Jazz musician, Merv Griffin sidekick Jack Sheldon dies at 88

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jack Sheldon, an acclaimed jazz musician whose trumpet graced the award-winning song “The Shadow of Your Smile” and who was known to TV viewers as the puckish sidekick to talk show host Merv Griffin, has died. He was 88.

Sheldon died Friday of natural causes, his longtime manager and partner, Dianne Jimenez, said in a statement Tuesday. Further details were not provided.

Sheldon was a prominent part of the vibrant West Coast jazz movement in the 1950s alongside fellow artists Art Pepper, Stan Kenton and Shorty Rogers. He also played with jazz and pop greats including Benny Goodman, Peggy Lee, Lena Horne and Frank Sinatra. Sheldon’s tender horn solo on “The Shadow of Your Smile,” which was introduced in the 1965 film “The Sandpiper,” helped earn it song of the year at the Grammys and best original song at the Oscars.

"It's a haunting trumpet he plays," Griffin told the Los Angeles Times in 2002. "Henry Mancini once told me, 'If I've got a couple making passionate love on screen and I'm writing the score, it's Jack Sheldon's trumpet I want.'" (Griffin, who worked with Sheldon for most years of the 1962-86 “The Merv Griffin Show,” died in 2007.)

Born in 1931 in Jacksonville, Florida, Sheldon started playing the trumpet professionally as a youngster and moved to Los Angeles in 1947. He served in the Air Force, playing in several military bands.

Sheldon reveled in playing the wiseguy on stage and on screen, with TV credits including the 1966-67 sitcom “Run Buddy Run,” in the short-lived “The Girl With Something Extra" opposite Sally Field in the 1970s and in episodes of “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” His films included 1991’s “For the Boys,” in which he played a World War II bandleader opposite Bette Midler and James Caan and the documentary “Let’s Get Lost,” about fellow trumpet player Chet Baker.

Sheldon was the subject of “Trying to Get Good: the Jazz Odyssey of Jack Sheldon,” a 2008 documentary.

His distinctive voice, with overtones of gravel and whisky, was heard in more a dozen episodes of the educational animated children’s series “Schoolhouse Rock!”, including on Dave Frishberg’s tune “I’m Just a Bill.”

The musician battled health problems, including colon cancer in 1996 and strokes in 2005 and 2001. With the use of his right hand impaired, Sheldon learned to play the trumpet left-handed and continued to perform, including at jam sessions in his Los Angeles-area home that continued until 2019.

Sheldon is survived by his longtime partner Jimenez and children Jessie and John.

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