[Marxism] Artie Shaw
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Fri Dec 31 08:11:01 MST 2004
NY Times, December 30, 2004
Artie Shaw, Big Band Leader, Dies at 94
In the Royalty of Swing
By JOHN S. WILSON
Artie Shaw's virtuosity on his instrument, his groups' highly original
arrangements and his explosively romantic showmanship made him one of the
most danced-to bandleaders of swing and one of the most listened-to artists
of jazz. He quit performing in 1954 , but the many re-releases of his
discs, a ghost band, and his informed but often sardonic comments on music
and many other subjects kept him in the public ear.
Although his musical career closely paralleled that of Benny Goodman, his
archrival, who died in 1986, the two men had little in common in their
approaches to music.
"The distance between me and Benny," Mr. Shaw said several years ago, "was
that I was trying to play a musical thing, and Benny was trying to swing.
Benny had great fingers; I'd never deny that. But listen to our two
versions of 'Star Dust.' I was playing; he was swinging."
Mr. Shaw impressed and amazed clarinetists of all schools. Barney Bigard,
the New Orleans clarinetist who was Duke Ellington's soloist for 14 years,
said he considered Mr. Shaw the greatest clarinetist ever. Phil Woods, a
saxophonist of the bebop era, took Charlie Parker as his inspiration on
saxophone, but he modeled his clarinet playing on Mr. Shaw's. John Carter,
a leading post-bop clarinetist, said he took up the instrument because of
And in 1983, when Franklin Cohen, the principal clarinetist of the
Cleveland Orchestra, was to be featured playing Mr. Shaw's Concerto for
Clarinet, he listened to Mr. Shaw's recording of the work and said he found
his playing unbelievable.
"Shaw is the greatest player I ever heard," he said. "It's hard to play the
way he plays. It's not an overblown orchestral style. He makes so many
Michael Denning, "The Cultural Front":
"Artie Shaw supported various left-wing peace groups and was active in the
campaign for civil rights in employment (particularly for the FEPC, the
Fair Employment Practices Commission). As a self-described activist in the
left-leaning Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences
and Professions (HICCASP), Shaw was called before HUAC in 1953. While
denying that he was a member of the CP, Shaw never denied that he was a
LA Times, Aug. 6, 2000:
Over the years people have asked me, "What's your musical genealogy?" How
was I supposed to answer that? I spent 10 years trying to teach my mother
how to play "My Country 'Tis of Thee." She was like a seal with those
musical pipes at the aquarium--no relation to music. My father could at
least pick out a melody single-fingered. I thought maybe it was from his side.
When I was fiftysomething, my mother died. She had a Jewish funeral on
Amsterdam Avenue in New York. All my mother's family was there. "Hey,
Artie!" "Gee, Artie! Artie!" They even asked for autographs.
"For Christ's sake, my mother's dead!" I said. "Leave me alone, you schmucks."
We went into the funeral parlor and sat down. There was a plain pine casket
up there on this little rostrum. Orthodox Jewish funerals don't have
flowers. I was looking at a box with this woman inside with whom I'd had a
love-hate relationship ever since I could remember. There she was, up there
in this box.
I sat there and in spite of myself I was moved. Her life was over,
finished. It was like a big hole in my life for a minute. I was sitting
there with my then-wife, Evelyn Keyes, and this young rabbi got up--not an
Orthodox rabbi, but a young man who spoke perfect English--and he addressed
"Here we have a coffin," he said, "with all that remains of Sarah. We're
here to pay reverence and respect to her for her life. Let us talk for a
moment about these people like Sarah who came to this country . . ." He did
an Irving Howe-style commentary out of "World of Our Fathers": "They came
here by the thousands, expecting sidewalks of gold, and found toil and
travail and exploitation. They lived in the teeming Lower East Side and
worked in sweatshops and struggled to make a living. They married and
brought forth children, some of whom achieved fame and fortune . . . "
He was going good, I thought.
Then an old guy got up from the congregation. A typical Lower East Side
Jew, he wore navy blue pants and a brown double-breasted jacket, open, with
cigarette ashes on his vest, and a big broad-brimmed hat. He went over to
the rabbi and plucked at his pants.
The rabbi did a W.C. Fields take: Get away, kid, you're bothering me. He
was trying to get on with his speech. Then another guy got up and tried to
dissuade the first guy.
The first man was Moishe, my Uncle Morris, my mother's older brother, and
he didn't speak much English. He was speaking in his guttural Yiddish to
the rabbi, and the rabbi didn't seem to understand. The other guy was
trying to pull Moishe away. The rabbi leaned over.
Finally the rabbi turned back to us.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "this man is the older brother of the
deceased, Sarah, and he's just been telling me he wants to sing a lament
for the dead, the Kaddish. So with your permission, I'll step down and let
him do that."
Moishe got up on the rostrum--this little old man in that typical uniform
of the Lower East Side Jew--and he stood there and started to sing. My jaw
He had no more voice, there was no instrument, it was all gone. But he had
musicality. The Kaddish is a beautiful Yiddish lament. And he sang with
such pathos and musical intonation--a real relationship of note to note,
which is what music is about--that within his own pitch, he was singing
A shiver went through me, and I whispered to Evelyn, "That's where it came
from: my mother's side." This dead, tone-deaf lady had been the one with
the musical gene in her all along.
He finished singing. The other man took him away and sat him down again. It
was a very touching moment, his singing a lament for his dead sister.
It was one of the epiphanies of my life.
Two weeks went by and I got a call from my lawyer. He was the executor of
my mother's estate, which was still in probate, and he asked if I could
come up and help him sort through some bills.
I showed up at his office, and he had a pack of bills in front of him on
his desk: gas bills for the apartment, rent due. She had paid for a plot to
be buried in. Old-country people believe in doing these things.
"I don't understand this one," he said. "It's a bill from somebody named
Morris for $ 150. It's for singing at your mother's funeral."
"What?" I said.
"Did someone sing at your mother's funeral? Did you hire somebody?"
You'd think a brother would sing for free. He had wrung my heart out and
then wanted to be paid. He saw a chance to make a buck. I never talked to
that SOB again. That's me and my family.
It was like a nightingale sending you a bill.
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