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

4.3 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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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

“[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)

“[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)

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

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (May 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393062015
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393062014
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #339,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Hardcover
I just finished a biography about Steve McQueen which made an attempt to explain McQueen's sometimes dreadful behavior by putting it in relation to the way he was raised and his early life experiences. After awhile, I began to see a definite pattern and McQueen's odd mindset and reactions fell into place and I started feeling as though I knew him. In the case of Shaw, this book didn't give me that luxury. While I walked away with certain perceptions (and not very nice ones at that), the only thing that proved predictable was that he wasn't a very nice person. How do they say it-----'he pissed icewater'.
While the book gives way to his miserable childhood with an unsympathetic old world father, a smothering mother, poverty, anti-semitism, and abandoment (by way of his disappearing father), it fails to explain his dreadful behavior or what made him the way he appeared to be. Artie Shaw was a self-made man and no doubt a musical genius and perfectionist, but he was also a mean and belittling husband to many women who were intelligent and beautiful, and he was never more neglectful than when it came to his two sons whom he had little to no relationship with. After many years of an Artie enforced estrangement he refused to visit his mother when she was dying.
This book works in the sense that it does an excellent job of chronicling Shaw's career with its many high points, tumultuous romances and marriages, and Shaw's varied interests. It doesn't really explain why Shaw abandoned the clarinet in 1954 and it really never explains all the voids in his personal behavior. While I think author Tom Nolan did a remarkable job with the information he had, I don't think he could fabricate a soul for Artie Shaw and I don't think anyone could.
This book is interesting, but its also frustrating in that Shaw is so elusive. I don't think anyone really knew him.
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