Self Portrait

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: BMG/Bluebird
ALBUM TITLE: Artie Shaw
PERFORMER: Artie Shaw (clt), with various ensembles
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 63808 2

Advertisement

This is a unique artist retrospective since it is also a valedictory statement by a largely unacknowledged, misunderstood and underappreciated jazz great. Artie Shaw was one of the clarinet masters of jazz, whose relationship with the music could be summed up by his 1965 novel I Love You, I Hate You, Drop Dead.

After dedicating himself to it from a young age, by 30 he was leading one of America’s top bands only to drop out of music, disgusted with the machinations of big business, make a comeback and then leave music several times before giving it all up to become a writer. This collection, assembled by Shaw himself and including previously unheard tracks from his private collection and material licensed from other labels, is a testament to his great artistry.

His first band, an ambitious ensemble with a string section, soon gave way to the standard big band instrumentation and by 1939 was America’s number one band. Live broadcast material, as ever jazz’s most vivid life studies, continually illuminate this collection.

Then came Shaw’s celebrated furlough from music, followed by an ensemble with strings interrupted by his war service, and a band in 1945 that produced a classic version of ‘Summertime’ arranged by Eddie Sauter. His Gramercy Five, his Musicraft sides, his 1949-50 Bop band and his final Fifties recordings all document a career rich in musical detail and imagination and his constant quest for excellence.

Advertisement

Ultimately, it is Shaw’s own playing that fascinates; wholly original, his articulation, intonation, the sweeping breadth of his imagination and his brilliant sound are as fresh today as the day he recorded. Stuart Nicholson