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Why Artie Shaw Fell Silent

- Abstract

Why Artie Shaw Fell Silent Terry Teachout Artie Shaw, the clarinetist and band leader who died in January at the age of ninety-four, was the last surviving giant of the Swing Era, the decade-long interlude (1935-45) during which American popular music was dominated by the medium-sized instrumental ensembles known as “big bands” that played jazz and jazz-flavored dance music.

Shaw’s hit record of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine,” made in 1938, established him overnight as one of the most successful bandleaders of the day—his group rivaled and occasionally surpassed in popularity that of his fellow clarinetist Benny Goodman—as well as an innovative soloist whose playing was regarded by many musicians as superior in certain respects to Goodman’s. He also became a celebrity of a very different kind, a glamorous, much-publicized ladies’ man who was married (and divorced) eight times and whose wives included the film stars Ava Gardner and Lana Turner. Yet his passing, though marked by lengthy obituaries in newspapers across America, surely came as a surprise to many readers who recalled his music with fondness but assumed that the man who made it had died long ago.

About the Author

Terry Teachout is COMMENTARY’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street JournalSatchmo at the Waldorf, his first play, runs through November 4 at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.