Artie Shaw and his “chamber-music group in a house packed with jitterbugs!”

April 12th, 2018

 

Artie Shaw

 

_____

 

     In an historic December 2, 1939 “rags to riches” piece in the Saturday Evening Post titled “Music is a Business,” Artie Shaw writes about his participation in what was billed as “New York’s…first Swing Concert” — presented at the Imperial Theater on May 24, 1936 — and how his formation of an unusual ensemble for the evening resulted in only short term opportunity, but ultimately led to wild success.

     “I had always felt that a string background for a hot clarinet would wed the best of sweet and swing as it was being interpreted at the moment,” Shaw wrote of the ensemble idea he had for the “Swing Concert” performance. “At least, it would be novel and might attract some attention. I convinced a string quartet the idea had merit…and…we went to work.”  Given that the evening’s performers prior to Shaw’s group were made up of “raucous and ear splitting” “brass…brass…and more brass,” he felt out of place —    “a chamber-music group in a house packed with jitterbugs!”

     The immediate reaction to their performance was, according to Shaw’s press agent at the time, “colossal,” resulting in “three major recording companies offered to put us on wax.”  Shaw also signed with a booking office “to develop a larger band using the same basic idea — string interludes and backgrounds against a jazz combination.” However, when the band hit the road, it “chalked up new box-office lows wherever it appeared.”

     “The dismal failure of the string band convinced me it was financial suicide to try to sell the public on anything novel without tremendous backing. My only chance was to get together the standard combination and beat the topnotchers at their own game.” Before finally doing so, Shaw would spend two years on the road, “playing every hamlet in New England and the Middle West, making 600-mile jumps overnight to earn a top fee of $250,” until he saw the band “shaping up,” getting “calls to return to towns we had already played. I felt safe in trying out innovations. They clicked. We dug up tunes like ‘Donkey Serenade’ and ‘Zigeuner’ — long relegated to dusty shelves — and audiences liked them.”

     Shaw’s entertaining piece can be read in its entirety by clicking here.

 

*

 

Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

In this issue, 25 noted critics, writers, musicians and artists answer the question, “What are some of your all-time favorite record album covers?”…Also, an interview with Romare Bearden biographer Mary Schmidt Campbell; ”And so we left for Paris” a short story by Sophie Jonas-Hill; two new podcasts by Bob Hecht (one on Paul Desmond, the other on Art Farmer); 18 poets contribute 20 poems to our March poetry collection; new jazz listening recommendations; and lots more…

“What are some of your all-time favorite record album covers?”

Gary Giddins, Jimmy Heath, Fred Hersch, Joe Hagan, Maxine Gordon, Neil Tesser, Tim Page, Veronica Swift and Marcus Strickland are among the 25 writers, musicians, poets, educators, and photographers who write about their favorite album cover art

Short Fiction

"And so we went to Paris," a short story by Sophie Jonas-Hill

Poetry

Eighteen poets contribute 20 poems in the March collection

Interviews

Romare Bearden biographer Mary Schmidt Campbell discusses the life of the important 20th century American artist

The Joys of Jazz

Two new podcasts from Bob Hecht -- on Paul Desmond, and Art Farmer

Poetry

“King Louis en le toilette” — a poem (and collage) by Steven Dalachinsky

On the Turntable

Recommended listening…Check out these 18 recently released jazz recordings by Branford Marsalis, Anna Maria Jopek, Ralph Alessi, Larry Grenadier, Jon Cowherd, Stephane Galland, Mathias Eick and the Jimbo Tribe

Art

“Thinking about Robert Johnson” — a photo narrative by Charles Ingham

Great Encounters #54

In this edition, Joe Hagan, author of STICKY FINGERS: .The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine, writes about how co-founders Wenner and legendary San Francisco music critic Ralph Gleason came upon the name for their revolutionary publication, Rolling Stone magazine.

Cover Stories with Paul Morris

In this edition, Paul writes about jazz album covers that offer glimpses into intriguing corners of the culture of the 1950’s

Coming Soon

An interview with Maxine Gordon, author of Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon

In the previous issue

The February, 2019 issue features an interview with Thomas Brothers, author of Help! The Beatles, Duke Ellington, and the Magic of Collaboration…Also, previous winners of the Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest reflect on their winning story; two new podcasts from Bob Hecht; a new collection of poetry; recommendations of recently release jazz recordings, and lots more…

Contributing writers

Site Archive