W.D. PACKARD MUSIC HALL Artie Shaw Orchestra is a blast from the past

The Artie Shaw Orchestra found a friendly and knowledgeable audience in Trumbull County.
WARREN -- It was a toe-tappin', head noddin', finger snappin', hummin' good time at W.D. Packard Music Hall Friday when the Artie Shaw Orchestra took the audience back to the 1930s and 1940s, when big-band music reigned supreme.
It was a time when fans across America filled ballrooms and dance halls to jive and swing to the syncopated sounds or gathered around their radios and listened to live broadcasts.
It was a time when Artie Shaw shared the title "King of Swing" with the great Benny Goodman.
Shaw, almost as well known for his eight wives, who included Lana Turner and Ava Gardner, as for his music, is now in his 90s and does not travel with the band.
The 16-member orchestra includes director/clarinetist Dick Johnson, who was hand-picked by Shaw in 1983 to front the orchestra. In 1980, Shaw described Johnson as "the best [clarinetist] I've ever heard, bar nobody," high praise he lived up to Friday.
Johnson and the other instrumentalists performed interesting and improvisational solos during the 15-plus numbers they did. Johnson was particularly effective on a ballad he called one of his all-time favorites, "Everything Happens to Me," and the intricate and difficult "Concerto for Clarinet," written by Shaw for the movie "Second Chorus."
Johnson's band experience started with Charlie Spivak and includes tours with Buddy Morrow, Neil Hefti, Benny Goodman and Buddy Rich.
The orchestra found a friendly and knowledgeable audience in Trumbull County, where big bands such as the Top Notes still survive and receive great support.
Favorites: Johnson and the orchestra played many audience favorites written or recorded by Shaw -- "Begin the Beguine," "Dancing in the Dark," "Moonglow," "'S Wonderful," "Stardust," the familiar "Frenesi" and "Carioca."
The jazzy music, often with a tom-tom drum beat, triggered memories of USO shows during World War II.
One of the trumpeters provided an enjoyable surprise not listed in the program when he did a credible imitation of Louis Armstrong's version of "What a Wonderful World," white handkerchief and all.
The concert was part of the 2001-2002 Warren Civic Music Association series. The Four Lads, a 1950s singing group known for "Moments to Remember" and other songs will perform Tuesday. It's the final concert of the season.

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