The material on CD 1 dates from the latter half of Artie Shaw’s career as a bandleader, which ended with his retirement in 1954. Always presenting tasteful and often unusually deep interpretations of big-band jazz and dance music, and featuring his exquisite and frequently profound clarinet improvisations, Shaw’s career climaxed in his rise to superstar status as the most popular musician in North America at the height of the Swing Era in 1939.
Conversing with Artie Shaw – as Loren Schoenberg and I did in preparation for annotating these further treasures from his last recordings – is an exhilarating experience. This is because this master of the clarinet excels at making connections. Just as he always knew how to get from one note the next in such a way that the result was a cohesive statement – a story, as jazz musicians used to put it – he knows how to link one idea to another, to make allusions, to place things in context, within a frame of reference that ranges wide and far. Artie Shaw always told a story when he played, and he had that sound – immediately, unmistakably identifiable as his and his alone. It is a treat to hear him tell us some timeless stories we hadn’t heard before. Dan Morgenstern.
These marvellous performances are culled from Artie Shaw’s final recordings as an instrumentalist. It is crystal clear that he retired at the height of his powers. Throughout these pieces, his playing is a joy to the ear and the mind, and his unique sound on the clarinet has seldom if ever been better captured. Shaw was still in his prime as a leader as well: this last Gramercy Five was a collective of the first order with a sound and style of its own, attuned to the times but never falling into the trap of trendiness.