Seventy years after the fact, the argument about whether Artie Shaw was a better clarinetist than his arch-rival Benny Goodman continues to smolder. Clarinetists themselves are often awe- struck by Shaw’s impeccable tone and control, while Goodman was a bit more adventurous. On a personal level, these roles were reversed. Benny was a careful businessman whose only marriage lasted for over 35 years, while the mercurial Shaw hated the music business, and was constantly involved in lawsuits, breaking up his band, and alienating his fans. His very public private life, which included marriages to such icons as Lana Turner and Ava Gardner, was even more volatile. In fact, one comes away from reading John McDonough’s wonderful liner notes feeling that it’s a miracle Shaw left as large a legacy as he did.
And what a legacy it is! From huge hits like “Begin The Beguine” and “Frenesi” to timeless small-band jazz by Shaw’s Gramercy Five, a high percentage of tunes here became familiar as standards, often because of these versions. Shaw and his band always sounded like they were having a ball, and now, thanks to Mosaic’s superb remastering, they sound better than ever. No big band fan should be without this set.