Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Artie Shaw would have been 100 Sunday, May 23, 2010.
Artie Shaw would have been 100 Sunday, May 23, 2010. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Imagine this: in that brief period of 20th-century American history when jazz was mainstream pop music, several of the most prominent men in show business anywhere were white clarinet players who led big bands. And in saying "prominent," we mean folks like Artie Shaw, remembered as much in the music magazines as in the TMZ and supermarket tabloids of his day.
A rags to riches musician, his relentlessly creative temperament so abutted his fame that he left music altogether for long periods at a time. When he was making music, he was making national hits, hiring Billie Holiday to play with his all-white band in the Southern U.S., and dating (and yes, marrying) actresses, plural. In time for the 100th anniversary of Artie Shaw's birth — that would be today — biographer Tom Nolan has written a new biography on Shaw called Three Chords For Beauty's Sake. For a more concise introduction, we at NPR offer these features on the clarinetist's storied career: