Jack Sheldon: Jack’s Groove

Marc Myers writes daily on jazz legends and legendary jazz recordings

By Marc Myers | JazzWax

Back in the 1950s and ’60s, Jack Sheldon was a trumpeter with many talents. He was part comic, actor and singer and completely at ease in his own skin. But as a musician, he played with deep sincerity and enormous sensitivity, especially on ballads. He was beloved by everyone on the West Coast jazz scene, largely because of his jovial personality and industriousness, professionalism and poetic playing style. Which is saying something, considering how many exceptional trumpeters there were in Los Angeles in the 1950s and beyond. Sheldon is still with us today (he’s 84 now), and his sturdy, gentle horn on recordings remains pure joy. 

One of my favorite Sheldon album from the 1950s was one of his first as a leader—Jack Sheldon and His All Stars (also known as Jack’s Groove). Recorded for Gene Norman’s GNP label in December 1958 and March 1959, the album is impossibly beautiful. On the 1958 session, the personnel included Jack Sheldon and Conte Candoli (tp); Stu Williamson (v-tb); Vince DeRosa (fhr); Red Callender (tu); Lennie Niehaus (as,arr); Billy Root (bar); Pete Jolly (p); Buddy Clark (b) and Mel Lewis (d).

On the 1959 session, the musicians were Jack Sheldon and Chet Baker (tp); Stu Williamson (v-tb); Herb Geller and Art Pepper (as); Harold Land (ts); Paul Moer (p,arr); Buddy Clark (b) and Mel Lewis (d). [Photo of Paul Moer above]

I have no idea why the entire album wasn’t recorded in Dec. ’58. My guess is that the demands of the Hollywood record studios were such that Lennie either didn’t write enough arrangements for a full 12-inch album, wasn’t paid enough to write a full album’s worth, or most of the musicians, including Sheldon, had other studio obligations. For the second session, Moer—best known as the pianist in Les Brown’s band—wrote all of the arrangements.

The songs recorded in 1958 that were arranged by Lennie are On Green Dolphin Street, his original I’m Also a Person and I Had the Craziest Dream. George Wallington wrote and arranged Arrivederci and Tiny Kahn wrote and arranged Brown Cow.

For the 1959 session, Moer composed and arranged J.S., Aplomb and Anyhow. He also arranged Teddy Edwards’ Sunset Eyes and Bobby Troup’s Julie Is Her Name, the album’s finest ballad.

On the album’s first half from ’58, the tentet has a bouncy and jaunty feel, in the tradition of many West Coast jazz ensembles, with Sheldon blowing pure and without overplaying his solo lines. And Root’s solo passages are fabulous. He truly was an overlooked baritone saxophone giant. And Brown Cow, the Kahn chart, really swings, though it almost sounds as if it Shorty Rogers had a hand in the arranging. [Photo above of Tiny Kahn, left, with Al Porcino, courtesy of Bill Crow]

The nonet on the album’s second half from ’59 has a slightly more lyrical feel. Interestingly, a flutist isn’t listed on the album or in the Jazz Discography but I hear one anyway on Anyhow. It must have been Herb Geller (above) doubling on the instrument. Sheldon, again, plays in the most tender, understated way. His improvised runs are so powdery and seemingly effortless. With this album, it’s easy to hear why he was in such demand and so beloved.

This is a perfect album.

JazzWax tracks: You’ll find Jack Sheldon’s Jack’s Groove here, reissued by Fresh Sound. You’ll also find it here and at Spotify listed under Jack Sheldon and His All Stars.

JazzWax clips: Here’s Brown Cow

Brown Cow

Here’s Anyhow


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