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Artie Shaw Biography

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Arthur Arshawsky (May 23, 1910 – December 30, 2004), better known as Artie Shaw, was an accomplished jazz clarinetist, composer, bandleader, and writer.

He was born in New York City, and began learning the saxophone when he was 15 and, by age 16, had begun to tour with a band and switched to the clarinet. He returned to New York and became a session musician. During the Swing Era, his big band was very popular with hits like "Begin the Beguine", "Stardust", and "Frenesi".

Shaw was known for being an innovator in the big band idiom, at the time using unusual instrumentation. His piece "Interlude in B-flat" was one of the earliest examples of what would be later dubbed third stream. He hired Billie Holiday as his band's vocalist, becoming the first white bandleader to hire a full-time black female singer. His band became enormously successful and his playing, dismissed at first, was eventually recognised as at least equal to that of Benny Goodman: Longtime Duke Ellington clarinetist Barney Bigard—himself a talented musician--cited Shaw as his favorite clarinet player.

At the height of his popularity, Shaw reportedly earned US $30,000 per week, a very large amount during the depression. To get an idea of the amount George Burns and Gracie Allen, on who's show he appeared were each making US $5,000 per week at the time he made US $30,000 per week. Shaw appeared frequently on radio and at one point provided music for popular radio comedians George Burns & Gracie Allen. He acted on the show as an sometimes love interest for Gracie Allen but more often as the sarcastic band leader that had trouble with "Senor Lee," his South American guitar player who never could grasp English. Sort of a Spanish counterpoint to Gracie Allen

During World War II he enlisted in the U.S. Navy (along with his entire band) and served with them in the Pacific theater (similar to Glenn Miller's wartime band in Europe). He spent approximately 18 months playing for navy personnel, sometimes as many as four shows a day. He received a medical discharge.

Like many of the big bandleaders (Benny Goodman, for example), Shaw at one point fashioned a small group from within the band. He named it the Gramercy Five after his home telephone exchange. The quintet's sound was set apart by band pianist Johnny Guarneri playing a harpsichord on the quintet recordings, and Al Hendrickson playing an electric guitar. In time, the quintet would prove another of Shaw's breaking of racial boundaries, when trumpeter Roy Eldridge became part of the group, succeeding Billy Butterfield. The Gramercy Five's biggest hit was "Summit Ridge Drive"---named for Shaw's California address at the time---and a single CD, The Complete Gramercy Five sessions, was released in 1990.

Throughout his musical career, Shaw would take sabbaticals where he would quit the business. He credited his time in the navy as a period of renewed introspection. He began psychoanalysis and began to pursue a writing career. In 1954, Shaw stopped playing the clarinet, citing his own perfectionism, which, he later said, would have killed him. He spent the rest of the 1950s living in Europe. He focused on writing, concentrating on semi-biographical fiction. He wrote The Trouble With Cinderella and was working on The Education of Albie Snow when he died.

For the Marx Brothers' movie, The Big Store Shaw co-wrote the song, "If It's You." He also had a significant role in the Fred Astaire film Second Chorus which featured Shaw and his orchestra playing "Concerto For Clarinet".

A self-proclaimed "very difficult man", Shaw was married eight times; it became a national joke to have been "married as many times as Artie Shaw." Among his wives were Jane Cairns, Margaret Allen, Betty Kern (daughter of songwriter Jerome Kern), author Kathleen Winsor, and actresses Ava Gardner, Lana Turner, Doris Dowling and Evelyn Keyes. He had two children.

In 1946, Artie was present at a meeting of the Independent Citizens' Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions. Olivia de Haviland and Ronald Reagan, part of a core group of actors and artists who were trying to sway the organization away from communism, presented an anti-communist declaration which, if signed, would be run in newspapers. There was bedlam as many rose to champion the communist cause, and Artie Shaw began praising the democratic standards of the Soviet constitution [1].

In 1953, Shaw was brought up before the House Un-American Activities Committee for his leftist activities. The committee was investigating a peace activist organization, the World Peace Congress, which it considered a Communist front.

He was also a precision marksman, at one point ranking 4th in the United States.

In his later years, Shaw lived and wrote in the Newbury Park section of Thousand Oaks, California. In 1981, he organised a new Artie Shaw Band, with clarinetist Dick Johnson as band leader and soloist. Shaw himself would guest conduct from time to time, ending his self-imposed retirement.

In 1991, Artie Shaw's band library and manuscript collection was donated to The University of Arizona. In 2004, he was presented with a lifetime achievement Grammy Award.

Shaw had long suffered from adult onset diabetes and finally died of complications of the disease at age 94.

In 2005, Shaw's eighth and longest wife Evelyn Keyes (married 1957-1985, separated from 1970) sued Shaw's estate, claiming that she was entitled to one-half of Shaw's estate pursuant to a contract to make a will between them. In July 2006, a Ventura, California jury unanimously held that Keyes was entitled to almost one-half of Shaw's estate, or $1,420,000.
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