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One of the great jokesters in jazz (whose spontaneous monologues are as hilarious as they are tasteless), Jack Sheldon's personality has sometimes overshadowed his excellent trumpet playing and effective vocals. Sheldon started playing professionally at age 13. He moved to Los Angeles in 1947, joined the Air Force and played in military bands. After his discharge, Sheldon became a popular figure on the West Coast, playing and recording with many top musicians including Jimmy Giuffre, Herb Geller, Wardell Gray, Stan Kenton, Benny Goodman, Curtis Counce, and Art Pepper. He worked as an actor in the 1960s (including starring in the short-lived television series Run Buddy Run), was seen nightly on The Merv Griffin Show, and in the 1970s and '80s he performed with Benny Goodman, Bill Berry's big band, in the studios, and with his own groups. He also made his mark on millions of American children by being the vocalist for both "Conjuction Junction" and "I'm Just a Bill" from the Schoolhouse Rocks! series. Into the mid-'90s, Jack Sheldon (who often uses a big band arranged by Tom Kubis) remained quite active in the Los Angeles area, recording regularly for Concord and his Butterfly label.
Jack Sheldon (born November 30, 1931) is an American bebop and West Coast jazz trumpeter, singer, and actor. He is a trumpet player and was a comedian on The Merv Griffin Show, as well as the voice heard on several episodes of the educational music television series Schoolhouse Rock.
Sheldon was born in Jacksonville, Florida. He originally became known through his participation in the West Coast jazz movement of the 1950s, performing and recording with such figures as Art Pepper, Gerry Mulligan, and Curtis Counce. He developed a warm dark sound, and this is exploited in soundtracks such as his solo on "The Shadow of your Smile" from the 1965 film The Sandpiper.
In the 1964–1965 season, Sheldon was a costar with Cara Williams and Frank Aletter on the CBS situation comedy, The Cara Williams Show in which Williams and Aletter played a secretly-married couple trying to keep their union quiet because their employer forbade a husband and wife from both working for the company.
From 1966–1967, Sheldon starred in his own 16 episode CBS sitcom, Run, Buddy, Run, as Buddy Overstreet, a young accountant taking a steam bath who overhears a mobster's plot to kill a colleague and then goes on the run to keep from being killed. Bruce Gordon, formerly of The Untouchables played the mobster, "Mr. D".
Sheldon played the trumpet, sang, and performed on the Merv Griffin television program. He was Merv's sidekick and comedic foil for many years. He also made numerous appearances on the 1967-70 version of the Jack Webb NBC series Dragnet. He also played John Davidson's and Sally Field's friend on The Girl with Something Extra (1974).
His voice is perhaps best known from the Schoolhouse Rock! cartoons of the 1970s, such as "Conjunction Junction" and "I'm Just a Bill". Later, he parodied his own performance in "I'm Just a Bill" in an episode of The Simpsons called "The Day the Violence Died", where he is just an "amendment to be." "I'm Just a Bill" was also parodied in the Family Guy episode "Mr. Griffin Goes to Washington". Here, the bill on Capitol Hill begins singing the opening lyrics, when a janitor comes up and stabs him with a stick, then throws him away. He also parodied his voice in the Family Guy episode "Running Mates" where Peter made changes to the sex education curriculum with a spin off of the "Conjunction Junction" skit, "Vagina Junction". Sheldon returned to the Schoolhouse Rock! series for a 2002 episode titled "I'm Gonna Send Your Vote to College", explaining the electoral college process, and distributed on the series' DVD collection that same year. Sheldon sang and played trumpet for the new segment.
Sheldon voiced "Louie The Lightning Bug" in a series of animated musical public service announcements aimed at children from the 1980s, promoting safety with electricity. In 2001, the "Louie the Lightning Bug" videos were updated with new voice-overs by Sheldon and new music tracks produced by Mark Harrelson, with updated musical arrangements by Ray Reach.
He also sang the tune "King Putt" for the The World According to Goofy Parade at Disneyland which ran for 5 months in 1992.
Sheldon appeared in an Oscar-nominated documentary film Let's Get Lost about the life of fellow jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. A trumpet solo of his is featured throughout the Francis Ford Coppola film, One from the Heart (1982). Tom Waits' 1977 album Foreign Affairs includes Sheldon playing trumpet on several cuts, including the solo at the end of "Burma Shave".
He made an appearance in the 1994 film Radioland Murders as the ill-fated trumpet player Ruffles Reedy, who becomes a victim of the gruesome goings-on during a 1939 radio show. In 2004, Jack performed live at the end of ALF's Hit Talk Show. He appeared in one episode of Johnny Bravo as the Sensitive Man. He sang a few songs in the episode similar to the Schoolhouse Rock! style. He has also appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Sheldon is the subject of an award winning feature documentary, Trying to Get Good: the Jazz Odyssey of Jack Sheldon (2008). Produced by Doug McIntyre and Penny Peyser, the film features interviews with Clint Eastwood, Billy Crystal, Merv Griffin, Chris Botti, Dave Frishberg, Johnny Mandel, Tierney Sutton and many more, as well as never before seen concert footage of Sheldon playing, singing and joking. Trying to Get Good won Jury Prizes at the 2008 Kansas City Film Makers Jubilee and Newport Beach Film Festival, as well as Audience Prizes at Newport Beach and the Indianapolis International Film Festival. Entertainment Tonight's Leonard Maltin called the film, "Compelling and highly entertaining." Jack's film biography enjoyed a successful three week run at the Crest Theater in Los Angeles and continues to play around the country at Film and Jazz festivals. The DVD was released in September 2008.