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Jack Sheldon and the California Cool Quartet: It's What I Do

C. Michael Bailey By

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If West Coast jazz has a tone, it is dry ice cool. Trumpeter, vocalist and actor Jack Sheldon, the entertainment triple threat, played a big part in forging this tone in the period following Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool (Blue Note, 1949). That recording was the shot over the bow of bebop that gave rise to the Left Coast cats perfecting what Miles started, just as Mozart perfected Haydn's brand of classicism. Sheldon's huge personality and capacity for practical jokes could lead one to think of him as the West Coast Dizzy Gillespie. This temperament has at times overshadowed Sheldon's superb trumpet and vocal skills. The former of these talents is in abundant supply on It's What I Do.

Sheldon deftly deconstructs ten jazz standards spanning the life of jazz, from the bebop of Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite to the post-hard bop of John Coltrane's "Persuance. He does so in the company of the classic solo horn-led quartet, a format favored by one of Sheldon's West Coast comrades, saxophonist Art Pepper. The quartet offers the horn soloist the most exposure with a full rhythm section. Sheldon takes full advantage of the space, performing in a mid-register tone that is at once dry without vibrato, like that of Chet Baker but with a surer warmth and playfulness that Baker could never achieve.

Sheldon's fine rhythm section of pianist Joe Bragg, bassist Bruce Lett, and drummer Dick Weller provide both streamlined intelligent accompaniment and crack solo spots. The rhythm section never overplays, always supporting Sheldon with just the necessary momentum to achieve that elusive jazz quantity: swing. When it comes time for the support to lead, they do so with class and grace. Lett plays one mean Paul Chambers pizzicato.

Sheldon makes his most progressive musical statements by opening the recording with Coltrane's "Naima and "Persuance. He nods to Miles with the swinging set of "Seven Steps to Heaven, "Four, "Milestones, and "Freddie the Freeloader. Monk and Strayhorn are addressed in exuberant performances of "Well, You Needn't and "Chelsea Bridge. Holding up the rear end of the recording are two by Charlie Parker, "Steeplechase and "Yardbird Suite. Perhaps Sheldon is acknowledging the alpha and omega of jazz with the rest of the library in between, providing a given canon of jazz standards.

Track Listing: Naima; Persuance; Seven Steps to Heaven; Four; Milestones; Well, You Needn't; Chelsea Bridge; Freddy the Freeloader; Steeple Chase; Yardbird Suite.

Personnel: Person: Jack Sheldon: trumpet; Joe Bagg: Piano; Bruce Lett: bass; Dick Weller: drums.

Title: It's What I Do | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Butterfly Records

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