Trumpeter and Actor Jack Sheldon, Remembered

Jack Sheldon at Palo Alto Jazz Festival 1987. Photo by Brian McMullen

Last week on All Night Jazz, we featured music by the versatile trumpeter, actor and performer, Jack Sheldon.  WUSF’s Carson Rodriguez Bugarin has more:

Born on November 30, 1931, in Jacksonville, Florida, Jack Sheldon started playing the trumpet at age 12. In 1947, Sheldon moved to Los Angeles, where he attended the University of Southern California and Los Angeles City College before serving in the Air Force for two years.

Upon his return to the West Coast in 1952, Sheldon performed around Los Angeles with small groups and his 18-piece orchestra.

Gaining notoriety as a skilled performer in the L.A. jazz scene, Sheldon was influential in the establishment of the 1950s West Coast movement that led to hard bop becoming the preferred jazz style around the world.

Sheldon toured and performed alongside artists like Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, and Art Pepper and played for singers like Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee.

Sheldon also earned a reputation for his singing, comedy, and acting abilities. After being given a singing role by Benny Goodman, Sheldon continued to vocalize on his tracks and did background work for other artists.

In 1962, Sheldon became the musical director and a co-star of, “The Merv Griffin Show,” a job he worked on until 1986. His popularity on the show led to Sheldon to appear in several different sitcoms like, “The Cara Williams Show,” until he was given the leading role on his own show, “Run, Buddy, Run,” which ran for 13 episodes from 1966-1967.

During his time as a television performer, Sheldon contributed to the production of several film soundtracks, the most popular being “The Shadow of Your Smile,” for the 1965 film “Sandpiper.”

That song earned Sheldon a Grammy award for “Song of the Year” and the Academy Award for “Best Original Song.”

In the 70s, Sheldon worked on the popular children’s television series, “Schoolhouse Rock!” In the second and third seasons of the show, Sheldon portrayed the characters of the conductor and the bill in the episodes “I’m Just a Bill” and “Conjunction Junction,” which are still used in schools today.

Sheldon later reprised these roles for parodies of the songs on the shows “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.”

In the 90’s and early 2000’s, Sheldon continued to perform on soundtracks for films like, “The Pink Panther,” and, “White Men Can’t Jump,” while also being a trumpeter and actor in his own right, starring in, “For the Boys,” (1991) as a bandleader in World War II.

While many of his previous coworkers and producers praised his work, in the 2008 documentary, “Trying to Get Good: the Jazz Odyssey of Jack Sheldon,” Sheldon revealed he had been secretly battling drug and alcohol addiction for most of his career.

This addiction, as admitted by Sheldon in the 1993 interview with Terry Gross of NPR’s “Fresh Air”  kept him from fully utilizing his singing and trumpeting abilities.

“I thought I was better than the teachers, you know? And I really just didn’t know what I was doing,” he told Gross. “ And then …when I got sober, I found out there was a lot of stuff that I didn’t know and that people didn’t use me – not because they didn’t like me or anything – because I couldn’t produce what they wanted. Now I’m trying to get to be able to do anything any composer might want.”

Sheldon died in 2019 at the age of 88.


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