Artie Shaw--who earned celebrity status in the 1930s, '40s and '50s as much for his notorious marriages to the likes of Ava Gardner and Lana Turner as he did for his clarinet artistry--has never minced words about his disdain for fans of American popular music, particularly his.
"The public is always intruding on your privacy," he told The Times two years ago. "It's me versus them. It's always been."
Shaw, who retired from performing in 1954 to focus on writing, doesn't hold the average U. S. listener in high regard, either. "The American audience is one of the most musically uneducated in the world," he said in a recent interview.
The spirited, outspoken Shaw, 82, who lives in Newbury Park, doesn't necessarily feel that this lack of knowledge is a lost cause, and enjoys trying to explain his views on music. That's just what he'll do during "An Evening With Artie Shaw," which he calls a "talking concert/recital." It is being held Sunday in the Campus Theatre at Cal State Northridge and also features clarinetist Abe Most and the CSUN Jazz Band, directed by Joel Leach, in a musical tribute to Shaw.
Shaw plans to talk about "music as communication," he said. "Music is a language, and if you don't know it, you don't know what the musicians are talking about."
Furthermore, he said, "we think through language, but language is used imprecisely. Take the word jazz. It started out as dance music, and now I don't know what it is. We've never settled on a definition."
During the event at CSUN, Shaw plans to speak for a while, and then take questions. "So really what I say depends on what people want to know," he said.
Most, an all-around reed man and clarinet specialist who can be heard on the soundtracks of such TV shows as "Homefront" and "Northern Exposure," was Shaw's choice to play the CSUN concert.
The show will be another opportunity for Most to portray one of his two musical idols--the other is Benny Goodman. "About 20 years ago, I played the roles of Shaw and Goodman as part of a series of albums for Time-Life Records," Most said. The albums recreated Swing Era hits by Shaw, Goodman, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington and many others, he said.
Sunday, Most said, he's going "to try and recreate the feeling of Artie's recordings, as if you were listening to them live," referring to such classic Shaw hits as "Begin the Beguine," "Stardust," "Frenesi" and "Summit Ridge Drive."
Most, an Encino resident, has been studying written solos taken off the original recordings by Dick Johnson, who has fronted the Artie Shaw Orchestra since Shaw revamped it--with Johnson in charge--in the early 1980s. "These are pretty close to what Artie played," Most said.
Wouldn't he rather interpret these pieces his own way, instead of playing Shaw's solos? "That would be valid if this was to be an event where Abe Most plays Shaw pieces in his own style," Most said. "But when it's a tribute, then my job is to try to emulate that artist, so that people can get a feeling of what he really sounded like."
Shaw, who has written three books and is at work on a fourth, will be onstage while Most plays with the CSUN band. And although he won't be performing, Shaw will definitely be the man in charge. "I'll talk after the numbers, trying to explain them," he said. "I may even stop the band in the middle of a piece. I want people to understand the music."
Where and When What: "An Evening with Artie Shaw," featuring Artie Shaw, Abe Most and the CSUN Band directed by Joel Leach. Location: Campus Theatre, Theater Arts Building, Cal State Northridge, 18111 Nordhoff St. When: 8 p.m. Sunday. Cost: $8, $4 students. VIP seats, which include an after-concert reception with Shaw, Most and Leach are $20; refreshments provided. Call: (818) 885-3093.