Three Chords for Beauty’s Sake: The Life of Artie Shaw by Tom Nolan - review by Christopher Bray

Christopher Bray

Egotism In C Major

Three Chords for Beauty’s Sake: The Life of Artie Shaw


W W Norton & Co 430pp £23

In August 2003, a year or so before his death at the age of ninety-four, Artie Shaw was awarded the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal for his ‘lifetime achievement and contributions to American culture and music’. In return, Shaw donated to the Smithsonian two clarinets. One of these was the Selmer with which he had recorded the song that had made his name and changed jazz for ever: the 1938 version of Cole Porter’s hitherto all but unknown ‘Begin the Beguine’. What, a member of the audience at the post-awards Q & A wanted to know, marked that clarinet out from the pack? ‘There’s nothing special about it,’ came the reply. ‘It was me.’

And there you have him. No one who has listened to his playing could dissent from the view that Artie Shaw was inimitably eloquent with a clarinet. Alas, as Tom Nolan’s centennial biography demonstrates, Shaw was never willing to let his music do his talking. Not content with

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