By Steve Provizer
Trumpeter Jack Sheldon will be missed for much more than his musical output would account for.
Usually, the degree to which a jazz musician is mourned is tied to the scope of their musical contribution — the more of a giant, the more they are missed. Sometimes, though, a passing is deeply mourned for other reasons. Jack Sheldon died at the age of 88 on December 27. I’ve written about him for the Arts Fuse here. He will be missed for much more than his musical output would account for. His was an esprit — a spirit — that illuminated every one of the labyrinthine paths that his outsized talent led him down.
Incredibly, even though the byways of his journey seemed so disparate, he was no dabbler in any of them — he had the capacity to make his “voice” emerge in everything he did. As a trumpeter, he is in the top rank of those who mastered the bop style. As a vocalist, he could deliver the goods with a wide emotional range. As a humorist, he was the equal of any professional. As a voice-over artist, his contribution was singular.
His CV includes playing with and leading groups with other masters going back to the cool-bebop school of the early ’50s –Baker, Pepper, Mulligan — and continuing through his last recording in 2007. He had his own TV show, Run, Buddy, Run, and often appeared on Dragnet. He was a stalwart member of the Schoolhouse Rock team, performing tunes like “I’m Just a Bill” and “Conjunction Junction.” He was musical director of the Merv Griffin Show, and often stood up as a member of the band to solo and/or deliver shtick. There is a 2008 documentary on Sheldon: Trying to Get Good: the Jazz Odyssey of Jack Sheldon, in which he’s open about his wild youth and drug and alcohol use.
With his gap-toothed, bad-boy grin, there was an openness to the guy that came across in any medium. He was the slightly older kid up the street; the one with natural grace on the ball field. He knew how to get grownups to buy him beer and was always the first to jump off the high RR trestle. Although we never actually met, we’ve always been on a first-name basis. I think that’s how a lot of people feel about Jack Sheldon.
Steve Provizer writes on a range of subject, most often the arts. He is a musician and blogs about jazz here.