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Published: Friday, 4/8/2005

Artie Shaw Orchestra, Modernaires have stood test of time

Two groups with lengthy histories and rich musical legacies will be in concert this weekend, the Artie Shaw Orchestra performing Sunday afternoon in the Valentine Theatre and the Modernaires playing tonight in Monroe's River Raisin Centre for the Arts.

The Artie Shaw Orchestra, named for the clarinet legend whose big-band hits included "Moonglow," "Rose Room," "Stardust," and "Begin the Beguine," has been led for more than 20 years by Dick Johnson, Shaw's handpicked successor whose clarinet playing he described as "the best I've ever heard, bar nobody."

Shaw, who was born in New York in May, 1910, and died in Los Angeles in December, started playing professionally in 1925 and led a series of swing, jazz, and big-band groups until 1954, when he abruptly quit the music business.

He told Newsweek in 1984 that he put down his clarinet because "my standards got so bloody high it was torture. People always ask me why I don't play for my own amusement. I say, 'What's amusing about it?' "

When Shaw decided to re-form his orchestra in 1983 after a 30-year hiatus, he asked Johnson to take the reins of the band after hearing a recording of Johnson on the song "Carioca."

A native of Boston, Johnson studied classical piano as a child and said he decided to become a musician in the 1940s after seeing Shaw in the movie Second Chorus.

Johnson played with Benny Goodman from 1959-60 and leads his own group, Swing Shift, when he's not touring with the Artie Shaw Orchestra.

The Modernaires have been singing intricate harmonies since 1935 in various incarnations, starting as a trio of high school pals in Buffalo.

In its early days, the threesome - Hal Dickinson, Chuck Goldstein, and Bill Conway - went by the name of the Don Juan-Two and Three, and then, after joining the Ozzie Nelson Band, called itself the Three Wizards of Ozzie.

The trio expanded to a quartet, adding Ralph Brewster, to work with renowned bandleader Fred Waring and, in 1937, with Paul Whiteman, being featured on his hit radio show.

In 1939, the Modernaires joined Glenn Miller's band and provided the vocals on many of Miller's signature tunes including "Kalamazoo," "Chattanooga Choo Choo," and "Juke Box Saturday Night."

After Dickinson's wife, Paula Kelly, joined the Modernaires in the late 1940s, the group was invited by Frank Sinatra to accompany him on several recordings.

Known for a bright and jazzy vocal style, today's incarnation of the Modernaires feature Paula Kelly's daughter Paula, Bill Tracy, Martha Dickinson, and Alan Copeland, continuing to perform "Music in the Miller Mood."

The Modernaires will be in concert at 8 tonight in the River Raisin Centre for the Arts, 114 South Monroe St., Monroe, Mich. Tickets are $24 for adults, $22 for seniors, and $12 for students. Information: 734-242-7722.

The Artie Shaw Orchestra will perform at 3 p.m. Sunday in the Valentine Theatre, 400 North Superior St., Toledo. Tickets are $20, $36, and $40 from the box office, 419-242-2787.



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