Artie Shaw was an American jazz clarinetist, composer and bandleader. He started out playing the saxophone when he was 13, but by age 16 had switched to the clarinet, the instrument for which he became famous. During the 1930s he played as a session musician in New York City, and eventually put together his own big band that rivaled that of contemporary Benny Goodman in popularity. With Benny Goodman already laying claim to the title “King of Swing”, Artie Shaw became known as the “King of Clarinet”, although Shaw argued that the titles should have been reversed.
Artie Shaw was known to be a musical innovator, experimenting with unusual instrumentation, incorporating Afro-Cuban rhythms, and especially breaking away from the patterns of traditional big band dance music. Dancers wanting to express the breaks and accents in a piece of music often latch onto repeated themes and recognizable riffs and patterns. Artie Shaw tried to keep dancers on their toes by mixing up the riffs in less predictable ways…a way to challenge all but the best dancers.
Indeed, I remember that two of my early swing dance instructors, Kevin and Carla, loved performing to music by Artie Shaw as well as playing his music in classes…precisely because the unpredictability and surprise element in his music made it challenging and fun to dance to.
Artie Shaw was quite prolific, so I’m not going to list all my favorite songs, but here are two sets of music that you might like:
Mellower Tunes with a Nice Steady Beat:
- Begin the Beguine
- Softly as a Morning Sunrise
High-Energy & Fast Lindy Tunes
- Traffic Jam
- Diga Diga Doo*
- Lady Be Good*
- Man From Mars*
- All the Cats Join In
* indicates tunes that I’ve performed to at one time or another.
Here’s a great Lindy Hop routine that’s danced to a splice of All the Cats Join in and Traffic Jam.
And a great Artie Shaw album on Amazon.com to help you jump start your collection: