Near the beginning of their performance last Sunday at Chadney's in Burbank, Jack Sheldon and Ross Tompkins offered a tour de force version of "Blues in the Night," that illustrated the extraordinary nature of their partnership.
Sheldon started with a bit of trumpet, then sang the poignant lyrics in his trademark tenor, which combines sandpaper with a few tears. Behind him, the playing of pianist Tompkins fit perfectly, as when he delivered rumbling train-like tones to match the lyrics. The singer stretched out the closing word, "Night," for a good 10 seconds with nary a pitch waver.
Other stellar numbers included "Indiana" and "Shadow of Your Smile," in which Sheldon offered breathy then brilliant tones as he evocatively stated the timeless Johnny Mandel theme, which he introduced on the soundtrack of the 1965 film, "The Sandpiper."
In between the musical goings-on, Sheldon cracked jokes and the two musicians engaged in convivial patter. Sheldon, when the pianist didn't want to answer a question: "Well, are you taking the fifth?" Tompkins: "No, I'm drinking one."
There were also two delightful guests: Comedian-actor Chuck McCann did a hilarious takeoff on British actor Kenneth Branagh at a book signing, and veteran actor Burt Remsen sang a whispery-voiced version of "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now." All in all, a grand show.
Sheldon and Tompkins appear on Sundays indefinitely at Chadney's. This is good news for fans of wonderful music, classic songs and solid, if slightly off-color, humor, and for the trumpeter as well. About 2 1/2 years ago, Sheldon was diagnosed with colon cancer, and through surgery and chemotherapy, the disease has been abated.
"It's so great to be alive," Sheldon said in an interview from his Hollywood home before the performance. "I was scared. You don't know if you're going to live or die. Fortunately, I was really lucky."
He has been through much of his career. Sheldon was active in the thriving Los Angeles jazz scene of the '50s. A fine album from that period, "Jack Sheldon Quartet and Quintet," has just been reissued on Pacific Jazz. Later he had his own TV show, "Run, Buddy, Run," made many recordings and appeared in such films as "For the Boys." He's currently making a TNT Movie of the Week called "Hard Time," starring Burt Reynolds.
Tompkins is equally blessed and talented. After an active musical life in New York, where he played with everyone from Clark Terry to Zoot Sims, he came to California with Doc Severinsen's "Tonight Show" band and settled in Burbank. He, too, has recorded extensively--his latest is a tribute to Harold Arlen on Progressive Records.
The pianist and trumpeter-singer-comedian have worked as a duo for over a decade, including longtime stints at such Valley clubs as Alphonse's and the Money Tree, and have made one recording, "On My Own" (Concord Jazz). They agree they have something quite special.
"Jack entertains me every night," said Tompkins in a separate interview. "Besides being a fine musician and a great singer, he's exceedingly humorous." During Sunday's show, Sheldon called Tompkins "the world's greatest pianist," and in conversation, added, "He's my friend. We both play different styles, but seem to fit well when we do it together. And he knows every tune that was ever written."
* Jack Sheldon and Ross Tompkins play every Sunday, 8:30 p.m. to midnight, at Chadney's, 3000 W. Olive St., Burbank. No cover, one-drink minimum per show. (818) 843-5333.
Different Rhythms: A mix of today's beats--R&B;, hip-hop, funk, jazz and rock--will propel saxophonists Richard Elliott and Kirk Whalum and guitarists Marc Antoine and Jonathan Butler, who headline "An Evening of Guitars and Saxes" at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at Universal Amphitheatre (100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City; $22.50-$50;  622-4440). Or, for a dandy earful of the rhythm of the grand era of bebop, check out the Med Flory-Lanny Morgan quintet, which takes the stage Wednesday, 7-11 p.m., at Monteleone's West (19337 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana; no cover; without dinner, $9.95 food/drink minimum;  996-0662).