“Guajira” (1949) Artie Shaw/Morton Gould/Hershey Kaye

“Guajira”

Composed by Morton Gould; arranged by Hershey Kaye.

Recorded by Artie Shaw with an orchestra conducted by Walter Hendl for Columbia Records on March 11,1949 in Liederkranz Hall, New York.

The story:

Many aspects of Artie Shaw’s career in music have received considerable critical comment over the years. His foray into “classical music” (a term he disliked and I dislike(A), has not been one of them.

After Shaw completed his one year commitment to Musicraft Records in November of 1946, he left music until approximately January of 1949. Although Vladimir Simosko, the author of a Shaw bio-discography, reported that there is some information in the files of the Denver Symphony Orchestra indicating that Shaw appeared with that orchestra on July 26, 1947 and July 6, 1948, those files contain no further information, and Shaw himself did not remember appearing there on those dates.(1) What is certain is that Shaw had married popular novelist (Forever Amber) Kathleen Winsor on October 28, 1946 in Juarez, Mexico;(2) finished recording (in Los Angeles) for Musicraft on November 9, 1946; honeymooned in Mexico until shortly before the end of the year; and returned to the East, where he and Ms. Winsor set up housekeeping in Norwalk, Connecticut, by the beginning of 1947. Shaw was reported in the January 1, 1947 issue of Down Beat as retiring from public performance, devoting himself to writing – “books, not music.”(3) (At right: Artie Shaw and his new bride Kathleen Winsor in a deserted Manhattan restaurant on a winter afternoon in early 1947. Characteristically, Shaw is the one doing the talking.)

Shaw and Winsor came to an acrimonious parting within a year after they were married. Artie, who usually made only bland comments about his former spouses, had only vitriol for Winsor. His comments about her border on the obscene, so I will not repeat them here. Did he think he might become a better writer if he married someone who had penned a best-seller? (B)

It is apparent that Shaw began working on various classical projects early in 1949, if not sooner. The little that remains from his classical period includes one superlative set of recordings in excellent high-fidelity sound which he made in the spring of 1949 for Columbia  Records. This set was initially issued on 78 rpm singles grouped together in an album, and later issued on an extremely rare Columbia LP (ML4260) entitled: Artie Shaw: Modern Music for Clarinet.  Also remaining  are a few off-the-air or otherwise “live” recordings.

The recordings that made up Modern Music for Clarinet remained out of print for approximately 55 years. When asked by me in 1998 about when they might be reissued, Mr. Shaw was evasive. I later found out that Shaw did not own the masters, and Columbia, who did, had no plans for a reissue. I was therefore forced to continue listening to a dub of the original LP, which was terribly worn and loaded with scratches and pops. I was surprised and delighted when Hep Records reissued those recordings in 2004 (CD 78) as a part of a collection entitled The Artistry of Artie Shaw. The sound on the Hep reissues is not as good as it could be because Hep worked from a less than perfect source for these recordings. Still, this CD is extremely worthwhile, and since it is the only current source for the Modern Music for Clarinet recordings, it is essential for any serious Shaw fan.(4)

The bulk of the performances that were issued on Modern Music for Clarinet were recorded, incredibly, on one day, March 11, 1949. Shaw, playing brilliant, inspired clarinet, performed the following selections with a small orchestra conducted by Walter Hendl:  “Valse,” (Poulenc); “Piece en Forme de Habanera,” (Ravel); “Guajira” (Gould) (5); “Corcovado,” (Milhaud);  “A Short Story,” (Kabalevsky);  “Petite Piece,” (Debussy);  “Prelude No. 17,” (Shostakovitch); and “Andaluza,(Granados). All of these pieces were transcribed and arranged by Hershey Kaye for performance by Shaw except the Ravel, which was transcribed/arranged by Arthur Hoeree. (The Hoeree arrangement was recorded again in 1986, with Branford Marsalis playing the solo part on a soprano saxophone, and issued by Columbia on a CD entitled: Branford Marsalis – Romances for Saxophone (MK 42122). Shaw was highly critical of the idea of performing this piece on a soprano saxophone: “That’s terrible. That piece is far too delicate for such a coarse instrument. I’ve played soprano; the range is OK, but the tone quality doesn’t suit Ravel’s writing and tonal textures. Maybe flute or violin would work, but soprano sax is wrong.”) (6)

Almost 50 years after those recordings were made, Shaw explained his approach to these pieces of music: Most of them “…were not written for clarinet. The Poulenc was not written for clarinet. The Ravel was written for coloratura soprano and orchestra. The Debussy was used by Debussy for students who were (attempting to gain admission) to the Conservatoire in Paris when he was running it. We transcribed these pieces for clarinet. I (also) got Morton Gould to write a nice little piece in 7/4 time called ‘Guajira.'”(7)

Ravel’s “Habanera” contains harmonies characteristic of that master’s work. They evoke a gray winter afternoon in the Basque region of Spain, home of his mother’s family.  Kabalevsky’s “A Short Story” is a deeply melancholy piece, the kind Shaw always interpreted beautifully, without sentimentality. Milhaud’s “Corcovado,” quirky but substantial, is set against subtle Latin rhythms. The magic spell of Debussy is cast in his “Petite Piece,” with its rich harmonies and simple, evocative melody.  “Andaluza,” by Granados is yet another piece with Iberian overtones. Here the music suggests a stormy day in Spain. Shostakovich’s “Prelude No. 17” is played at a slow tempo. It contains simple backgrounds against which Shaw’s stunningly beautiful clarinet sound is presented to great advantage. Finally, Poulenc’s “Valse” contains a simple melody which evokes images of small children skipping about in play. From a musical standpoint, these selections are unqualified successes. The arrangements are exceptionally well crafted, the orchestra performs them with feeling and understanding, and Shaw’s playing is magnificent, even by his own vaunted standards.

Comments about Morton Gould’s composition “Guajira” appear below.

The remaining selections on Modern Music for Clarinet were recorded in another extremely productive session, on May 31,1949. The titles: “The Man I Love,” “I Concentrate on You,” “Mood in Question,” and “Rendezvous for Clarinet and Strings.” The first two selections are superb standards from the great American Songbook. They have Shaw’s clarinet accompanied by a small orchestra of strings, French horns, and woodwinds, plus jazzmen Gene di Novi on piano, Arnold Fishkin, bass, and Irv Kluger, drums. Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” had been recorded twice previously by Shaw, in 1939 and 1945. This version is arranged by Hershey Kay. It is performed beautifully, and spots Shaw playing with no discernable vibrato, and probing about harmonically.  His interpretation is rather cold and unsettling to those who almost always found his music to be suffused with warmth, myself included. For this reason, this version of “The Man I Love” remains as one of the few anomalies in Shaw’s recorded canon. Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate on You” had never been recorded by Shaw. This arrangement is by Alan Schulman, who, according to Shaw, “played cello in Toscanini’s symphony orchestra.” The mood of “I Concentrate on You,” with Shaw employing the same devices as on “The Man I Love,” is nevertheless decidedly warmer, and gently swinging.  Shaw’s approach on “I Concentrate on You” seems to foreshadow what he would do in the early 1950s on some of his Decca recordings.

The final two pieces to be recorded for the Modern Music for Clarinet project, “Mood in Question” and “Rendezvous for Clarinet and Strings,” are original composition/arrangements by Alan Schulman designed to show off Shaw’s clarinet virtuosity. On these, he is accompanied by a harp and the New Music String Quartet. “Mood in Question” is an extremely intimate piece which begins at a leisurely tempo with the richly blended strings playing against the harp, which provides a chordal base as well as a gentle rhythmic pulse. In the first phase of the piece, Shaw enters, playing relaxedly. Then the harp moves the performance into its next phase, where he plays a bit more intensely, but still very warmly.  The final phase is begun by a lovely string interlude; Shaw’s playing here is in the woody sounding lower register of his clarinet, a region he seldom explored in his jazz playing. The piece moves gracefully to a quiet close. “Rendezvous for Clarinet and Strings” also opens with the strings, but here they set a rather somber mood at a slow tempo. The clarinet arrives at the rendezvous bringing about a contrast in both mood and tempo. Shaw’s jaunty, happy playing here suggests his playing on the “Pied Piper Theme,” music he composed earlier to accompany a radio production of the well-known children’s fairy tale, and later played often with his Gramercy Five.  Soon, the somber mood returns, and in this phase, the harp provides a strong rhythmic pulse, much like a bass would in a jazz setting. Here Shaw’s ensemble playing, always one of the most impressive facets of his musicianship (7), is much in evidence. The piece closes with a brief reprise of the bright middle section. (Above right: Artie Shaw probably at the May 31, 1949 recording session.)

Gunther Schuller, one of Shaw’s harshest critics, had this to say about “Mood in Question” and “Rendezvous for Clarinet and Strings”: “But the most striking aspect of these recordings is their superlative performances by Shaw and The New Music Quartet. This ensemble was a seminal group founded in 1947 and passionately dedicated to the performance of the most advanced contemporary classical literature – Bartok (at the time when his quartets were still rarely performed), Schoenberg, Webern, Babbitt, and other younger Americans. It played this music with a degree of technical perfection and high musical intuition that few quartets have been able to match, let alone surpass.  What is important, however, in this context is that the New Music’s playing proves unequivocally that strings can swing, can be fully integrated and artistically contributive to a jazz or quasi-jazz effort, (and) can play with impeccable taste.”(8)

By the autumn of 1949, Shaw was involved in organizing and then touring with a jazz-oriented big band that lasted for only a few months. That band’s book of arrangements basically consisted of some newly composed bop-oriented jazz pieces, as well as well-known hits previously recorded by Shaw, and arrangements of then-current pop tunes. That period essentially (see below) marked the end of Shaw’s flirtation with “classical” music as a performer. (Above left: another photo from the May 31, 1949 Columbia recording session.)

The music:

It is clear from Artie Shaw’s comments cited above about “Guajira,” that he had some interaction with composer Morton Gould in 1949, that resulted in Gould composing “Guajira.” The sheet music for that piece that is now available states that Gould composed it as “for clarinet and piano,” and further that it had been “recorded by Artie Shaw on Columbia record no. 1757-D.” Based on this information, it would appear that Morton Gould’s “Guajira” was one of the three pieces included in Shaw’s Modern Music for Clarinet album that was an original composition and arrangement.(9)

“Guajira” is an absolutely charming, melodious piece that would sound wonderful in an all jazz setting. The arrangement of it by Hershey Kaye is nearly perfect; the interplay between the strings, woodwinds, and Shaw’s glistening clarinet is seamless. The fact that this music works beautifully in 7/4 meter was not much noticed when Shaw’s Modern Music for Clarinet appeared in 1949. A decade later, when Dave Brubeck dedicated an entire album to unusual time signatures (Time Out – Columbia CS 8192), it caused a sensation and became one of the best selling jazz albums of all time.

The marketplace for music in the United States in 1949 and through succeeding decades was becoming increasingly compartmentalized, with jazz in one box, pop in another and “classical” in yet another. This musical segregation allowed very little crossover. Consequently, Shaw’s Modern Music for Clarinet LP, being definitely not jazz or pop, confused Artie’s fans and supporters. Those who bought it, largely because it was an Artie Shaw record, were in most instances, disappointed. Even though this was an Artie Shaw record, it was not what his fans considered Artie Shaw music. Nevertheless, believing strongly in the quality of the music on Modern Music for Clarinet, Shaw continued his flirtation with “classical” music, even after he had formed another big band that played basically jazz and popular music. Like the good bandleader he always was, he played music from his most recent recordings for the audiences that came out to see and hear his new band, hoping no doubt to stimulate some record sales. It was reported in Time magazine on September 26, 1949 that Shaw played Ravel’s Piece en Forme de Habanera with his big band at Boston’s Symphony Ballroom. There was polite applause after which someone in the audience of dancers cried out: “Artie, you stink!” After that, Shaw realized that what he was attempting was basically hopeless.

“‘Guajira,’ by the way, is a music genre derived from the punto cubano. According to some specialists, the punto cubano was known in Spain since the 18th century, where it was called “punto de La Habana,” and by the second half of the 19th century it was adopted by the incipient Spanish Flamenco style, which included it within its “palos” with the name of guajira. Guajira was utilized by Spanish Zarzuela composers, such as Ruperto Chapí, who included it in his well known play “La Revoltosa,” from 1897. Two years later, in 1899, the Cuban composer Jorge Anckermann inaugurated a new genre with his song “El arroyo que murmura,” the first Cuban guajira. This song became a model that was adopted by many other Cuban composers at a later time, and was frequently included in the Cuban Zarzuela and vernacular theater.”(10)

The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links:

(A) I dislike the term “classical music” because it doesn’t really define anything. It has connotative meaning, which is very general and vague, which refers to music played by musicians who study the components and repertoire of European (among other) concert music, and who usually play that kind of music in concert halls dedicated to such music. The repertoire of European concert music that people think of as “classical music” has over the last century been enriched by the works of composers from many non-European countries, including the United States.

(B) In addition to Winsor earning substantial amounts of money from the sales of the book Forever Amber, she received $85,000.00 in March of 1946 from Twentieth Century Fox for the rights to make a feature film of the book. These accomplishments undoubtedly impressed Shaw, who in the postwar period was pursuing his literary ambitions, while setting aside his career as a successful bandleader.

(1) Artie Shaw …A Musical Biography and Discography (2000), by Valdimir Simosko, 115. Hereafter Simosko.

(2) Without his attorney and fixer, Andrew Weinberger, nearby (he was in New York), Shaw began to run amok with his marital misadventures. Artie met Kathleen Winsor on October 7, 1946. His wife, Ava Gardner, who had separated from him some time earlier, obtained an interlocutory divorce decree in Los Angeles on October 24, 1946. It is unclear when that decree became final. Kathleen Winsor had thrown her husband out of their Los Angeles home in mid-October. On October 23, she obtained what appeared to be a written property settlement from her husband. On October 24, 1946 Shaw and Winsor drove to El Paso, Texas from Los Angeles, and registered at a hotel as Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Sanders. They presented their legal documents regarding their marriages to an attorney in Juarez, Mexico, and were given Mexican divorces. On October 28, 1946 they were married in Juarez. Soon thereafter, the Los Angeles district attorney opened an investigation into whether Shaw and Winsor had committed the crime of bigamy. The newspapers in Los Angeles and across the country had a field day. After less than a year, and multiple legal actions against each other, Winsor obtained a divorce from Shaw in October of 1947.These details come from Three Chords for Beauty’s Sake …The Life of Artie Shaw (2010), by Tom Nolan, 224 and 234-235.

(3) Simosko, 113-115.

(4) I must thank Hep Records producer Alastair Robertson for putting together the recordings that make up Hep CD 75, and issuing them as The Artistry of Artie Shaw.

(5) “Guajira” is listed in Simosko as “Guadalajira.”

(5) These comments are drawn from a series of 13 radio programs entitled The Mystery of Artie Shaw, produced by the late Ted Hallock. Hallock interviewed Shaw for this project in May of 1998.  These comments are from program 9 “The Day Artie Shaw Played Berezowsky at Bop City.”

(6) Ibid.

(7) Shaw was also a master of the obbligato, which in reference to him would be a clarinet accompaniment to a vocal.  A choice example: Prosschai, Bluebird, March 12, 1939, or “Jeepers Creepers,” from a December 30, 1938 broadcast. Here is a link to that recording:https://swingandbeyond.com/2018/08/04/jeepers-creepers-1938-artie-shaw-and-tony-pastor/

(8) The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945, by Gunther Schuller, Oxford University Press, 1989, 713.

(9) It has been reported that Morton Gould composed “Guajira” as a part of his 1941 Latin American Symphonette. Although that work does have a third movement entitled “Guaracha,” that movement is quite different from the “Guajira” recorded by Artie Shaw in 1949.

(10) The definition of “guajira” that appears above was taken from Wikipedia.

Here is a link to a classic Shaw recording that is strictly a part of the American (that is, U.S.) music canon: https://swingandbeyond.com/2016/10/11/reads-and-re-reads-the-protean-mr-gershwin/

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1 Comment

  1. Beautiful piece and beautiful playing by Artie and company. Bits of it sound like the fast section of Copland’s Clarinet Concerto. Don’t know which came first but I believe Benny Goodman’s recording was made around 1950.

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