64. Artie Shaw / The Last Recording: Rare and Unreleased (1954)
This two-disc set is a wonder. It includes the final recorded performances of the gifted clarinet. Why pack it in? According to Shaw, the demands of perfectionism were just too much to continue. With Hank Jones, Joe Roland, Irv Kluger, and either Joe Puma or Tal Farlow on guitar, Shaw's last Gramercy Five makes wonderful music. On clarinet, he's such a colorful player, using a wide range of dynamics to swing hard ("Sad Sack") or put impart special sentimentality to the ballads ("My Funny Valentine"). His licks and interpretations of the melodies are always engaging and inventive. His style touches on elements of dixieland, blues, swing, classical, and even exotica or novelty music, while fully embracing none of those styles. When someone takes a chorus, listen closely to Shaw and Jones, who can't resist entertaining each other with Third Streamish inclinations and suggesting the quotations they happen upon, a bit like Brubeck and Desmond (as in "Pied Piper"). Such playfully eclectic musical behavior should be expected from Shaw, who believed it was his responsibility to bring out areas of a composition not defined by the composer, to interpret and arrange life into the music. Thus while many are well served by relaxing and enjoying what they hear, a lucky few will be rewarded by listening to what Shaw has constructed... and off the cuff, at that.