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Jack's Gone! No He Isn't; Yes He Is; No He Isn't...!

Jack Bowers By

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As I sat down to write this month's column, word came that trumpeter Jack Sheldon had died. No sooner had I written a few words about that when word came that trumpeter Jack Sheldon had not died. After some back-and-forth on the internet (is he or isn't he?), the last report, it seems, was the true one. According to his wife, Dianne, Jack Sheldon is alive and well, a statement that was confirmed when someone phoned Sheldon's home and Jack himself answered. What is most ludicrous about the mix-up is that no one would find it funnier than Sheldon, whose sense of humor is as legendary as his musicianship. If he really is as well as he is alive, he may use it to his advantage for years to come, producing an unending series of droll one-liners about his premature "demise."

Sheldon has been into comedy for many years, as a sidekick to television talk-show host Merv Griffin, on his own TV series, Run, Buddy, Run, on Sally Field's sitcom The Girl with Something Extra, in films, numerous cartoon voice-overs and as part of his nightclub routine leading a big band or smaller groups in southern California and around the world. A documentary about his life, Trying to Get Good: the Jazz Odyssey of Jack Sheldon, was released in 2008. His ready wit has to some extent overshadowed Sheldon's remarkable talents as a jazz trumpeter, which first drew notice in the mid-1950s when he led his own quartet and quintet on albums on the Pacific Jazz label. He has recorded some twenty albums since then and has played in various groups both large and small including a couple of years in the groundbreaking Stan Kenton Orchestra. Sheldon is a five-time recipient of Playboy magazine's International Artist of the Year award. Even better, he remains upright and eligible for another, even though Sheldon's web site says he is on an "extended vacation." Hurry back, Jack. That's the best way to prove to everyone that you're still alive and swingin.'

On the Other Hand...

Reports about the passing of two more prominent jazz musicians were, sad to say, not in error, as the week of June 12-18 was not a good one for trombonists or those who appreciate them. On June 13, trombonist Dave McMurdo, one of Canada's leading musicians and bandleaders, died from a heart attack at his home, only two days after completing an interview with the Toronto newspaper The Spectator about his retirement after thirty-two years as a teacher at Mohawk College. Two days later, trombonist Bruce Otto, who had performed most recently at the Los Angeles Jazz Institute's Big Band Olympics in May, died in his sleep. His passing was confirmed by brothers Stan and Andy Martin who went to his apartment to find out why Otto hadn't showed up for a gig that evening with Wayne Bergeron's big band. McMurdo was 67, Otto 57.

McMurdo, who was born in London and came with his parents to Vancouver after the second World War, is best remembered as leader of the Dave McMurdo Jazz Orchestra, Canada's nearest rival to Rob McConnell's Boss Brass. Before forming the band in the late 1980s, McMurdo had played with the Boss Brass and in Phil Nimmons' Nimmons 'n' Nine Plus Six. The DMJO's original lineup included such world-class musicians as Don Thompson, Mike Malone, Pat La Barbera, Chase Sanborn, Reg Schwager, Perry White and others. McMurdo paid tribute to Nimmons with two albums, Portraits and Nimmons 'n' More. At Mohawk, McMurdo taught jazz harmony and arranging, and directed the school's big band and smaller combos.

Otto was a busy presence on the Los Angeles jazz scene, a topnotch studio musician who had performed on recordings by singers Bobby Caldwell, James Darren, Marilyn Harris, Lorraine Feather and others, and played in big bands led by Bergeron, Ladd McIntosh, Les Hooper, Gregg Field, Ray Anthony, Chris Walden and more, and was a member of Mike Suter's National Slide Quartet on the album Trombania in 1994.

It's Not Too Late...

It's not too late to start making plans to attend the Los Angeles Jazz Institute's upcoming extravaganza, "Modern Sounds: Celebrating the West Coast Big Band Sound," to be held October 20-23 at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel. The event will showcase twenty-eight big bands and large ensembles, most of whom have already signed on. Among those set to perform are Terry Gibbs, Dave Pell, Bill Holman, Russell Garcia, Joel Kaye, Sue Raney, Carl Saunders, Duane Tatro, Bobby Shew and Johnny Mandel. Concerts will celebrate the music of Woody Herman, Shorty Rogers, Stan Kenton, Gerry Mulligan, Johnny Richards, Jimmy Giuffre, Marty Paich, Pete Rugolo, Don Fagerquist, Bud Shank / Bob Cooper, Chet Baker / Jack Montrose, John Graas, Clifford Brown, Shelly Manne and more. All that in addition to films, panel discussions and special presentations. For information, phone 562-200-5477 or go online to lajazzinstitute.org

And that's it for now. Until next time, keep swingin...'!

New and Noteworthy

1. The H2 Big Band, You're It! (Jazzed Media)

2. Captain Black Big Band, Untitled (Posi-Tone)

3. George Stone, The Real Deal (Self Published)

4. Stan Kenton / DePaul University, Double Feature (Tantara)

5. Andy Farber Orchestra, This Could Be the Start of Something Big (Black Warrior)

6. Rick Wald 16 / NYC, Play That Thing (Glowbow)

7. Mike Cato Tentet, Nimmons 'n' Nine . . . Now (MCCO Records)

8. Jazz Conceptions Orchestra, Untitled (151 Records)

9. U.S. Air Force Academy Band, Sharing the Freedom (Self Published)

10. Brooks Tegler Big Band, That's It! (Maxngruber Records)

11. Madison Mellophonium Orchestra, Young at Heart (Blue Heron Music)

12. Heart of North Carolina Jazz Orchestra, Jazz Encounters (Self Published)

13. U.S. Navy Commodores, 40th Anniversary Celebration (USN Jazz)

14. Jamie Begian Big Band, Big Fat Grin (Innova)

15. Cal State University—Northridge, CSUN Originals 08 / 09 (No label)


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