Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Bandleader, clarinetist, and writer Artie Shaw would have turned 101 on Monday. He was born May 23, 1910.

Artie was my mother's first cousin, and nephew of my grandfather, Moishe, to whom he attributed his great musical gift. Moishe was a house painter during the day, but his true love was singing. He was a cantor. Artie told me that no one in his immediate family could even carry a tune, and he was convinced that he was the genetic recipient of Moishe's great gift.

In his memoir, The Trouble with Cinderella, Artie bristled about being thought of as a musician. Playing music, to him, was a gig. The concept that anyone could have such a magnificent gift, and saw it only as a way to make money, fascinates me.

It was a childhood dream of mine to meet Artie. Thanks to the generosity of a music critic with whom I had a drink, I got a hold of Artie's phone number, and called him weeks before a memorial tribute to Allen Ginsberg was to be held in Westwood. We actually met face to face at the Ginsberg memorial.

From 2002 through the first part of 2004, I met with him several times at his home in Newbury Park, and will always be grateful to Artie's assistant, Larry Rose, for helping to facilitate those meetings, and for his graciousness.

Some people you love without even talking to them. Artie was one of them. Oh, yes, I heard all the horror stories about his moodiness, and how nasty he could be, but I saw only warmth, affection, and comradery.

When I gave him a poem of mine,"Managing Gravity," to read, he finished and said only "What kind of mind could come up with that? Gravity as death's manager." Indeed, what kind of mind could understand that, Artie.

What kind of mind could come up with "Shoot for the moon--if you miss, you'll end up in the stars." You must have had a good aim, Artie, cause that's where you are where, like a comet, you raced through leaving a flash of light, and the kind of sound only angels dare to make.

Rock on, Artie, rock on!