Monday, January 11, 2016

Artie Shaw's Enduro Reed and the Classic 1940 "Stardust" Solo

Artie Shaw's chorus on "Star Dust" in 1940 is one of those rare solos people list among the most important ever recorded. His tone, his choice of notes, and his virtuosity all seemed to come together in one lyrical moment, rarely matched by other musicians. Buddy DeFranco called it the greatest jazz solo on record, and countless others have transcribed and studied it.

Year later, Shaw revealed he'd used a plastic reed for the recording session--an Enduro reed designed by the great mouthpiece maker, saxophonist, and Shaw Clarinet Method collaborator, Arnold Brilhart.

Enduro reeds were one of the first commercially viable attempts at a synthetic reed, and enjoyed a short heyday during the second world war, when French cane was difficult to obtain. Developed by Brilhart, they were a precursor to today's Fibracell, Legere, and Forestone reeds (among others).

According to New York based clarinetist, Dan Levinson, who discussed it with Shaw before his death, Artie only played on one Enduro reed, ever. And at the time of his death, there was only one Enduro among his possessions, which subsequently passed into the hands of Mr. Levinson.

It's therefore almost certain that the reed used in one of the finest jazz recordings ever made still exists. Mr. Levinson has kindly permitted me to reproduce a photo of Artie Shaw's #4 Enduro reed, likley the very reed played in that iconic recording. Most cane reeds are discarded as soon as they blow out or crack, so just about every reed ever used in classic records are long gone. Coleman Hawkin's "Body and Soul" reed is certainly long lost, as is the reed from Benny Goodman's Carnegie Hall concert, or John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme." But by an interesting quirk of history, that Artie decided to use an Enduro that day, we still have the "Stardust" reed. Amazing.

The Legendary Stardust Reed? Artie Shaw's Enduro
(photo: Dan Levinson/Dan Levinson Collection)


Anonymous said...

What's really amazing is that the reed appears to be a #4!! On the record it sounds like an open mouthpiece with a 2 or 2.5. Artie had some monster chops.

Eric Seddon said...

Keep in mind that without actually playing it, we really have no meaningful idea of what the #4 Enduro strength was. The Vandoren numbers that are largely our reference point these days hadn't yet been established. So this could have been very hard, very soft, or medium. It all depends....