a blueshighlighted by Butterfield's muted trumpet soloand a delicious Shaw clarinet chorus, one of hismost melodic. Another Gramercy 5- standout isDr Livingstone, I Presume, in which the groupswings into the jungle, only to emerge with Shawlaunching into a klezmer-like freilach to finish offthe number with a middle-Eastern flourish.

Shaw's solo on his October 1940 recording ofHoagy Carmichael's Star Dust ranks with LouisArmstrong's "West End Blues", ColemanHawkins' "Body and Soul", and Bix Beiderbecke's"Singin' the Blues" as one of the
Disc: 1
Concerto For Clarinet
1 Sweet Adeline
2 Afraid To Dream
3 Chant
4 The Blues
5 Shoot The Likker To Me, John Boy
6 Indian Love Call
7 Any Old Time
8 Non-Stop Flight
9 Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise
10 Rosalie
11 Pastel Blue
12 Traffic Jam
13 Frenesi
14 Gloomy Sunday
15 Summit Ridge Drive
16 Star Dust
17 Dr Livingstone, I Presume?
18 Concerto For Clarinet
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