Ed Shaughnessy, Who Played the Drums on ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson’ for Almost 30 Years, Dead at 84. Wait’ll You Watch This Awesome Must-See Video of Shaughnessy and Drummer Buddy Rich Playing a Duet From the ‘Tonight Show’ in 1978. Wow!

May 26, 2013  •  Post A Comment

"Ed Shaughnessy, 84, whose mutton-chop whiskers and swinging rhythms made him one of the most famous drummers in jazz during his nearly three decades with Doc Severinsen’s "Tonight Show" band, has died," reports the Los Angeles Times.

The story adds, "Shaughnessy had a heart attack Friday, May 24, 2013, at his Calabasas home, said William Selditz, a close family friend."

The Times’ story notes that "An early advocate of bebop, Shaughnessy performed with Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, John McLaughlin, Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, and George Balanchine and the New York City Ballet."

Shaughnessy’s obituary in The New York Times says, "Mr. Shaughnessy was a well-traveled and highly regarded jazz drummer when he was offered the ‘Tonight’ job in 1963, shortly after Johnny Carson had taken over as the show’s host. He had performed or recorded with Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Billie Holiday and numerous others. He had also worked for four years as a staff musician at CBS Television, and, remembering the tedium of that studio job, he was not sure he wanted another.

"He agreed to take the ‘Tonight’ gig for two weeks and see how he liked it. ‘When I got up there,’ he recalled in a 2004 interview for the Percussive Arts Society, ‘and Doc Severinsen was the lead trumpet player, Clark Terry was sitting next to me in the jazz trumpet chair, and there were all these great players, I said, ‘My God, this is not your ordinary studio situation.’ ”

"Mr. Shaughnessy took the job and never left [until Carson himself retired in 1992]. He remained when Mr. Severinsen replaced Skitch Henderson as the bandleader in 1967 and when “The Tonight Show” moved from New York City to Burbank, Calif., in 1972." 

Here’s a brief excerpt from an interview Shaughnessy did with JazzWax in 2012:

JazzWax: Johnny Carson loved the drums, didn’t he?
Ed Shaughnessy: Oh yes. Johnny played at home all the time. I helped him set up his drum set. He had played since he was a kid. He was a drummer in high school and a magician. He idolized Buddy Rich. Johnny told me that when he was at home, to unwind, he’d sit with his big headphones and play the drums along to his favorite big band albums. He said, “It relaxes me. I don’t think about the show or anything else.”

JW: Ever take a shot at writing a theme song?
ES: I did. I tried to write a theme for ‘The Tonight Show’ when Jay Leno took over, but it was rejected.

As a tribute to Shaughnessy, here’s a must-see duet that he did with legendary drummer Buddy Rich that was featured on the "Tonight Show" on August 11, 1978. Once the video starts playing, Rich is the first drummer you’ll see. In the side-by-side two-shots, Shaughnessy is on the left. In the video, Shaughnessy is 49 years old and Rich is 59. Rich died at age 69 of a heart attack. Having never seen this clip before, we actually applauded the computer screen when it was over!

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