Millions of people have heard Jack Sheldon’s voice and his trumpet although most don’t know the name Jack Sheldon. He was one the main voices behind the legendary kids educational series Schoolhouse Rock.
But by the time the 70’s rolled around and Jack was a Schoolhouse Rock-star, Jack had already had a long and colorful career. He was one of the key “West Coast Jazz” players and recorded on tons of albums both as a leader and as a sideman. He was also a comedian and an accomplished actor – movies and lots of television. He was legendary at making people laugh, often with some seriously crude humor. But while everyone else was laughing, Jack was fighting some demons. Drugs, alcohol, family tragedies. His life appeared to be amazing but inside he was a wreck. If you want to see a good movie, check out the 2008 Jack Sheldon documentary “Trying To Get Good: The Jazz Odyssey of Jack Sheldon.” It’s a really well-done look into Jack’s life and celebrity. Jack is honest in his words and even more honest in his music. Really worth watching.
But the point behind picking Sheldon for last week’s contest is to highlight his trumpet playing which really is excellent. I get the feeling that, at least for the first part of his career, Jack Sheldon found himself often in the shadow of Chet Baker. Chet was prettier. Chet got more ladies. Chet didn’t have to work to be a great jazz trumpet player. Chet had that natural, effortless sound. Jack had to work hard to get to the level he had attained. I actually like Jack’s playing more than Chet’s. Jack has more junk and dirt in his sound (although, as he got older, I feel like his sound got more clear and focused and he actually got a more big band kind of sound). Jack plays hipper lines than Chet (Jack knew much more harmony than Chet who played totally by ear). Jack was, at least for the first part of his career, more reliable than Chet. If you hired Jack as a sideman, he’d show up and play great. This didn’t always happen with Chet. Jack could really burn on uptempo tunes and he could melt you with a ballad. And he could play some blues too. He was the full package and it really would not be fair or accurate to just call him a “West Coast” trumpeter. You could pin that on Shorty Rogers maybe, but Jack had more to offer than that. He was a really multi-dimensional showbiz figure.
As for this recording, it features a mini-big band with arrangements, I am guessing, by Lennie Niehaus. Check out this transcription of Jack’s solo. It’s not the most badass solo of all-time but it fits with the arrangement and it has some tasty and sneaky lines in it. But the key to the solo is Jack’s sound. It’s kinda dirty and spitty but at the same time his tone is open, big, and warm. It’s not easy to get a balance like that. Jack was a master.