(Somebody left a nice longish comment on a Charlie O’s piece I posted on Facebook, and she talked about Jax mostly, and Jack Sheldon there every Thursday, week in, week out, a gig you thought would last forever. It didn’t. (He’s around, just retired.) But I went digging through the blog and found this, originally from a Brick’s Picks in the LA Weekly in 2007, and it brought back memories about times long ago that weren’t even that long ago, but are still gone forever.)
Jack Sheldon was hot at Jax last Thursday. Jennifer Leitham swung the bass line like mad or plunged into these beautifully dense solos with great washes of chords or hanging, aching notes; drummer Dick Weller kicked it up crazily as Joe Bagg finessed coherent melodies (or chunks of Monk) from a piano last tuned during the Eisenhower Administration. Jack just got hotter and hotter, those near perfect solos, the trumpet’s single notes celebrating the tune like Satchmo or just taking off into the bop galaxy. In Glendale of all places. We wandered in for a drink and there was this great jazz, and a table right in front where you could feel the bass thrumming right through you. Stayed way too late…but the jazz experience is like that, you know. Often as not it’ll happen at some local hang, utterly unexpected, where some absurdly talented band plays for a smattering of fans and you, drink in hand, thinking just how lucky you are to be in the right place at the right time for once in your life.
[And this is from a Brick’s Picks a couple years later]
Also want to throw yet another plug for Jack Sheldon at the Cafe 322 out in Sierra Madre. While Jack appears regularly in several spots around town—he’s been doing those Thursdays at Jax forever—it’s his monthly appearances at the Café 322 where he’s consistently the most exciting. Pianist Mitch Forman sets the pace, flying across the keys at insane tempos, going off on melodic tangents, and drummers the likes of Ray Brinker launch into breaks you can hear as you pull into the parking lot. There was a “Caravan” we recall that was breakneck, just crazy, but there was Jack, smiling, snapping fingers in time, waiting for his turn…and when he blew his horn he was right there with them, letting loose beautiful crazy bebop lines. There followed a brilliant, languid take of his unrecorded theme song, “Where Do You Start”, that hushed the house. He sang a couple of the verses, just enough, and blew a couple more choruses on his trumpet. Then came the jokes….
And here’s Jack’s show stopping take on “Where Do You Start”, which he never did get round to recording. We will, he told me, next time. Next time…I’ve heard that too many times from jazz musicians. Jazz exists in the now, on stage, while recordings are little frozen moments. Not the same thing. Till later, when you wish to hell they’d recorded it.
And whether you’re a serious fan or just wondering who the hell this Jack Sheldon was I was forever going on about, you have to see Trying to Get Good. An excellent jazz documentary, lovingly assembled by Penny Peyser and Doug McIntyre, it’s up there with the Monk doc Straight No Chaser, and that is saying something.