Saturday, May 1, 2010

Artie Shaw: Who's Almost Who In KV History 2

Not a cardboard god, but in my opinion a musical one. I chose a foreign language version of the above clip, Shaw's band playing behind Astaire and Eleanor Powell, for better resolution. I once speculated on a LES connection to Artie Shaw, but I couldn't find out where he lived in his earliest years. Now coinciding with his 100th birthday a new biography of Shaw provides the missing information. He was born on May 23, 1910 and his first home was at 255 E. 7th Street, between C and D. Later he moved to 43 Avenue C, between 3rd and 4th Streets. He may have gone to PS 15 just around the corner. He lived there until 1918, moving then to New Haven. A year later my mother would be born and lived within two blocks of Shaw's birthplace. Elinor Hecht's grandma had her chicken market nearby as well.
excerpts from the nytimes review of Three Chords For Beauty's Sake, The Life of Artie Shaw by Tom Nolan
Artie Shaw, the swing era’s other great clarinetist, knew just about every romantic self-immolator in the history of jazz. He roomed with both Bix Beiderbecke and Bunny Berigan, he hired Billie Holiday to sing with his band and — at least by his own account — he turned down Charlie Parker’s bid to join his saxophone section. (“I said, ‘Bird, you couldn’t play in my band, you’re too much of an individualist!’ ”) Superficially, Shaw couldn’t have been less like these doom-bound drunks and drug addicts. In “Three Chords for Beauty’s Sake,” Tom Nolan’s absorbing if somewhat sketchy new biography, we see him drunk exactly once — when he was in his teens and a prankish band mate fed him shots of rye with beer chasers — and once, at about 20, “half-stoned” on weed with Berigan. Thanks to clean living, good luck and, surely, a measure of cussedness, Shaw lived to be 94 and died, in 2004, the way Robert Frost recommended: “Better to go down dignified / With boughten friendship at your side / Than none at all. Provide, provide!” He even kept his sense of humor, or at least his memory of an old Myron Cohen joke. His personal assistant (who stayed with him for 11 years, sometimes by dint of repeating the word “mortgage” to himself) and his home-hospice caregiver were changing the old man’s bedclothes during his last days and asked if he was comfortable. “I make a living,” he said. He did, too. Though Nolan’s book doesn’t say so, Shaw’s estate was probably worth around $3 million, and he hadn’t played on a record for half a century.
Yet “Three Chords for Beauty’s Sake” is as grimly fascinating as any story of a young flameout dying in the gutter. Shaw spent his first 44 years acquiring artistic mastery — Ray Charles called him “one of the greatest musicians that ever lived” — as well as money, fame and an array of America’s choicest sexual trophies. ......
He was born Avraham Ben-Yitzhak Arshawsky, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, in 1910; his immigrant parents called him Arthur. The family moved to New Haven, Conn., where he was taunted for being Jewish; where his father, a tailor, abandoned them; and where he heard a vaudeville saxophonist perform a tune called “Dreamy Melody.” Arthur would have been around 13 (Nolan doesn’t tell us exactly). Within two years, he’d saved up, bought a sax of his own, taught himself to play and gotten himself expelled from school to make his living with it, under the hyper-American name Art Shaw. By the time he was 21, he’d also mastered the clarinet and was playing in the CBS Radio Orchestra. “They used the best musicians in New York,” he said, “for some of the worst music.” In fact, he had such contempt for the gig, which most musicians would have regarded as a godsend during the Depression, that he staged the first of his many retirements — to a farmhouse in Pennsylvania with no electricity or running water, where he earned money by cutting firewood and began writing a novel. How conflicted was he? Let him tell you. One day he nearly chopped off a finger, and “the very first thought I had was, ‘I’ll never have to play the clarinet again.’ ” Many years later, just before his last retirement, one of his sidemen noticed the same ambivalence. “It’s one of those strange contradictions: he seemed much happier when he was playing — but he hated to play.”

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