Rifftides reader Duncan Reid responds to our recent suggestion that trumpeter Jack Sheldon gets less recognition than his talents warrant.
A thought on Jack Sheldon’s lack of recognition. Like Cal Tjader, Vince Guaraldi, Shorty Rogers, Jim Hall, Conte Candoli, Paul Horn, Jimmy Giuffre and many others, he is white and based on the West Coast. Many critics, mostly on the East Coast and in Europe, have felt and still feel that white musicians do not play authentic jazz. The late French critic Hughes Panassie said just that. Moreover, I was told by the late Al Mckibbon that Leonard Feather’s assessment of Cal was as follows, “Sunny and Californian with no weight at all.”
Ken Burns and Wynton Marsalis are among those with that attitude. You’ll remember, as I assume you viewed the film Jazz, that aside from a brief segment on Brubeck and a few passing comments on Mulligan and a few others, Mr. Burns completely ignored West Coast jazz. In my opinion, much of what was said about white musicians was racist and derogatory. For instance, (historian) Gerald Early said that all the greatest jazz musicians are black because, “you got to have that feeling, you know, you got to have that feeling.” (Critic) Nat Hentoff said, “West Coast jazz is white and bland.” Of course, neither man was speaking the truth, just their perception. Wynton Marsalis just avoided talking about white musicians, save for Bix and a brief comment on Goodman. That is quite an accomplishment, considering the film lasted 18 1/2 hours. All of this lit a fire under me and is one reason I started writing a biography on Cal Tjader three years ago. Hopefully I can finish sometime next year.
I agree that, despite the continued availability of most of his best work, Tjader’s contributions are too little recognized. A thorough Tjader biography would be an important addition to the literature. Whatever animus toward Tjader Al McKibbon may have attributed to Leonard Feather, in the 1960 edition of The Encyclopedia of Jazz, Feather wrote,
Despite his increasing identification with Latin music, Tjader is still active in regular jazz and is a first-class performer with, as John S. Wilson has said, “a light touch and a propulsive approach.”
Certainly, Ken Burns’ Jazz series, for all of its virtures, had willful blind spots, too many to enumerate. To point out a few, Burns gave the slightest acknowledgement of the existence of Jack Teagarden and Bill Evans, white musicians of enormous importance. He was, however, an equal opportunity slighter; he also all but ignored Teddy Wilson and Benny Carter.
Jim Hall and Jimmy Giuffre have not been based on the West Coast in decades. They have both lived in the northeastern United States for more than thirty years. Paul Horn lives in Arizona and British Columbia. Shorty Rogers, Vince Guaraldi and Conte Candoli are no longer alive. But, as Robert Benchley said when he was informed of the death of George Gershwin, I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to.