Happy Birthday, Artie Shaw!

Today marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of one of the giants of big band swing, Artie Shaw.

Born Arthur Jacob Arshawsky in New York City, Shaw, who grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, was said to be a cantankerous, difficult sort of fellow who never really was satisfied with the music he was expected to play. The demands of stardom reined him in. As he put it in a 1994 profile in The New York Times, “I thought that because I was Artie Shaw I could do what I wanted, but all they wanted was ‘Begin the Beguine.'”

Well, heck, yes, we want Begin the Beguine! It’s one of the greatest recordings of the big band era. But we can see how a musician—any artist, really—can begin to feel creatively stifled by the expectations of fans and the press. But it’s sad that Shaw appears to have found little joy in the music he created, the music that has brought so much pleasure to the rest of us.

Heck, even Shaw’s theme song, which he composed, went against the joyful grain that characterized most swing music. It’s called Nightmare, and it is aptly named. Imagine being a swing fan in the late 1930s and getting the chance to take in a show by one of your favorite orchestras and having them open the show with that unsettling number!

Shaw retired repeatedly throughout his career, finally giving up the clarinet for good in 1954 (I wonder if he ever dreamed at the time he would live another half-century), and the reason he offered was his own perfectionism. “In the world we live in, compulsive perfectionists finish last,” Shaw told Michael Freedland in 2001. “You have to be Lawrence Welk, or, on another level, Irving Berlin, and write the same kind of music over and over again. I’m not able to do that.”

Here’s hoping Shaw found some peace in the fifty years he lived mostly apart from music. For the rest of us, we have the many records he left us, which amount to as a great a legacy as virtually any other musician from that era.

We’re featuring Shaw’s music all day today, so why not tune in right now?

Happy Birthday, Benny Goodman!

Benny Goodman, one of the true giants of American music, was born 106 years ago today.

Known as The King of Swing, Goodman is best remembered as one of the greats of the swing era in the late 1930s and ‘40s, but he began playing professionally way back in the early ‘20s. He can be heard as part of the ensemble in some of the greatest records of the 1920s and early ‘30s.

We had the great pleasure of seeing him perform at Carnegie Hall on June 25, 1982. We’d moved to New York City just four days before, and we had no business spending the money it would cost to get a ticket, but this was just the sort of opportunity that had inspired us to relocate to the Big Apple, the chance to experience the best the world has to offer in every artistic discipline. To be in the same room with the likes of Mr. Goodman and the musicians who graced the stage with him that night—Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Panama Francis, and Phil Flanigan—as they shared their estimable gifts with the audience in that historic hall.

That was what New York meant to us then; it still does today.

After the show, we ran over to Colony Records near Times Square to buy a Benny Goodman album, with the intent of waiting by the backstage door and asking him to sign it when he came out.

That meant waiting several hours for the evening’s second show to end, but we stuck it out. Why we didn’t go find a coffee shop and have some dinner, we don’t recall. We probably thought there would be a mob of people awaiting Mr. Goodman’s appearance and figured we’d better stake out our spot as close to the stage door as possible.

But when he finally exited the Hall, there weren’t more than eight or ten people there, and he wasted no time in whisking right by every last one of us to duck into a waiting limousine.

It was disappointing, of course, that he didn’t stop to interact at least briefly with us, but hey, we can say we got to see Benny Goodman perform at Carnegie Hall and how many people can say that? What’s more, we stood not three feet from him as he exited the building and made his way home. So no regrets at all on our part, even if our LP went unsigned and our hands went unshaken.

Happy birthday, Mr. Goodman, and thanks for a wonderful evening.

Benny Goodman quote

Long may she wave

There’s something about knowing an icon of the past is still with us that warms the ol’ Cladrite cockles. It doesn’t matter if the person is no longer churning out records or movies or books — being reminded of the very fact that they’re still around is sufficient to make all seem right with the world, for just a little while.

The opposite holds true, too, of course. We remember all too well how empty life seemed after the passing of one of our personal favorites, Groucho Marx, back in 1977, and the loss of Jimmy Stewart and Robert Mitchum, just a few days apart in 1997, felt like a double punch to the gut. There was just something better about a world with those guys in it, and we took their passing pretty hard.

So, why not take a moment today to celebrate the fact that Ms. Patty Andrews, of the irreplaceable Andrews Sisters, is not only still with us, she is, in fact, celebrating her 92nd birthday today.

Regular listeners know that we frequently play Andrews Sisters recordings on Cladrite Radio, but we’re sharing one of our favorites of their hits below, so you can give it a listen and raise a toast — a rum and Coca-Cola might be a good choice of beverage — to the birthday gal.

Beat Me, Daddy (Eight to the Bar) — The Andrews Sisters