Often, I have admired world-class musicians from afar. Sometimes, we’ve rubbed elbows a bit, and more rarely, I’ve gotten to know them well. For me, Jack Sheldon fell in the second category.
My first experience with Jack Sheldon was hearing him on TV on the Merv Griffin show. My last experience was hearing him perform at the 2016 conference of the International Trumpet Guild in Anaheim, CA. To do so, he overcame remarkable physical challenges, and I think a large roomful of excellent trumpeters knew they were hearing a great and historic performance.
Along the way, I got to hear him in a few jazz clubs in L.A., and for a time, I got to play a few rehearsals with his band down in Hollywood. Unfortunately, I never got to perform with him, since when those calls came, I was busy. Certainly, just to be in a rehearsal with him was a dear experience. If you’re not familiar with his music and career, I recommend taking some time to devote to that. The Web has a lot of his work to enjoy.
But I do have a couple Jack Sheldon remembrances you probably won’t find elsewhere.
First, my undergrad school, Occidental College, had a '20s-themed (1920s, for you young pups) party every year called “Da Getaway.” Oxy is in Eagle Rock, a district of Los Angeles, CA, where at the time the Eagle Rock High School had a truly dynamite jazz band program under the leadership of John Rinaldo. Not only did they play great on their own, but some of Los Angeles’ best jazz musicians – players whose names you would know – would sit in with them. The Eagle Rock High School Jazz Band was engaged to play for live dancing at this campus-wide party, but in my freshman year, the Oxy concert band had an on-campus concert on the night of the party, so before I could hear the band, I decided to dash to my dorm room first to ditch my brown suit. (Brown suit? Why is it when they told me I needed a dark suit to perform in, they neglected to mention that brown would be the worst possible choice?) As I walked by the dorm where the big band was playing, I heard the most exquisite jazz trumpeting! Who could it possibly be? What high school kid could play like that!? Thinking they’d be playing until midnight, like my high school band did a lot, I first ditched the stupid brown suit, then returned to the dance to listen. But instead, I found the band packing up and learned that the trumpet soloist had been Jack Sheldon. Missed him (mostly) by THAT much….
Then, a few years later, my teacher – Bill Bing – invited me to a special event. About twenty local trumpet players would gather each year to play Happy Birthday for studio trumpet legend, Mannie Klein, at his home near Toluca Lake. I went three years, as I recall. We’d convene around 10 a.m. to “surprise” Mannie by playing for him and his wife in his front yard. I recall going inside and getting some cake afterward. I don’t recall now who all was there, but I do recall meeting John Audino, Malcolm McNab, and Walt Johnson for the first time. And Jack Sheldon led it all. He’d call the key, say “anna one, anna two,” and we’d all soon learn who forgot to transpose or which note it starts on.
I always thought that doing this said good things about the comradery and respect among fellow trumpet players, not only for Mannie – a hero to us all, – but for Jack Sheldon, who truly deserved to be the leader.