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Shaw retro recaptures big band era

Even though he hasn’t picked up a clarinet in nearly 40 years, Artie Shaw, the last of the titans from the big band era, continues to delight his fans by issuing vintage material from his archives.

The latest Shaw retro package to hit stores is “More Last Recordings: The Final Sessions” (MusicMasters Jazz), a further sampling of the 1954 sextet sessions that yielded 1992’s much-acclaimed “The Last Recordings: Rare and Unreleased.”

These were Shaw’s last recordings and they reveal a playful, erudite spirit who doesn’t seem the least bit jaded. Though most of these tracks were released by Book-of-the-Month Club in 1983, they have not received widespread circulation until now.

Interestingly, Shaw had already made his decision to quit playing before this group was formed, but a certain government agency had other plans.

“The IRS was after me for something,” says Shaw, still bursting with caustic vitality at 83. “You always deal with that in the land of the free. So I thought , as long as I can do it I might as well get the best band I could so I wouldn’t bore myself to tears.”

Commenting on these sessions, Shaw claims, “It’s about as much as you can do with the clarinet. I don’t mean to sound egotistical when I say that. I’m simply saying that if you do more, it would be less. It would be too much.

“We’re sort of living in an Olympic contest to see how many notes we can play. That’s not the issue. There are players I hear on clarinet who are playing so many notes that you can’t keep up; your mind can’t take them in.”

Shaw’s next reissue project for MusicMasters will be, he says, a “compendium of stuff” that he originally made for the long-defunct Musicraft label in 1946- 48. It will be focused on his big band from that period, with appearances by Mel Torme and the Mel-Tones (who were sometimes used as an instrumental section), guitarist Barney Kessel and trumpeter Roy Eldridge, among others. Shaw plans to call the album, due out later this year, “Mixed Bag.”

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