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Three Chords for Beauty's Sake: The Life of Artie Shaw Hardcover – May 3, 2010


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Three Chords for Beauty's Sake: The Life of Artie Shaw + Artie Shaw, King of the Clarinet: His Life and Times + Artie Shaw: His Life and Music (Bayou Jazz Lives)
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In the late-1930s–1940s heyday of swing, fans had to be “for” either Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw (1910–2004). For Nolan’s host of informants, of whom Shaw himself is most voluble, it was no contest. A question that arises while reading this enthralling biography is who was the bigger pain in the ass. If Goodman was miserly, mean-spirited, and by Shaw’s lights, more concerned with the clarinet than with music, Shaw was astonishingly cruel to parents, wives, sons, and personal assistants, dismissive of his audience, and so perfectionist that he drove himself out of music a half-century before he died. Nolan deploys his interviewees’ testimony so extensively, adeptly, and intelligently that most as well as the best of the text seems to consist of it yet doesn’t begin to offer an answer. Instead, he gives the satisfactions of a true rags-to-riches story, complete with the spice of glamorous marriages and flings (with Lee Wiley, Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, etc.), and plausibly accounts for Shaw’s huge character faults without obscuring his charm and prodigious talent. --Ray Olson

Review

“[A]t last, the lively, continually imaginative life of the most creative clarinetist in jazz history and an orchestra leader who not only produced hits but also new dimensions of this music.” (Nat Hentoff, author of At the Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years at the Jazz Scene)

“In this riveting biography, Tom Nolan recovers the genius, the legend, the ego and blocked emotions of an enigmatic American icon.” (Kevin Starr, University of Southern California)

“[F]ollows Shaw’s various zigzags with aplomb, and Nolan shifts gears adeptly in pursuit of his subject. The book is well paced and never lags, while the author addresses everything from litigation to personal rivalries with fairness and a deft touch.” (Ted Gioia - San Francisco Chronicle)

“Absorbing… fascinating.” (David Gates - The New York Times Book Review)

“Nolan reconsiders the swing clarinetist-bandleader in a beautifully measured, unforgiving account… An exemplary work of jazz biography.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Every great artist deserves a great biography, and Swing Era bandleader and clarinetist Artie Shaw finally has one… Nolan has crafted a well-written, highly entertaining, and informative biography.” (Library Journal)

“Enthralling… [Nolan] gives the satisfactions of a true rags-to-riches story, complete with the spice of glamorous marriages and flings (with Lee Wiley, Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, etc.), and plausibly accounts for Shaw’s huge character faults without obscuring his charm and prodigious talent.” (Booklist)

“Tom Nolan has a great story to tell and he knows precisely how to tell it, fast and deadpan, abetted by the irascible Shaw himself—a serial husband, detached father, and full time autodidact who may have been the finest clarinet virtuoso of all time.” (Gary Giddins, author of Warning Shadows and Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams)

“[C]ompulsively readable.” (Daniel Akst - Wall Street Journal)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 430 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (May 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393062015
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393062014
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 0.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #951,913 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
5 star
73%
4 star
0%
3 star
20%
2 star
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1 star
7%
See all 15 customer reviews
In summary, a fine book, well written, and I thank Mr. Nolan for writing it.
Hans
She also recalled Shaw's various attempts to write, and how she felt that his writing very often was emotionally empty, and why she felt that way.
Michael P. Zirpolo
Still, I felt I knew him, having read his memoir, "The Trouble With Cinderella," several times, starting at age 15.
Ray Schultz

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Ray Schultz on May 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In 1985, in what I now view as a life event, my wife and I saw Artie Shaw perform at the Blue Note in New York. I passed the 75 year-old jazz star in the hallway, and I was about to approach him, but his manner said stay away. It wasn't personal. Shaw disliked fans; in fact, he said, "Keep `em all away from me," that very night. So I never talked to Artie Shaw. Still, I felt I knew him, having read his memoir, "The Trouble With Cinderella," several times, starting at age 15. And now I know him even better, thanks to "Three Chords for Beauty's Sake, The Life of Artie Shaw," an excellent new book by Tom Nolan. It's the tale of how Arthur Arshawsky, a Jewish kid from the Lower East Side, became a popular band leader and great jazz clarinetist almost by force of will. Nolan has all: The childhood anti-Semitism; the long musical apprenticeship; the breakthrough to stardom in 1938 with "Begin the Beguine;" Shaw's walkout from the music business a year later; his return with the mega-hit, "Frenesi;" his breaking of the color line by hiring Billie Holiday, Roy Eldridge and Hot Lips Page; the exquisite tone he drew from the clarinet. The women are here (Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, Betty Grable, Lena Horne), and the war (fighting men cried when Navy Chief Shaw and his Rangers played in jungle outposts or on the decks of aircraft carriers). Here, too, are Shaw's postwar depression, his emergence with a new band, his appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee and his struggle to write. The book is well-documented, for Shaw lived until 2004 and was always ready to talk about himself to journalists. And it's well-written. But there are two vast holes at the center of it, neither of them Nolan's fault.Read more ›
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46 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Michael P. Zirpolo on May 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Review of Three Chords for Beauty's Sake
The Life of Artie Shaw

A biography of clarinetist Artie Shaw has been published. Its title is Three Chords for Beauty's Sake...The Life of Artie Shaw, W.W. Horton Co., by Tom Nolan. While this biography is a welcome survey of Shaw's life, it is far from definitive. Mr. Nolan, like many interviewers, researchers, and documentarists before him, devotes far too many pages to quoting Mr. Shaw, thus perpetuating many of Shaw's "rationalizing smokescreens", as they were so aptly described by Gunther Schuller in his book The Swing Era (Oxford University Press, 1989). Mr. Nolan might have been able to get away with this if he had balanced Shaw's version of reality with independent research. Unfortunately, the balance in this biography is tilted in the direction of Shaw's recollections, and his unseemly rants against most of his colleagues in the music profession, which undercuts the authoritativeness of this biography.

Nevertheless, Mr. Nolan did do some original research (as opposed to citing to periodicals or memoirs). He located information about the birth and death dates of Shaw's parents, and about Shaw's various childhood homes. He also interviewed a number of persons who either lived with Artie Shaw or worked closely with him over lengthy periods of time, especially in the later decades of Shaw's life. The information gleaned from those interviews assists greatly in trying to understand Artie Shaw.

Most notable among these were the recollections of Joanne Lupton, who lived with Shaw from 1973 to 1980. Ms. Lupton, now Dr.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By TeeBee on May 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was rather disappointed in this book. If you've read the autobiographies of Shaw, Evelyn Keyes, any of his other ex-wives or musical associates, or have heard Shaw's interviews from a multitude of documentary sources, you will be familiar with most of the information regarding his life and career. If you have never read anything about him, this book will serve nicely as a primary source. However, Shaw does not come to life on the page, as the subject should do in the best biographical works. I recently completed "John Lennon: The Life," by Philip Norman, and felt that I knew Lennon personally after reading it - the book is slightly over 800 pages long and I wanted to read it in one sitting. Absolutely engrossing. If you have the slightest interest in the Beatles, Lennon, 60s pop culture or just superior writing and superb research, you must read it. But I digress.

Nolan seems to have an agenda which includes joining Shaw in demeaning Shaw's most successful contemporaries; Glenn Miller is trashed and Benny Goodman is depicted as being borderline retarded, while Jimmy Dorsey is dismissed almost entirely (Tommy Dorsey fares only slightly better). I happen to think Shaw was a brilliant musician who led several first-rate bands, and his place in the history of jazz is secure, so why Nolan felt the need to repeat so many of these gratuitously unpleasant remarks is beyond me. Likewise, Shaw twice suggests that Claude Thornhill was gay - or as Shaw so colorfully puts it, demonstrated "faggotry," although he cites no specific incidents that led him to believe this. Unfortunately, Nolan repeats this with absolutely no corroborating information of any kind.
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