Weekend Extra: Jack Sheldon

Glenn Mitchell’s account of the 90th birthday party for Howard Rumsey a month or so ago at Catalina’s in Los Angeles included this about Jack Sheldon’s appearance with his sextet:

They played a favorite of Rumsey’s, a tune that bassist Jimmy Blanton (his all-time favorite) was remembered in, “Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me.” They continued with “Jumping At The Woodside” (same changes as “I’ve Got Rhythm”) and “I Can’t Get Started,” which Sheldon sang very well. Sheldon is not only a great horn player and vocalist but a comedian as well. He roasted Rumsey for a number of minutes, telling stories from the past and kidding him with, “This is your party, Howard, wake up, ” having fun with him about being 80 and surprised with 90 being actually realized. He acknowledged two great qualities of Rumsey — his kindness and generosity.

That triggered a vision from the past. In 1954, I drove from Seattle to Southern California on spring break from college. On a Sunday afternoon in Hermosa Beach I visited the Lighthouse, where Rumsey headed the famous band of all-stars named after the club. Between sets, he and I struck up a conversation. Rumsey said, “Be sure to stick around. A kid from the neighborhood is going to sit in. I think you’ll like him.” The kid was Jack Sheldon. I liked him. Ever since, I have wondered that a trumpet player so accomplished, so admired and respected by other musicians, has never got his due from critics or the jazz audience at large. Maybe it’s because of his comedy, which can be beyond raunchy. Maybe it’s because he sings. Maybe it’s because he has an acting career on the side. But make no mistake, for half a century Sheldon has been a formidable trumpet player.
Jack Sheldon
Here is a rare video example of his singing and playing. It was at a club in New Orleans. The rhythm section is Dave Frishberg, piano; Dave Stone, bass; Frankie Capp, drums; and John Pisano, guitar.
Googling, I found a promo for a documentary about Sheldon. I’ve turned up no information about when it will materialize.
Sheldon is the trumpeter who breaks your heart with the beauty of his playing in the main title and recurring “Shadow of Your Smile” theme of the motion picture The Sandpiper, a film whose only distinction is Johnny Mandel’s music. To hear some of it, including Sheldon’s solos, click here.
Jack Sheldon turned seventy-six a few days ago and seems to be flourishing. Hooray.

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  1. Dick McGarvin says

    Jack Sheldon was his usual funny self in between his usual great playing, but it was Howard, himself, who got the biggest laugh of the night. The 90 year old Rumsey was on stage acknowledging his birthday tributes and said, “I’m thinking about opening a club. (big laugh from the crowd) No one under 50 will be allowed.” (even bigger laugh)
    Couldn’t agree more with your comments about Jack. His off-the-wall comedic persona has always overshadowed his extraordinary and individual playing. In my formative jazz years, Jack Sheldon was one of the first trumpet players I could identify. (Incidentally, the others, early on, were Chet, Dizzy, Clifford and Don Fagerquist.)

  2. Starr Padden says

    I went to see the premier of the Documentary about Jack Sheldon called “Trying to Get Good”. It was absolutely wonderful. Jack was there and several hundred LA fans including musicians, and celebrities were there as well. He’s still at his most authentic, playing strong and working a lot of clubs. The film is well done by Doug MacIntyre and his wife Penny Peyser who worked on it for 5 years. Its hitting the Indie festivals so if folks have the chance go out and see it. Better yet, fly down to LA and see him play live.

  3. says

    I am delighted to find Doug’s blog! I’ve enjoyed his writing ever since I bought Chet’s She Was Too Good To Me back in the early 70’s.
    I saw Jack at Montmartre in Copenhagen in 1985. He played 3 tunes and then went into his hilarious comedy act. A grouch from the audience yelled at him to stop with the jokes and play some more music!!