Artie Shaw and his music has been getting some renewed, and deserved attention these days. Some think he was better than Benny Goodman (I don’t). Ventura County Star reporter Charles Levin, himself a jazz musician (drums), provides an insightful profile of the Newbury Park resident.
The renewed attention started with a 1999 Vanity Fair profile, detailing his life in music and notorious sexual exploits (Shaw’s eight wives included Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, Kathleen Winsor, Betty Kern, Doris Dowling and Evelyn Keyes). Reporters from National Public Radio, the nation’s newspapers and music trade media have all made the pilgrimage to Shaw’s home in the wake of the CD’s release.
And why not? Shaw, who turned 92 in May, is the last icon of the big-band era, having outlived Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers, Bunny Berrigan and Glenn Miller, whom Shaw decries as the Lawrence Welk of jazz. But comparing Shaw to those bandleaders is like comparing Philip Roth to Danielle Steel.
I agree that Miller was the N’SYNC of his day, but Shaw’s later comments knocking Goodman are off base. Why was Goodman better than Shaw? Because Goodman packed more emotional punch. He was both silkier and more melodic. Besides, Shaw never came close to touching something like “Live at Carnegie Hall.”