Artie Shaw, a curmudgeon out of nowhere.


I’ll be standing on the street corner when a car or truck goes past. There’ll be a noise from somewhere — a random sound, a child yelling or a chord produced by a squeaking load shift — and a song just begins playing in my head.

As noted previously, any innate ability of mine to create music is limited to the point of non-existence, and yet music is with me every minute of every day. One of these days I’ll awake to dead air in my brain, and know it’s my time to die.

“Out of Nowhere” is not the first tune that comes to mind in the recorded canon of Artie Shaw, the swing era’s resident contrarian (perhaps that’s why I’m a fan). But it remains fresh and vibrant almost 75 years later, and somewhat summarizes the theory and practice of arranging during the ascendancy of the big bands. I’ve known this song since I was a kid, and it makes me smile when listening. It re-entered my head Saturday after a snippet of hip-hop was heard from a passing boom car. Why, I’ll never know. These things come out of nowhere.

Shaw was a survivor who discarded music a half-century before his death at 94 in 2004. Apparently he was a bright, complex, narcissistic and impossibly difficult man, one whose talent has brought me a good deal of pleasure. Life remains grimly funny that way.

Artie Shaw: Swing and Loathing, by David Gates (NYT)

 … And then, at the height of his powers, Shaw stopped playing the clarinet, walked away from the music business and spent the next 50 years busying himself with dairy farming, marksmanship, movie distribution, writing a never-to-be-finished autobiographical novel — anything except what he seemed put on earth to do. And wondering what his life had been about.