Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ed Shaughnessy and The Joys of Jazz Drumming

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


"The superb engine that drove the Tonight Show Band for thirty years ... with spirit and immense skill."

Doc Severinsen, Trumpeter & Director of The Tonight Show Band

In 1936, Irma Rombauer wrote a cook book entitled The Joy of Cooking [the book is so popular that it has never been out-of-print].

Over the years, I’ve never met anyone who enjoyed Jazz drumming more than Ed Shaughnessy. He could talk about it and demonstrate it for hours on end.

Once, while having lunch at the coffee shop on Vine Street just down from the offices of Musicians Union Local 47, I kidded Ed with the suggestion that, given his passion for Jazz drums, he should consider writing a book and call it The Joy of Jazz Drumming.

He laughed, pointed to my French fries and said: “Are you going to eat those?”

After we ate, we walked across the street to the Professional Drums Shop where Ed pretty much talked away the rest of the afternoon trading comments with the shop’s patrons on the subject of … wait for it … different sizes and shapes of drumsticks! In the process, I think Ed must have tried every drum stick in the store.

Watching him that afternoon at the Pro Drum Shop, you couldn’t keep the phrase - “Like a kid in a toy store” – from entering your mind.

Ed was fearless when it came to Jazz drumming. Nothing stopped him if he decided that there was something on the subject he wanted to know.  I remember him being all-over Louie Bellson – one of the nicest people ever to inhabit the Jazz world – about the technique involved in using two, bass drums. Louie finally turned to Ed and said in his gentle and considerate way: “Just do it.” So Ed did and became one of the few Jazz drummers to master the technique of using two, bass drums.

Edwin T. Shaughnessy was born 29 January 1929, in Jersey City, New Jersey. A self-taught drummer, Shaughnessy came to prominence, mainly in the New York area, in the late 1940’s working with George Shearing, Jack Teagarden, Georgie Auld and especially Charlie Ventura.

In the 1950’s he became more widely known owing to engagements with bands led by Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey and he also worked with Johnny Richards. In the 60s he was with Count Basie and also worked extensively in New York studios, securing a long-term engagement with The Tonight Show band.


When the show moved to “beautiful downtown Burbank, CA” and became The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Ed decided to “relocate to The Left Coast.”

I lived in Burbank at the time and since the show taped at 5:00 PM PST, I would have dinner on occasion with Ed or meet him later for a drink at Donte’s, a popular Jazz club on Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood.

Although best known as a big band drummer, Shaughnessy's considerable skills spilled over into small group work with Gene Ammons, Roy Eldridge, Billie Holiday, Mundell Lowe, Teo Macero, Charles Mingus, Shirley Scott, Jack Sheldon, Horace Silver and many others.

For several years Shaughnessy was a member of the house band at Birdland and other New York clubs. In the early 1970’s he was doing similar work in Los Angeles and is credited with discovering Diana Schuur, whom he introduced at the 1976 Monterey Jazz Festival.

In addition to his work on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Ed Shaughnessy has also played in an early incarnation of the "Sesame Street" orchestra along with percussionist Danny Epstein, reed player Wally Kane, and, on occasion, freelance guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli.

Ed Shaughnessy's consummate drumming skills enabled him to become a sought-after teacher, an activity which he pursued while simultaneously maintaining a busy recording and live performance schedule.

Last year[2012] Ed Shaughnessy published his long awaited book "Lucky Drummer - From NYC to Johnny Carson" with great personal stories from behind the scenes.

I still think he should have entitled it – The Joys of Drumming.

Ed passed away on May 24, 2013 and the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it might be nice to remember him on these pages with the following excerpt from Burt Korall’s Drummin’ Men The Heart Beat of Jazz: The Bebop Years [New York: Oxford University Press, 2002].

© -Burt Korall/Oxford University Press, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“He was the most visible drummer in America during the years he spent on NBC-TV's Tonight Show in New York and Los Angeles. Thoroughly capable, Ed Shaughnessy handled all kinds of situations, including appearing in tandem with Buddy Rich—a challenging matter at best. This affable, ambitious musician, however, is far more than a generalist on the instrument.

From the outset, Shaughnessy, a poor kid from New Jersey, had a deep, abiding love for jazz and drums. He went to great lengths to learn and be a part of the music. He studied with Bill West, a drum teacher in New York, though very hard put to pay for lessons.

Shaughnessy played and practiced day and night. Vibraharpist Teddy Charles, a longtime mutual friend, said: "We all did that; it was the only way to make it."

As a teenager, Shaughnessy spent almost every evening and early morning in Manhattan clubs, hotel entertainment rooms, and ballrooms, listening to and watching drummers. Those who made a point of keeping youngsters out of places where small and big bands played learned to tolerate ‘the crazy kid from New Jersey.’ They allowed him to stay, as long as he remained out of the way.

Finally Big Sid Catlett, the legendary drummer, noticed him and, as was his wont, approached the youngster, talked to him, and suggested he sit in; Ben Webster (tenor) and John Simmons (bass)—jazz royalty in the 1940’s—were in the group. When asked, Shaughnessy nearly fainted from fear, but he did well. Catlett became his mentor. Catlett, Max Roach, Art Blakey, and Buddy Rich were influences, great sources of inspiration.

Love often is rewarded. Shaughnessy played with some bands— Bobby Byrne and Randy Brooks— worked with Jack Teagarden, sat in with Bud Powell on 5ind Street, playing Cherokee for twenty-five minutes at an absolutely hysterically fast tempo. Powell was quietly impressed, and word spread that a young white guy could really do it. George Shearing was in the audience that night and hired the young drummer on the spot.

Shaughnessy's hunger to play, his need to master the instrument and be able to play any kind of music — was apparent to everyone who met him. Bassist Phil Leshin remembers: ‘Eddie and I were kids together and hung out on the New York scene, always looking for some place to play. We used to go to Verland Studios, over a firehouse on 47th or 48th Street. A lot of the guys involved in modern jazz showed up at the sessions — Allen Eager, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, pianists Harry Biss and Harvey Leonard, guitarist Charlie Byrd.’


Shaughnessy hooked up with the Charlie Ventura Bop for the People band in 1948 and became famous. Tenorist Ventura, Conte Candoli (trumpet), Bennie Green (trombone), Boots Mussulli (saxophone), Kenny O'Brien (bass), and pianist-singer Roy Kral and singer Jackie Cain, his wife, helped popularize modern jazz.

The Ventura group featured a provocative blend of the scat vocal unison style of Krai and Cain and the hip, accessible instrumental sound of the band. The players were good, and Shaughnessy took hold, playing well in a contemporary way. His facility, fire, and two-bass-drum set caught the attention of audiences and other drummers.

Shaughnessy was one of the first white drummers to deal with bebop in a strong and persuasive manner. His increasing ability and continuing intensity motivated Benny Goodman to hire him for a 1950 tour of Europe with a small band that included the influential trumpeter Roy Eldridge. Unlike most musicians, the drummer got on well with Goodman.

He replaced Buddy Rich in Tommy Dorsey's band and stayed for a while, building his reputation. He worked with Lucky Millinder's band in Harlem and for a short time with Ellington, sat in with Charlie Parker on several occasions, and got into experimental jazz with Charles Mingus, Teddy Charles, and Don Ellis. He was becoming an increasingly important New York jazz figure.

Shaughnessy began working on television in the 19508 on a daytime Steve Allen Show broadcast by CBS. One thing led to another. He did more studio and staff work. He recorded with Basie and played an increasing number of small and big band record dates featuring leading players and writers.

The drummer joined the Tonight Show in New York in 1964. He moved to Los Angeles with the program and remained with it until Johnny Carson called it a night.
He headed a big band and small group of his own in L.A., always attempting to stretch the envelope. Growth was very much on his mind.

Barry Ulanov got to the heart of it when we talked about the drummer: ‘Ed is one of the most accountable musicians I ever heard,’ the critic asserted. ‘You could depend on music coming out of the man. His hands are fast. His thinking is good. His ears are alive.’

Today, as in the past, Shaughnessy remains busy — teaching, touring with Doc Severinsen's band, studying, seeking new musical experiences.”

Here’s Ed with Buddy Rich with Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show band. There aren’t that many drummers who’d be left on their drum stools after “dueling” with the great Buddy Rich.

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