It’s Jack Sheldon’s 80th birthday today. The trumpeter is unique among jazz musicians in having enjoyed a second career as an actor (Run Buddy Run), and as the iconic voice of “Conjunction Junction” on the children’s television series School House Rock. For nearly 20 years, Sheldon traded quips with Merv Griffin from his seat in the trumpet section of the orchestra on Griffin’s daily TV show. Here he is with Merv singing "I Won't Dance."
Sheldon came to prominence in the mid-50’s with West Coast jazz artists Curtis Counce, Art Pepper, and Gerry Mulligan. Lenny Bruce was a sidekick too. Counce led what was deemed an anomaly during the heyday of West Coast cool jazz: a predominately black, California-based hard bop combo, one fueled by the crisp stroke of drummer Frank Butler. Sheldon shared front line duties with saxophonist Harold Land on the band’s Contemporary recordings, Landslide and You Get More Bounce with Curtis Counce, while his own dates for Pacific Jazz featured Joe Maini, Kenny Drew, and Zoot Sims. Sheldon’s natural gifts as a comic and cut-up tend to overshadow his excellence as a trumpeter and effectiveness as a ballad and blues singer, but his 1950’s work is all first rate and unencumbered by his show biz persona. Sheldon also turned out some fine work at Hollywood nightclubs in the mid-60s that VSOP has reissued, and he made a masterful duo record with pianist Ross Tompkins for Concord Jazz, On My Own, in 1991. He continues to record with his L.A. based combo.
Sheldon’s a survivor in more ways than one. As he attests in this footage from the documentary Trying to Get Good: The Jazz Odyssey of Jack Sheldon, he’s battled alcohol and drug addiction, and he's happily outlived the rumor of his death that went viral earlier this year. Happy birthday, Mr. Sheldon! We’ll hear his music in tonight’s Jazz à la Mode.