Artie Shaw

Picture of Artie Shaw

Artie Shaw (1910 – 2004) was a clarinetist and bandleader.   Widely regarded as one of the big band era's finest clarinetists, Shaw led one of the most popular big bands in the late 1930s through the early 1940s. Though he had numerous hit records, he was perhaps best known for his recording of "Begin the Beguine" in 1938. Shaw also recorded with small jazz groups drawn from within the ranks of the various big bands he led. He served in the US Navy from 1942 to 1944. He remained a force in popular music and jazz before retiring from music completely in 1954.  At that point in his life he focused on writing books and pursued his interests in mathematics.

Artie Shaw started his music career in the early 1920's.  From 1925–36, Shaw performed with many bands and orchestras; from 1926 to 1929, he worked in Cleveland and established a lasting reputation as music director and arranger for an orchestra led by the Austin Wylie. In 1929 and 1930, he played with Irving Aaronson's Commanders.  In 1932, Shaw joined the Roger Wolfe Kahn Orchestra and made several recordings on of which was "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)".

In the mid 1930's Shaw formed his first big bands.  During the swing era, his big bands were popular with hits like "Begin the Beguine", "Stardust","Back Bay Shuffle", "Moonglow", "Rosalie" and "Frenesi". Shaw was also known for uncovering incredible talent.  In addition to hiring Buddy Rich, he signed Billie Holiday as his band's vocalist in 1938, becoming the first white band leader to hire a full-time black female singer to tour the Southern United States which was still segregated at that time.

Audio of: Artie Shaw and His Orchestra - "Begin the Beguine"

Similar to Benny Goodman, and other leaders of big bands, Shaw put together a smaller "band within the band" in 1940.  He named it Artie Shaw and the Gramercy Five after his home telephone exchange. The original Gramercy Five pressed eight records, then Shaw dissolved the band in early 1941.

Throughout his career, Shaw had a habit of forming bands, developing them according to his immediate aspirations, making a quick series of records, and then breaking them up.

Shaw did many big band remote broadcasts. Throughout the autumn and winter of 1938, he was often heard from the Blue Room of the Hotel Lincoln in New York. After touring in 1939, he led the house band at the Cafe Rouge of the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York.

A self-proclaimed "very difficult man", Shaw was married eight times.

You can hear the music of Artie Shaw right here on Swing City Radio.

Swing City Radio: Playing Your Big Band and Swing Music Favorites from the 1930's, 40's and Today! - Big Band Radio Station Broadcasting Online from King of Prussia, PA.

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