Artie Shaw and his orchestra
Shaw was, to his chagrin, more famous for adventures in matrimony (he has been married eight times) than in music, but he was probably the most cerebral of the big-band leaders. He proves it in this two-record collection, the latest installment of RCA’s prodigious swing-era reissue series. Most of the 31 tracks were recorded in the last half of 1941, after Shaw had made his greatest commercial hits and just before he joined the Navy. He was already showing signs of the show business fatigue that led him to quit altogether in 1955. He regarded demands by audiences that he repeatedly play his hits like Begin the Beguine as a form of slow torture. As a variant, he tried meshing large string sections with his band; the results were mixed. On some of these cuts, the strings make the band seem tediously staid. On other tunes, though, the contrast between the smooth flow of the string arrangements and the fluid urgency of the core jazz band created a special appeal. Shaw’s own clarinet solos are elegant and precise. This album also features trumpeter/vocalist Hot Lips Page on the extended version of St. James Infirmary Blues and the wonderful Take Your Shoes Off, Baby (and Start Runnin’ through My Mind). A young Lena Home is stylish even while singing two of the pop tunes Shaw disdained so, one of them the silly Love Me a Little Little. Inconsistency aside, this set is a worthwhile addition to any serious jazz library.