Artie Shaw’s legend inspires Feb. 22 Purdue jazz concert
Was Artie Shaw the "other" great clarinet player of America's swing era or was he the best. The answer might be found in the American Music Repertory Ensemble's Friday, Feb. 22, concert "Artie Shaw: The Other King of Swing."The concert's set for 8 p.m. in Loeb Playhouse of Purdue's Stewart Center. Admission is free.
Many think it's a toss- up between Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman as to who was the swing era's best clarinetist. Rivals in the 1930s and 1940s, Shaw's sound on clarinet was more liquid than Goodman's sound. He had a different style of playing, and wasn't shy about saying who he thought was best.
"Benny Goodman played clarinet. I played music," he once proclaimed.
The American Music Repertory Ensemble will put clarinetist Randy Salman, Director of Jazz Studies at DePauw University, in the Shaw spotlight at the concert. Like Shaw, he is an accomplished jazz and classical musician, and is the principal clarinet of the Lafayette Symphony Orchestra.
Shaw took himself seriously as an artist and valued experimental and innovative music rather than generic dance and love songs, despite an extremely successful career that sold more than 100 million records. He fused jazz with classical musical by adding strings to his arrangements, experimented with bebop, and formed "chamber jazz" groups that utilized such novel sounds as harpsichords or Afro-Cuban music.
Shaw led one of the United States' most popular big bands in the late 1930s through the early 1940s. In addition to hiring noted drummer Buddy Rich, he signed Billie Holiday as his band's vocalist in 1938, becoming the first white bandleader to hire a full-time black female singer to tour the segregated South. After recording "Any Old Time" - which is on the concert - she left the band due to hostility from southern audiences.
Friday's concert features many Shaw originals and arrangements including "S' Wonderful," "Frenesi," "Indian Love Call," and "Rose Room" along with other swing era hits. Shaw's signature song, a 1938 version of Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine," was one of the era's defining recordings and will be featured in the evening's "Tribute to Artie Shaw."
In the 1950s, at the height of his powers, Shaw unexpectedly went into semi-retirement. He stopped playing the clarinet, walked away from the music business and spent the next 50 years busying himself with dairy farming, marksmanship, movie distribution, writing a never-to-be-finished autobiographical novel -- anything except what he seemed put on earth to do. In 2004, he died at the age of 94.
"Artie Shaw: The Other King of Swing" is sponsored by Purdue Bands & Orchestras and is one of many free jazz, concert band and orchestra concerts offered to the public.