Rare Artie Shaw Documentary on its Way

By all accounts, clarinetist and bandleader Artie Shaw was quite the difficult guy, before, during and after his days as a working musician.

Still, Shaw, born Arthur Jacob Arshawsky in 1910—who passed in December of 2004 at the age of 94—is still regarded in many quarters as the greatest jazz clarinetist who ever lived.

For those of a certain age, his story is a familiar one, which included eight marriages to the likes of Ava Gardner, Lana Turner and Evelyn Keyes; the wild success of his various bands; Shaw’s inability or unwillingness to deal with much of this success and various other emotional factors which resulted in his giving up the horn for good in 1954.

It’s one of the great stories in jazz, if only because Artie Shaw was among the few players in history who actually evolved as a player. It’s not that he suddenly became a Charlie Parker-like be-bopper. It just seemed that, as time went on, his style just became more modern and more timeless within the parameters that he had already set. And those were very, very high-level parameters. Technically, harmonically and emotionally? He couldn’t be touched. Though there who continue to argue about such matters, Benny Goodman had very, very little of what Artie Shaw had. “You play clarinet, I play music,” Shaw once said to Goodman.

I’d bet BG had no idea what Artie Shaw was talking about.

After leaving the music business, Shaw involved himself in various activities, which included work as a film distributor, gentleman farmer, and mainly, as a writer. For years, he was said to be working on a gargantuan, fictionalized version of his own life, titled “The Education of Albie Show,” said to be around 1,900 pages—double-spaced—in length. According to those few who have read all or part of it, it is not an easy read.

Jazz writer Gene Lees, in fact, described Shaw as “a second-rate writer.” The presumption of course, is that Lees is a first-rate writer.

There have been various attempts to get Shaw involved in telling his own life story through the years, and there was actually a documentary film produced and released around 1987. Titled “Time is All You’ve Got,” it was produced by Brigitte Berman, critically acclaimed for her work on a Bix Beiderbecke documentary several years before this.

“Time is All You’ve Got” won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature film in 1987. Shaw participated in it enthusiastically, and is also boasted the participation of Shaw cohorts like Buddy Rich, Helen Forrest, Lee Castle, ex-wife Evelyn Keyes and many, many others via vintage footage and interviews.

For reasons still not widely known, outside of a few showings around 1987, the film was pulled from distribution and has not been seen since. In terms of film rarities, “Time is All You’ve Got” is one of the rarest.

Who knows what happened? Shaw was well known for putting roadblocks in the path of various projects over the years.

Seasons back, after the release of the “Buddy Rich: Jazz Legend” video, Artie Shaw called my office. He was not happy.

“By whose authority are you using this clip of my band with Buddy Rich from 1937?” he asked me.

“Well, Mr., Shaw,” I began to explain, “the clip is over 60 years old and has been used in over a dozen documentaries over the years.”

He then tried to argue that he owned the film clip, ignoring the fact that Vitaphone, an operation that had been out of business for decades, was actually the producer/distributor of the film short, “Artie Shaw’s Class in Swing.”

I cleared a payment of $500 to Shaw with the DCI Music Video offices—distributors of the Buddy Rich video—as a courtesy to Mr. Shaw. That seemed to do the trick.

Then again, perhaps Evelyn Keyes’ successful lawsuit a few years ago, in pursuit of half of her ex’s estate, was a factor in getting “Time is All You’ve Got” pulled. Who knows?

The important thing is, this deserves to be seen.

JazzLegends.com will be getting a copy shortly, and the moment we do, we’ll try to make it available as soon as we can, and as long as we can.

But knowing Artie Shaw, you never know how long that will be.

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