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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, Marc Bridle, John Eyles, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke

    Highlights from
    Self portrait
    Bluebird 09026 – 63845 –2
  1. Nightmare
  2. Free Wheeling
  3. Any Old Time
  4. Carioca
  5. Frenesi
  6. Star Dust
  7. There’ll be some Changes Made
  8. Two in One Blues
  9. Bedford Drive
  10. Summertime
  11. Begin the Beguine
  12. Afro-Cubana
  13. Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
  14. Scuttlebutt

This is a selection from a five CD boxed set [review to come] and if the whole thing is as good as this sample, it would be a good acquisition for any serious collector.

Artie Shaw or Arthur Arshawsky, which was his real name, had everything, he was a brilliant clarinet and saxophone player, who paid his dues by playing lead alto in other peoples bands to gain experience. He was extremely good looking, which no doubt helped to attract a whole series of film star partners. He was also blessed with a rare musical ability, to be able to change his style to whatever was the current vogue and sound as though ha had always played that way!

The opening track ‘Nightmare’ was Artie’s signature tune, most bandleaders of the time had up-beat bouncy swingers as openers, this one is dark and brooding befitting the title. ‘Free Wheeling’ has a vocal from Leo Watson. The next track, one of the best on the album, features Lady Day, Billie Holiday singing ‘Any Old Time’. Shaw was obviously a man of some integrity, as few had the guts to feature a black singer with a white band in those times. It is a classic Holiday track. Carioca has the excellent clarinet of Shaw and the added boost of a young drummer, Buddy Rich no less. There is also some nice Trumpet from Hot Lips Page in ‘There’ll Be Some Changes Made’. The classic ‘Begin the Beguine’ put Shaw on the road to international fame, he followed it up with Frenesi another No1 hit. The version of Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust is a superb example of Shaw’s excellent clarinet technique, not even the incomparable Goodman had such enviable control in the high register.

By 1949 Be-Bop had arrived and Shaw took the new order in his stride in a manner few of his contemporaries could master. ‘Afro-Cubana’ is an example from the 49 band, which included the likes of Al Cohn and Zoot Sims.

Tracks 13 and 14 saw the return of Artie Shaw to his Gramercy Five format, which he often went to in between big bands. With Hank Jones on piano and Tal Farlow on Guitar this combo could not fail to excite. Shortly after completing his work with what was probably his best small band, Shaw put his clarinet in its case and never played again. Fortunately a record such as this enables us to remember just what a brilliant instrumentalist he was.

Don Mather

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