Friday, May 23, 2014

Artie Shaw Centennial

Below, game latter-day pretenders subject themselves to the brutal scrutiny of trying to match the style and grace of Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell famously tapping their way through Begin the Beguine in Broadway Melody of 1940.
     Johnny Mathis recorded an eight minute disco version which reached #37 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary survey in 1979, but AKSARBENT didn't search for it on YouTube for fear that we would find it.

From Wikipedia:

Artie Shaw (born Arthur Jacob Arshawsky; May 23, 1910 – December 30, 2004) was an American clarinetist, composer, and bandleader. Also an author, Shaw wrote both fiction and non-fiction.
      Widely regarded as "one of jazz's finest clarinetists," Shaw led one of the United States' most popular big bands in the late 1930s through the early 1940s. 
About Shaw's biggest hit, Begin the Beguine:
     Cole Porter (1891-1964) composed the song between Kalabahi, Indonesia, and Fiji during a 1935 Pacific cruise aboard Cunard's ocean liner Franconia. In October 1935, it was introduced by June Knight in the Broadway musical Jubilee, produced at the Imperial Theatre in New York City.
     A Beguine was originally a Christian lay woman of the 13th or 14th century living in a religious community without formal vows, but in the creole of the Caribbean, especially in Martinique and Guadeloupe, the term came to mean "white woman", and then to be applied to a style of music and dance, and in particular a slow, close couples' dance. This combination of French ballroom dance and Latin folk dance became popular in Paris and spread further abroad in the 1940s, largely due to the influence of the Porter song.
     Based on the title dance, the song is notable for its 108-measure length, departing drastically from the conventional thirty-two-bar form. Where a typical "standard" popular song of its time was written in a fairly strict 32-measure form consisting of two or three eight-measure subjects generally arranged in the form A-A-B-A or A-B-A-C, "Begin the Beguine" employs the form A-A-B-A-C1-C2 with each phrase being sixteen measures in length rather than the usual eight. The final "C2" section is stretched beyond its 16 measures an additional twelve bars for a total of 28 measures, with the twelve additional measures providing a sense of finality to the long form.
The slight differences in each of the "A" sections, along with the song's long phrases and final elongated "C2" section at the end, give it unique character and complexity. The fact that the song's individual parts hold up melodically and harmonically over such a long form also attests to Porter's talent and ability as a songwriter.
     Musicologist and composer Alec Wilder described it in his book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators 1900-1950 as "a maverick, an unprecedented experiment and one which, to this day, after hearing it hundreds of times, I cannot sing or whistle or play from start to finish without the printed music ... about the sixtieth measure I find myself muttering another title, End the Beguine."
     At first, the song gained little popularity, perhaps because of its length and unconventional form. Josephine Baker danced to it in her return to America in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936, but neither she nor the song were successful. Two years later, however, bandleader Artie Shaw recorded an arrangement of the song, an extended swing orchestra version, in collaboration with his right-hand arranger and orchestrator, Jerry Gray.
     After signing a new recording contract with RCA Victor in the summer of 1938, Shaw chose "Beguine" to be the first of six tunes he would record at his initial recording session on July 24. Until then, Shaw's band had been having a tough time finding an identity and maintaining its existence without having had any popular hits of significance; his previous recording contract with Brunswick had lapsed at the end of 1937 without being renewed.
     RCA's pessimism with the whole idea of recording the long tune "that nobody could remember from beginning to end anyway" resulted in it being released on the "B" side of the record "Indian Love Call", issued by Bluebird Records as catalog number B-7746 B. Shaw's persistence paid off, though, when "Begin the Beguine" became a best-selling record in 1938, peaking at No. 3., skyrocketing Shaw and his band to fame and popularity. The recording became one of the most famous and popular anthems of the entire Swing Era. Subsequent re-releases by RCA Victor (catalog number 20-1551) and other releases on LPs, tapes and CDs have kept the recording readily available continuously ever since its initial release.

No comments:

Post a Comment