Yet of the two, and despite his protestations, Shaw was actually more revolutionary in a technical sense. His range was superior to Goodman's, his control of the instrument more complete than any clarinetist on record, and his technique seemingly unprecedented. In the clarinet repertoire preceding him, one might find demonstrations of range comparable in the Spohr and Tausch concerti, but never the use of glissandi--the near complete flexibility that was Shaw's trademark. Accompanying this was a consistency of tone and fluidity of approach that seems to defy the rules of normal clarinetistry.
Because of his expressed ambivalence towards the clarinet and technical discussions, I've often wondered if he even realized, fully, the degree to which his playing surpassed the models before him. We have no record of the great virtuosi of the 18th and 19th century, and therefore can't know what Heinrich Baermann or Franz Tausch would have sounded like--perhaps they also had Shaw's flexibility, and perhaps the use of portamento was common and unreported in solo repertoire. By the time Shaw hit the scene, though, there seems to have been no player able to do what he did.
With these persistent questions (which are unlikely be fully answered), I was lucky enough to stumble across and purchase a copy of Artie's 1941 book on clarinet technique. These are so rarely on the market that, as of this writing, the only copy available on Amazon is offered for $295, a hefty price for a relatively slim, 89 page volume.
Almost half of this book is still in print, in the form of two volumes entitled Artie Shaw's Jazz Technic. Volume 1 is a facsimile of the original Method's pages 38-63, while Volume 2 collects fourteen etudes found on pages 64-77. Missing from the current volumes are the opening exercises dealing mostly with diatonic scales and chords, and six transcribed solos with piano accompaniments at the end.
The opening exercises are very instructive. While I don't possess an encyclopedic knowledge of method books prior to 1941, my collection has quite a few, and I've never seen one that works through each key by starting on each scale degree, successively, in modal style (even if this is not explicitly stated). In many ways this book looks like a harbinger for the later, popular saxophone method written by Joseph Viola.
Also telling are the selection of transcribed solos, especially the inclusion of "Dr. Livingstone, I Presume" which contains Shaw's most open reference to Klezmer. This is made all the more significant for the odd fact that Shaw was later to disavow the tune as silly--and to distance himself from klezmer as such. Anyone who has read his autobiography, The Trouble with Cinderella, however, knows that Artie wrestled with his Jewish identity. This more or less constant contradiction in his life--boldly and even proudly putting forth obviously klezmer rooted music, such as Dr Livingstone and Nightmare--only to evade analysis of it as such should be treated, in my opinion, as neither disingenuous nor dishonest on Shaw's part. Instead, I believe he was a man who struggled with the weight of his own brilliance, and who didn't always understand the roots of his genius. The result was often that his explanations seemed to contradict his work. Seeming contradictions are often paradoxes in disguise, though, and the more we get to know Shaw's work, the more paradoxical it inevitably becomes.
This aside, the volume also contains a least a little bit of prose from Shaw regarding clarinet technique, unavailable elsewhere. Early on, he thanks Arnold Brilhart, the musician, mouthpiece maker, synthetic reed pioneer, and collaborator on the volume. It's likely that Brilhart served as a sounding board and perhaps even primary notator of the volume (perhaps even penning the opening exercises and transcriptions no longer available in the current facsimiles).
On page 2, however, we are given something a little out of the ordinary: a glimpse at why Shaw bothered writing a book on a subject he seemed so little interested in discussing afterwards. I believe it is proof that he did know how extraordinary his own approach to the horn was--and that it was worth suggesting to others, even if only in truncated form. Some quotes show his concerns:
This book is not intended to replace any of the standard clarinet methods now in use. [...] [But] is to provide a different type of exercise for the student whose aim is to play not in the symphony but in the dance band.
[There] are certain idiomatic and technical differences between [classical and jazz playing]--certain arbitrary and traditional criteria that should be stripped away from the former--that make the publication of such a book as this not only permissible but desirable.Freedom and flexibility are hallmarks of Shaw's style, not found in classical techniques. It is nice to see that he recognized his achievement consciously, even if he was ambivalent to it or less interested later in life.
There are several conceptions regarding the so-called "proper" way to play the clarinet. Most of these exist because of the rigidly academic approach to the subject. It is in the hope of clearing the air of a few arbitrary prejudices, as well as providing the student with a system of exercises designed to promote the freedom and flexibility of technique vital to unhampered performance in the jazz band, that I am offering this new CLARINET METHOD.
Tellingly, this is not a jazz method book--it has nothing in it to suggest instruction in the art of improvisation. Instead, it's meant to expand the player's approach to the clarinet in order to gain flexibility of expression. Thus it is a rare glimpse behind the veil of a man who denied much interest in the mere means of expression, so preoccupied was he with the result. Ultimately, this method only scratches the surface of Shaw's approach. To me its main value is its proof that Artie knew how unique that approach was. In the end, to get such a glimpse is a rare enough thing when dealing with a mind so enigmatic, and so worthwhile, as Artie Shaw's.