Some time ago, Rifftides reader Steve Sherman wrote, more or less in haiku form:
Jack Sheldon, unpretentious,
one of the best living singers, trumpet players,
always swinging, often touching.
Maybe write something.
I agree with Mr. Sherman’s evaluation of Sheldon. I am happy to write something, but first here are passages from a message that came even longer ago from the trombonist, singer, bandleader and alcoholic beverage maven Eric Felten (he is the author of the the “How’s Your Drink?” column in the Saturday Wall Street Journal). Mr. Felten was responding to what I wrote about a solo that came fairly early in Sheldon’s career.
I am in total agreement with you that the Jack Sheldon solo on “Then I’ll Be Tired of You” is one of the great moments in jazz.
The solo was on the The Hi-Los and All That Jazz (dumb title), a 1958 album that has been in and out of print (mostly out) for decades. Sheldon plays the bridge of the song, eight bars of melody. By inflection and a few grace notes, he makes it an endearing personal statement. I wrote in that 2005 posting:
Inexcusably, Columbia has allowed The Hi-Los And All That Jazz to go out of print, but “Then I’ll Be Tired of You” is included in this compilation.
Here’s more of Eric Felten’s message:
I resisted the urge to mention my own recent disc during the Bill Perkins discussion (though my record is dedicated to Perk, who was supposed to be part of the session and died a month ahead of the recording date) because I enjoy being part of the Rifftides discussion and haven’t wanted to muck that up with self-promotion.
Oh, go ahead, promote away.
Let me mention my disc to you in the Jack Sheldon context. Jack is on the record and he plays brilliantly. He still has that big fat swaggering sound, and still alternates between broad melodic statements and tumbling bebop lines. And in the studio he keeps everyone in stitches with the bluest jokes imaginable (the sort of jokes that have gotten him barred from a number of L.A. jazz clubs). In other words he’s still Jack Sheldon.
Perhaps because he’s on the West Coast; perhaps because he was so involved in television; or perhaps because of the blue humor: whatever the reason, Sheldon has never received the credit he deserves as an essential jazz musician. But to me he achieves one of the most important things a jazz musician can do — he has an original and distinctive voice. This is a discrete thing, in my mind, from the question of being an “innovator.” As crucial as innovation is, I think that it is just as valid for a musician to find his own distinctive voice even if the idiom in which he is working is not at the cutting edge.
I won’t give you Sheldon’s history as a trumpeter, singer, comic, television star, motion picture actor and swimming instructor. The biography on his web site will supply all of that. I will tell you about a few recordings of the hundreds he has made.
This Amazon.com page has all four of the albums Sheldon made in the 1950s as a member of the Curtis Counce Quintet with bassist Counce, tenor saxophonist Harold Land, pianist Carl Perkins and drummer Frank Butler. He was a brilliant soloist in a brilliant band.
Capable of drive, hard swing and humor in his playing, Sheldon has a quality of wistfulness that has made him attractive to film composers and producers. He is part of the music that made two abysmal movies worth attending. One was The Sandpiper, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and a bird. Sheldon plays “The Shadow of Your Smile.” His treatment of Johnny Mandel’s main title theme is as unforgettable as the song itself. Fortunately, you don’t have to see the movie to hear the sound track. If you’re lucky, you’ll find it here. The other film was The Subterraneans, a Jack Kerouac story about the Bohemian life in San Francisco. It translated badly to the screen, despite the presence of Leslie Caron. André Previn’s score was sublime. Sheldon’s playing in the orchestral portions of the soundtrack is memorable. The directing and acting are not. After I wrote recently about Previn’s music for the picture, he sent a message:
I always liked The Subterraneans score, although the film was dreadful. I am pleased and flattered that you remembered the music so kindly.
Who wouldn’t remember it kindly?
Now available only as a fairly pricey import CD, drummer Shelly Manne’s interpretation of My Fair Lady features Sheldon singing as Henry Higgins, with Irene Kral as Eliza Doolittle. It’s a classic.
Here are a few CDs I recommend from the many Sheldon has made as a leader:
Jack Sheldon All-Stars. Mid-fifties big band with Chet Baker, Herb Geller and Conte Candoli, among others. Sheldon plays ravishing melody on “I Had The Craziest Dream.”
Class Act. Sheldon in duets with the late Ross Tompkins, his piano sidekick of decades. You will have to imagine Tompkins’ deadpan reactions to Sheldon’s beyond-the-edge humor. You’ll have to imagine the humor, too. But the playing is gorgeous.
Hollywood Heroes. Sheldon singing and playing in 1988 in superb form, with a quartet that includes the stompin’ pianist Ray Sherman, a secret too well kept.
JSO Live! Recent Sheldon with his big band. Exhilirating.
California Cool. Even more recent, with his quartet featuring pianist Milcho Leviev, bassist Bruce Lett and drummer Nick Martinis.
Jack Sheldon in New Orleans. This is a DVD made at a club on Bourbon Street with Dave Frishberg on piano, bassist Dave Stone and guitarist John Pisano. There’s nothing quite like Sheldon live, and this catches him at his playing and singing best.