Half Notes: Artie Shaw – More Last Recordings (1993)

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Even if he wouldn’t have established so many jazz standards, Artie Shaw would have still been famous for his blaze-of-glory exit. He walked out of the Cafe Rouge at the Hotel Pennsylvania in the 1950s, mid-gig, and took off for Mexico. Never played another note. And he said he never wanted to, even when he felt music had gone to the dogs. Take the Beatles. Shaw, in 1971, said: “Basie has done more. Ellington has done more. I did more. Goodman did more. We did something musically.” That early exit, however, may have ensured that Shaw’s legacy would be more difficult to square up alongside the aforementioned greats, giving last recordings like this greater import.

What power and reserve they had, in particular the brillant Gramercy Five, the first incarnation of which is represented here by the blues “Summit Ridge Drive,” featuring this bright blast of bop by guitarist Tal Farlow. The final Shaw band also featured the sensitive, knowing piano backing of Hank Jones. More Last Recordings includes several Shaw warhorses — among them, “Stardust,” “How High the Moon” and “Begin the Beguine,” his biggest hit — yet the two-CD set never seemed rote. The reason is two-fold: Nothing was written down for the sessions, so the tunes have an edgy improvisational feel throughout. Too, Shaw did some deft reworking of the arrangements and heads. Another surprise is the consistently strong work of Tommy Porter, barely heard on earlier records he made with alto legend Charlie Parker.

Half Notes is a quick-take music feature on Something Else! Reviews, presented whenever the mood strikes us.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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