Jack Sheldon: 1931- 2019

As we face the beginning of 2020, we say goodbye to yet another artist whose illustrious career in jazz had yet another – possibly greater – impact on our culture at large. Jack Sheldon, who died on December 27, 2019, will be remembered by generations of kids who watched the “Schoolhouse Rock” series on ABC during the 1970s.

Jack Sheldon at Palo Alto Jazz Fesival 9/26/87.© Brian McMillen / brianmcmillen@hotmail.com

I remember the charm of Sheldon’s scratchy and raucous voice as he explained the intricacies of how a bill becomes a law – with the genius lyrics of Dave Frishberg – or how “and, but, and or will get you pretty far.” He also served as musical director of “The Merv Griffin Show,” appeared onscreen in “Dragnet,” “Petticoat Junction,” and his own sitcom, “Run, Buddy, Run,” which aired in the mid-1960s. Sheldon also delivered the iconic trumpet solo for the original soundtrack recording of “The Shadow of Your Smile,” written by Johnny Mandel for the 1965 film, “The Sandpiper.”

I had only ever seen him in photos, a Falstaffian figure, with his face creased in laughter or effort playing his horn. To my childish mind, he may well have been the rotund, cigar-smoking cat he voiced in the “Conjunction Junction” segment of “Schoolhouse Rock.” But in 2017, at a memorial concert for the saxophonist and bandleader Dave Pell, an emaciated Sheldon was wheeled out alongside his fellow musicians and delivered a heartrending solo during the band’s rendition of Cole Porter’s “I Love You.”

Since suffering a stroke in 2011, the ever-resourceful Sheldon learned to play his horn with one hand. Forgive my grainy video here – all present whipped out our cell phones and although it felt a bit sacrilegious to record that moment, I am glad we did. It’s easy now to picture Mr. Sheldon in the great beyond – whether upstairs or downstairs, I cannot tell – restored to his former robust form and humor – which many tell me was pretty blue and not in a musical way – and playing his heart out.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, a memorial service for Jack Sheldon will be held at 2 p.m. on Jan. 10 at Forest Lawn in Cypress, California.

For further reading:

Obituary for Jack Sheldon, The Hollywood Reporter, Dec. 31, 2019

Obituary for Jack Sheldon, The Los Angeles Times, Dec. 31, 2019

Jack Sheldon bio on Wikipedia

“Schoolhouse Rock” – MLS interview with Lynn Ahren, Bob Dorough, and George Newall, Sept. 28, 2017

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