TERRE HAUTE -- The "Artie Shaw Orchestra" will make a stop at The Indiana Theatre today on a national tour celebrating the 100th anniversary of the famed Big Band Leader's Birth.
The sad fact is that Artie Shaw almost lived to see this event, having passed away just six years ago at the age of 94. After a self-imposed exile from performances begun in 1954, he did revive the band in 1981 and it continues to tour the world today, carrying the true "Artie Shaw Sound" to thousands every year.
By any measure, Artie was a true Renaissance man. Composer, arranger, bandleader, musician, mathematician, author, activist, war veteran, actor, Oscar nominee, expert fly fisherman and precision marksman, his 94 years were indeed remarkable.
At the height of his career he earned $60,000 per week and was a multi-millionaire at the time of his death.
Artie was the first white bandleader to hire a full-time black female singer, Billie Holiday, and then proceeded to tour the then segregated south.
Artie appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1953 after working with Ronald Reagan and Olivia de Havilland to sway Hollywood away from communism.
Born Arthur Jacob Arshawsky in New York City, he spent his formative years in New Haven Connecticut. Starting with the saxophone at age 13, he switched to the clarinet at 16, and then began touring with a band, returning to New York as a session musician during the early 1930s.
By 1935, he had his first band, and first hit, "Interlude in B-flat," "Begin the Beguine" came in 1938, followed by "Stardust," "Back Bay Shuffle," "Moonglow," "Rosealie" and "Frenesi," just to name but a few of the songs that made him famous.
Despite a string of hits that sold more than a million records, Artie was more intrigued with musical exploration and innovation.
His fusing of jazz and classical formed, what he called, "Chamber Jazz."
His writing for the harpsichord for his "Gramercy Five" group and utilizing elements from the Afro-Cuban music genre produced sounds never before heard in an orchestra, electrifying the entire jazz world.
Artie enlisted in the Navy at the height of World War II, formed a band and played throughout the Pacific Theatre. He and his band played in battle zones, including Guadalcanal, sometimes four concerts a day, and most were cut short by incoming fire.
After the war, Artie performed with the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Leonard Bernstein at Carnegie Hall, then back on tour. Touring, recording, movie scores and roles, then TV, Artie was as busy, and as popular as before the war. But in 1954, he stopped performing and moved to Europe until the early 1960s. Walking away from a million-dollar enterprise Artie said, "Tell them I'm insane. A nice, American boy walking away from a million dollars, wouldn't you call that insane?"
But he did have royalties rolling in and he was a shrewd businessman throughout the many years on the road.
Artie's personal theme, the morose "Nightmare," with its Hassidic themes, was used in Martin Scorsese's award winning film "The Aviator," as well as by BBC radio for the theme of "Phillip Marlowe." His original recording of "Stardust" was used in its entirety by the film "The Man Who Fell to Earth."
His fans dubbed him "King of the Clarinet" in response to Benny Goodman's nickname, "King of Swing." "Benny played the clarinet, I played music." Artie quipped about the title.
In 1994, Artie told the New York Times, "I thought that because I was Artie Shaw I could do what I wanted, but all they wanted to hear was 'Begin the Beguine.'"
But he still played the music people loved, meanwhile exploring music to its very limits of existence.
The Artie Shaw legacy continues under the care and direction of Rich Chiarluce, who grew up in Artie's hometown of New Haven. Rich also played in the Navy Band, just as Artie did.
Presently, he is clarinet soloist, and leader and musical director for this 100th Anniversary tour.
"Performing the great solo arias of Artie Shaw is truly musical Heaven on Earth."