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Artie Shaw: A Musical Biography and Discography by Vladimir Simosko

Sixty years ago, Artie Shaw’s name carried even more cachet in the world of popular entertainment than do the names of top film stars and rock performers today. Tellingly, though, he was neither an actor nor a singer, but a brilliant clarinetist and the leader of one of the top swing bands in the world, a superstar whose handsome face and glamorous persona made him the idol of millions. But Shaw openly despised the furor that his live performances generated and occasionally, to dramatic effect, defected from show biz, much to the chagrin of his many admirers. This was his life’s most distasteful period, for underneath the glamorous facade his fans had created was a serious, sensitive, creative artist who just wanted to make good music.

Among Shaw’s eight beautiful wives, four were popular Hollywood actresses, the most well-known being Lana Turner and Ava Gardner, and the celebrity novelist Kathleen Winsor. But, typically, the stories of his romances garnered far more press than any mention of his artistic goals or literary interests, which even then were widening the gulf between him and his associates. Even at the height of his fame, he repeatedly broke up his bands and ran away from the “business,” hoping to flee the whirlwind of popularity and artistic frustrations that surrounded him. The escape he sought was found in solitary retreat, where he could immerse himself in an eclectic assortment of studies rarely even considered by other jazzmen, much less his mindless public.

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