Shaw’s five decades of silence is mystery

Shaw's five decades of silence is mystery by Bob Karolevitz As far as I'm concerned, there'll never be another Artie Shaw.

At the risk of dating myself, he could play things with his clarinet like no other � and that includes Benny Goodman, Pete Fountain, Jerry Wald and lots of unnamed musicians I've never heard.

Artie's real name was Arthur Jacob Arshawsky; and he died, at age 94, on Dec. 30, 2004. Apparently he hadn't touched his horn for half a century.

Why did he quit when he was only 44 years old and at the height of his popularity? We'll never really know.

Was it because he hated playing the same thing over and over again? Or that he loathed the teen-aged fans who danced to his music and gathered enthralled at the bandstand to hear each magnificent note that came from his clarinet?

But quit he did! Then he retired to upstate New York to read and to write. But why?

His books never received the acclaim he achieved with his magical horn. As a matter of fact, I don't know of a single title of his, but I can still hum, note for note, his classic rendition of Star Dust some 60 years after I first heard it in The Jungle at South Dakota State College in Brookings.

We jitterbugged to his tunes in the Bunny Ballroom of the new Union Building, too; and I can recall the haunting melodies of Begin of Beguine and Perfidia as though it were yesterday.

I don't understand why a talent like his had to be self-destroyed. Could it be that he despised his work so much?

Shucks, I still keep my clarinet out in my office; and I even wooed Phyllis with my horn over the telephone with my version of Shaw's Frenesi more than five decades ago.

(However, I have long since given up the thought that I ever could play like him � though the guys of the Poker Alice Band, with whom I have played a few times, said I sounded okay.)

Artie joined the Navy in World War II and headed a band which included Claude Thornhill, but he never received the recognition which Glenn Miller got. For that I salute his memory.

And I have since forgiven him for marrying eight girls (including Ava Gardner and Lana Turner). He probably won them with his clarinet � like I did Phyllis � but he couldn't keep them. I wonder why?

Despite his awful marriage record, he's probably in heaven with Goodman now. I'm wondering, though, will his contempt for the music business keep him from picking up his horn to play a duet with the King of Swing?

Or will be organize the Seraphim with their harps into another Gramercy Five to harmonize in fourths and fifths like he wanted to do had he still been playing?

I had more guts than talent when it came to the clarinet, but Artie Shaw had both. He could put down his horn and walk away from one of the most promising music careers which was his for the asking. Or playing.

I wonder if I could � but then I'll never know!

© 2005 Robert F. Karolevitz

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