Artie Shaw’s Funk Paves Way For Tony Pastor

I’ve been actively listening to big band music for most of my life, beginning with my teen years (when it competed with early rock and roll for my attention) and continuing to the present. Not surprisingly, I’ve gained some favorites from among the many tunes I’ve heard again and again. A few of those are a little obscure but others were big hits for the bands.

One of the biggest was “Frenesi,” a song usually associated with legendary bandleader and clarinetist Artie Shaw. (Video below.) But there was another musician who was at one time a featured member of Shaw’s band, but later formed his own successful group and eventually recorded the same tune. However, he might have been better known for giving a certain singer her start.

Tony Pastor is not a well-known name these days, but he was a respected musician in the early years. He grew up in the Hartford area and served with a number of bands in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s before joining Shaw later in the decade, playing saxophone and doing a little singing too.

Pastor was not a classic Italian-American crooner – his voice has been compared to Louie Prima’s – but he was popular with fans. When the volatile Shaw pulled yet another vanishing act and his band dissolved, Pastor decided to form his own group.

From 1939 to 1959 it was a solid success, appearing regularly in clubs and on tour, and occasionally venturing into the recording studio to lay down some decent tracks. And although the band wasn’t considered a serious jazz group – preferring light tunes such as “‘A’ You’re Adorable” – it did manage to generate a few very nice sounds. A good example would be its version of the Artie Shaw hit we mentioned before, “Frenesi.”

Pastor was also a good judge of talent, a fact proven by his hiring of the Clooney Sisters in the late 1940’s. They were a big part of the band’s success, and Rosemary (yes, George’s aunt) later went on to stardom in recording and the movies.

When Pastor eventually dissolved his band in 1959 he wasn’t finished with music. He put together a singing act with his two sons and continued to perform until shortly before his death in 1969.

(Artie Shaw – “Frenesi”)

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