Artie Shaw, the renowned Swing Era clarinetist, has long had an interest in writing. Even during his first musical successes in the mid-'30s, he was attracted to writing as a private endeavor that could present an alternative--and possibly even a lucrative one--to the life of celebrity he found increasingly oppressive.
So he wrote, and continues to write. "The Best of Intentions" is Shaw's third book, following the 1952 autobiography, "The Trouble With Cinderella," and the 1965 novel, "I Love You, I Hate You, Drop Dead." "Intentions," while sometimes off the mark, definitely lands on target a good deal of the time, delivering its fair share of pleasures.
At their best, these five short pieces and a novella--which take place anywhere from the 1930s to the mid-'60s, but were all written since 1950--bristle with life, render his characters' dialects faithfully, and pack unexpected punches.
In "Snow White in Harlem, 1930," he flavorfully depicts a white saxophonist's trek to the northern end of Manhattan in search of a jam session. And in "The Fabulous Courtship of Joe Kubak," he carefully and delightfully lays out a fantasy held by most people who have become enamored with a motion picture star.
The book's most powerful moments come from the novella, "The Best of Intentions," a sometimes gripping work that details a magazine editor's reaction to a mugging. Forced to surrender a gold watch given to him by his father, the editor arranges with the mugger, an unusually benevolent fellow for this line of work, to exchange the watch for cash. This exchange, which takes place later at a mid-Manhattan bar, has surprising consequences for both characters.
Some of the stories drag; notably, "A Nice Little Post-War Business," an ultimately silly sketch of two musicians on deck of a Navy ship in the Pacific during World War II.
Still, Shaw has come up with some good stuff here; this reader hopes it won't be the last we hear from him.