Three Chords for Beau­ty’s Sake: The Life of Artie Shaw

Tom Nolan
  • Review
By – August 31, 2011
Artie Shaw was one of the most unpleas­ant celebri­ties of the 20th cen­tu­ry. When informed that his father had died, he broke out in hys­ter­i­cal laugh­ter. When asked to vis­it his mom on her deathbed, he declined. Blessed with the atten­tion of some of the world’s most famous and glam­orous women, he mis­treat­ed pret­ty much all of them, par­tic­u­lar­ly the eight he mar­ried. Shaw even ducked out of his son’s first birth­day par­ty so the child wouldn’t become too attached to him.
 It takes a heck­u­va good writer to keep a read­er inter­est­ed in such a per­son for 430 pages, but biog­ra­ph­er Tom Nolan has pulled it off. His research is impec­ca­ble; it seems like he talked to just about every­one Shaw ever knew, and filled in the gaps with great anec­dotes from fans like actor Jack Klug­man. Nolan doesn’t attempt to hide Shaw’s faults — the book would prob­a­bly have been reduced to pam­phlet size if he had — but does a skill­ful job of bal­anc­ing dis­cus­sion of his per­son­al life with extend­ed efforts to enhance Shaw’s rep­u­ta­tion as one of the great­est of all jazz musi­cians. It’s a col­or­ful, com­pelling book. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, end notes, index.
David Cohen is a senior edi­tor at Politi­co. He has been in the jour­nal­ism busi­ness since 1985 and wrote the book Rugged and Endur­ing: The Eagles, The Browns and 5 Years of Foot­ball. He resides in Rockville, MD.; his wife, Deb­o­rah Bod­in Cohen, writes Jew­ish children’s books.

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