Artie Shaw is one of the most captivating Americans of the 20th century, top shelf in a centenary lousy with geniuses. The poor Jewish kid from New Haven became a monster on the clarinet and led big bands in the '30s and '40s, which ranged in style from swing to the more experimental “third stream.” In addition to hiring Buddy Rich and Billy Butterfield, he broke the color barrier by working with Billie Holiday, Hot Lips Page and Roy Eldridge. This impudence plus his lefty politics got Shaw labeled “the communist-loving clarinetist” and he was subpoenaed before the House Un-American Activities Committee for subversion. A handsome devil, he got hitched seven times, two of his wives were iconic bombshells Lana Turner and Ava Gardner. His voracious intellect and love for literature led him to write novels, short stories and an autobiography; he befriended Hemingway, Budd Schulberg and Terry Southern. Tom Nolan, a fine scribe himself, has penned the Shaw biography, Three Chords For Beauty's Sake (W.W. Norton & Company), which reveals the many layers of this complex Renaissance cat based on a series of interviews with Nolan's subject. As part of the Burbank Central Library's Coffee and Conversation series, Nolan will discuss Shaw's life and times and kick off a series of Artie-related events throughout June and July, including memorabilia displays and live music.

Mon., June 28, 7 p.m., 2010

LA Weekly