By Tony Gieske
Jack Sheldon began his birthday serenade to himself Saturday night with one of his favorite rousers, “Yo Mama,” his 16 piece band riffing behind him in their boisterous way, the crowd at Catalina’s cheery and full of good wishes for the guy celebrating the first moments of his 79th year.
Naturally, he was being risque. His listeners expected as much. They had been around for many previous such fetes, but tonight they were about to be wowed by a relative newcomer, the drummer Ray Brinker. From his drum set came not only rattles and rolls, but a kind of parallel serenade to whatever the other 15 guys were doing, whether tutti or soli.
You should have heard him when Ron Stout took one of his magnificently adept trumpet solos: Brinker was his shadow and his headlight. And when trumpeter Stan Martin made a romantic bouquet from “Beauty and the Beast,” presumably for the many silver haired grandfathers and grandmothers present.
Brinker stoked the fire for tenor man Brian Williams on a jump chart; he lit blue flames beneath Scott Whitman during “Cherokee,” (although Sheldon forgot to war whoop in his customary slot), and he subtly gave an overall shape when Whitman played fellow trombonist Juan Tizol’s classic “Caravan.”
(The latter forms, if I’m not mistaken, the basis for Dizzy Gillespie’s equally classic, “Night in Tunisia,” from the forgotten Oscar Pettiford adaptation, “Interlude.” Bet Brinker knew that.) Neither the rap spectre nor the rock spook dared visit on this night.
No, the tunes rolled down the lanes of memory for the seniors present: Gravelly vocals struggled from Sheldon’s 78-year-old throat on “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me” and “I’ll See You In My Dreams.”
Then would come his incomparable trumpet sound, rich and full as something I wish I could think of to compare it to — a bunch of dewy green grapes?
But that band! One big voice — never noisy — that just ambled amiably along with such grand old charmers as “When You’re Smiling” and “Tangerine.” And why was that? Brinker. Although everyone helped, bassist Bruce Lett and pianist Joe Bagg, to name two.
Photos by Tony Gieske. To read and see more of Tony’s essays and photos at his personal web site click HERE