Big Band leader and “Begin the Beguine” clarinetist Artie Shaw was eulogized by friends with tributes of admiration as well as moments of humor.
Shaw’s music filled Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park chapel Sunday, inducing a few tapping toes, and the entertainer’s friends delivered tributes before orchestra director Dick Johnson stood at Shaw’s casket and played “I’ll Be Seeing You” on a clarinet.
“I believe he was the best jazz clarinetist of all time and one of the very few geniuses I’ve rubbed elbows with,” Johnson said.
Shaw died at his Thousand Oaks home on Dec. 30 of complications related to diabetes. He was 94.
Shaw epitomized the Big Band era with hits such as “Begin the Beguine” and “Stardust” before abandoning the music world for writing and other pursuits.
Comic actor Red Buttons recalled Shaw was married eight times, including actresses Lana Turner and Ava Gardner.
“I asked him why did he marry so many times,” Buttons said. “He said, ‘Why not?”’
The mourners roared with laughter and Buttons continued.
“I met Artie during World War II. We were both in uniform. He was in the Navy and I was a bellhop at the Astoria Hotel,” he said to more laughter before glancing up and saying, “Is God going to punish me for getting laughs at a memorial?”
“I Did It My Way” could be a song title about Shaw’s life, Buttons said.
“Artie, all his days, told it like it was, how he saw it, not how you saw it,” he said. Then Buttons looked at the coffin. “In a way I’m shocked to see this public service for this most private man.”