The story: The summer and fall of 1945 were challenging times for Artie Shaw, the bandleader. After an extensive cross-country tour with his band that lasted from late 1944 until March 15, 1945, he and his band returned to Hollywood, their base of operations. Shaw noticed that there was a marked decrease in demand for not only his band, but for all big bands.This large shift in the preferences of the public for dancing was precipitated by the end of World War II, and the return of young men who had put their lives on hold until their military service ended. Upon their return home, they moved in large numbers not to go dancing in ballrooms, or to see big bands in theaters, but to get married and start families. (At left: Artie Shaw, vocalist Imogene Lynn, and his four man trombone section: L-R: Pat McNaughton,Harry Rodgers,Ray Conniff and Charles Coolidge.This photo is one of many taken at a photo shoot at Shaw’s Beverly Hills home in the fall of 1944.)
Despite the fact that Shaw’s band was as tight and swinging as ever, that he was playing very well, and that new and exciting arrangements were coming into his band’s library, Artie and his band experienced a number of layoffs in the spring of 1945. They played a week at the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco starting on April 25, followed by a week at the Orpheum Theater in Oakland beginning on May 3. From then on, bookings became fewer. Shaw secured a contract to play at the Dorsey Brothers’ Casino Gardens Ballroom on the Santa Monica Pier for six consecutive weekends (Friday/Saturday/Sunday evenings), commencing on May 11. The other days of the week were open. In June, the band had a brief engagement in San Francisco, then a three-day weekend gig at the Pacific Square Ballroom in San Diego from June 29 through July 1. They then began playing weekends at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa for a spell. A great band and its virtuoso leader were being vastly underutilized. During layoff periods, many of Shaw’s sidemen played gigs in the greater Los Angeles area, and some made records. They were concerned about their future employment with Shaw. He told them to stick around, and that he would have a number of projects to keep the band going into the fall. Most of them, easterners who were used to long, cold winters, and hot humid summers, reveled in the balmy southern California endless summer, and did just that.
In terms of his personal life, Shaw seemed to rather enjoy the layoffs. He spent the layoff periods at his Beverly Hills home with his girlfriend (later wife) Ava Gardner, frequently entertaining personages from the world of letters including William Saroyan, Robert Benchley,[i] S.J. Perlman, John O’Hara, Gene Fowler, and Dorothy Parker. It seems that although Shaw had moved somewhat away from his earlier fascination with Hollywood and its denizens, a good many Hollywood folk still remained as his friends. Screenwriter John Wexley, comedian Phil Silvers, and lyricist Sammy Cahn were also frequent guests at 906 North Bedford Drive during this period. This curious duality would continue for the rest of Shaw’s life. Writer Frederic Morton, who met Shaw at a Manhattan hotel shortly after reviewing Shaw’s “autobiography” The Trouble With Cinderella, which was published in 1952, recalled: “We had lunch, talking about intellectual things – the relationship between theology and philosophy – and continued it in his room, surrounded by all these books. He escorts me to the elevator. It opens and there’s Paulette Goddard. She says ‘Darling’. He says ‘Darling’. All of a sudden he’s in the Hollywood universe – the body gestures, the big-time glamour boy meeting the glamour girl – switching in just one second. I was struck by how he inhabits worlds that are completely disparate, that have nothing to do with each other.”[ii] (Above right, L-R: Robert Siodmak, director of the film The Killers, talking with Artie Shaw in 1946. Actress Ava Gardner, who appeared in the film and was Shaw’s wife at the time, is in the middle.)
There were also disturbing developments at Victor Records. Shaw had recorded only a few current pop tunes with vocals since he resumed making records for Victor in the fall of 1944. He had instead been concentrating on impeccably arranged and played standards, and a few originals, almost all of which were instrumentals. Two experimental Eddie Sauter arrangements, on “Summertime” and “The Maid With the Flaccid Air,” were of sufficient length that they could be issued only on a 12 inch 78 rpm disk, something that cost both Victor Records and Shaw’s fans more money. Despite the high quality of the music Shaw was making on record, his magic rapport with the mainstream record buying public had, by 1945, been broken. The many events that had taken place in the record business since before World War II had changed the marketplace for popular music forever. As vocalists, rhythm and blues and country music made gains in the market for popular records, big bands suffered ongoing losses.
On top of all this, Eli Oberstein had returned to Victor after having only minimal success running his own recording company in the early 1940s. As a record producer (they were then called A&R men – A&R being an abbreviation for artist and repertoire), Oberstein had distinguished himself as a master of mediocrity, constantly imploring the Victor artists whose recording sessions he supervised to pander ever more deeply to public taste. He singlehandedly ran Bunny Berigan’s recording relationship with Victor into the ground. He also had gotten into a legal tussle with Shaw in 1939, which involved litigation and cost Artie $7,500.00 to resolve. (Multiply by at least ten to approximate the current value of dollars.) Since that dust-up, Artie Shaw had an intense dislike for Eli Oberstein.
Tensions began to appear in the recording studio. At the June 14 recording session, Shaw attempted for the fourth time to get a satisfactory take on Ray Conniff’s hard-swinging original “Lucky Number.” He was becoming frustrated. After a very exciting performance was recorded, Shaw was informed through the studio intercom that the take was too long, whereupon he exploded and said it would either be done his way or he would walk out. (The June 14 take was ultimately issued, and at two minutes and forty seconds is nowhere near being too long to fit on a ten-inch 78 rpm record. They could hold three minutes and forty three seconds of music.) The games had begun.
Throughout June and July of 1945, Artie Shaw and his band entered the Hollywood studios of RCA Victor Records on seventeen separate occasions. This was extremely unusual, but given the fact that Shaw wanted to remain near his home in Beverly Hills, it is understandable. Also, his band was working before audiences mostly only on weekends. Thus they had plenty of time on weekdays to make records.[iii] It is also possible that Shaw was attempting to fulfill his contract with Victor (if that contract required him to make a certain number of sides) as soon as possible. By late July, he was embroiled in open warfare with Eli Oberstein, and their disagreement began to be reported in the trade press after Shaw’s final Victor session, one with the Gramercy Five, on August 2. It is not clear whether Shaw’s contract with Victor continued after August 2. Whether it did or didn’t, he would make no more records for Victor.
Shaw and Eli Oberstein exchanged barbs in the trade press. At the time Shaw left Victor, he, along with Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey, was one of Victor’s largest selling artists. Despite this, Victor held back many of the recordings Shaw had made with his 1944-45 band. Some were released in very small quantities throughout the late 1940s, with little or no promotion by Victor, others were never issued at all until the LP era. One of the most successful relationships between a recording artist and a record company in American musical history had come to an acrimonious end.
Shaw’s difficulty in getting work for his band continued throughout this period. Aside from a series of Saturday night appearances at the Casa Manana in Los Angeles which began on September 15, the band was idle. Now there were no more Victor recording sessions, no more theater engagements. The final appearance on radio by this band was on November 7, when they were featured on a Fitch Bandwagon broadcast emanating from an NBC studio in Los Angeles. Four tunes were performed by the band: “S’Wonderful,” “Night and Day,” “Let’s Walk”, and “My Man,” with a vocal by Cass Dailey. These recordings show that the band and Artie were in great form.
The band’s final live gig was at the New Meadowbrook Ballroom in the Culver City section of Los Angeles. It ran until November 18, whereupon Shaw disbanded. But Shaw’s reason (apparently) for keeping the band together since early August emerged while the band was playing at the New Meadowbrook: he wanted to make some more records with it. On November 13-14, he took the band into Radio Recorders studio at 7000 Santa Monica Blvd. and recorded it at his own expense. Six masters were made including “Let’s Walk,” a smoking blues original by arranger George Siravo, which features some particularly potent Shaw clarinet. (George Siravo is pictured at left in the summer of 1937 as a member of Glenn Miller’s reed section. To his left is Irving Fazola.)
[i] Some of Shaw’s sidemen also had time to make records away from the Shaw band. One such session, made on June 7 for the Atomic label, was led by Barney Kessel, and produced some very good music. The personnel included Shaw’s entire rhythm section, his tenor saxophonist Herbie Steward, and the vibraphonist Johnny White. The group’s sound makes one wonder what would have happened if Shaw had used different instruments and originals by his sidemen in his Gramercy Five.
[ii] Robert Benchley (September 15, 1889-November 21, 1945) had been featured with Artie Shaw and his band in 1939 on the Old Gold Melody and Madness radio show. It was there that Artie Shaw met him, and their friendship began. The public was largely baffled by Benchley’s humor, and eventually he left the radio show. Later, Shaw was fired by the show’s sponsors after he gave an interview in the fall of 1939, wherein he stated that jitterbugs were “morons.”
[iii] Artie Shaw’s Solo Beat, by Cliff Rothman, Vanity Fair, June, 1999, page 228.
Here is Artie Shaw’s recording of “Let’s Walk.”
Composed and arranged by George Siravo.
Recorded by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra on November 13-14, 1945 in Los Angeles.(*)
Artie Shaw, clarinet, directing: Paul Cohen, first trumpet; Bernie Glow, George Schwartz and Ray Linn, trumpets; Ollie Wilson, first trombone; Gus Dixon, Bob Swift, Harry Rodgers, trombones; Lou Prisby, first alto saxophone; Rudy Tanza, alto saxophone; Ralph Rosenlund and Herbie Steward, tenor saxophones; Chuck Gentry, baritone saxophone; Michael “Dodo” Marmarosa, piano; Barney Kessel, guitar; Morris Rayman, bass; Lou Fromm, drums.
The music: This is a romping blues. After a bright introduction, the Shaw band gets down to the business of swinging with the Harmon muted trumpets playing the minimalist melody against a strong rhythmic pulse and surging saxophones. Bassist Morrie Rayman provides a powerful walking bass foundation. Notice how Artie uses his clarinet to add brightness here and there to the reeds. A brief open brass fanfare brings Shaw’s solo clarinet on. To say that Shaw’s playing here is sweepingly authoritative and passionately swinging would not be an overstatement. He does what the best jazz improvisers always do: he builds his solo (over three choruses) into a soaring climax. Trumpeter Ray Linn follows with his own strong two chorus solo. His use of his upper register is particularly effective, as is his full, throaty open trumpet sound. Note how arranger George Siravo uses the brass and reeds behind Linn. The band and Shaw split another chorus, and the Harmon muted trumpets and answering reeds return, leading into the finale.
(*) This recording session was produced by Artie Shaw. He used the resulting six recordings to secure a one-year recording contract with Musicraft Records, a new (and unfortunately short-lived) label.
This recording was sonically restored and digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.