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Remembering the Life and Music of Artie Shaw

December 31, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: Finally tonight, remembering clarinetist and big band leader Artie Shaw, who died yesterday. The swing-era virtuoso sold more than 100 million records, including such hits as “Begin the Beguine,” “Lady be Good” and “Stardust” before abruptly quitting the music business in 1954.

During World War II, he enlisted in the Navy; then recruited other musicians to create a band that performed for allied troops. That part of his story was told by producer Ken Burns in his PBS series, “Jazz.” Here is an excerpt, narrated by Keith David.

KEITH DAVID: Artie Shaw led a Navy band that toured the South Pacific, playing in jungles so hot and humid that the pads on the saxophones rotted and horns had to be held together with rubber bands. Seventeen times they were bombed or strafed by Japanese planes.

ARTIE SHAW, Clarinetist: There were times when it was really very moving. You’d play three notes and the whole audience was instantly roaring with you. They knew the record. And you got the feeling that you’d created a piece of durable Americana that was speaking to these people.

I remember engagements on the U.S.S. Saratoga, this huge carrier, and we were put on the flight deck, and we came down into this cavernous place where there were 3,000 men in dress uniforms. And a roar went up. I’ll tell you, you know, it really threw me. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing or hearing. I felt something extraordinary.

I was by that time inured to success and applause and all that — you take that for granted after a while; you could put your finger out and say “now they’re going to clap” — but this was a whole different thing. These men were starved for something to remind them of home and whatever, mom and apple pie, and the music had that effect, I suppose.

MARGARET WARNER: Artie Shaw’s death came after years of declining health. He was 94 years old.