Ed Shaughnessy dies at 84; renowned jazz drummer


Ed Shaughnessy, 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. He was 84.

Shaughnessy had a heart attack Friday at his Calabasas home, said William Selditz, a close family friend.

While his nightly gig on “The Tonight Show” brought him the kind of drumming fame previously bestowed on giants such as Gene Krupa, Shaughnessy also delved into more far-reaching musical realms. He studied for three years with legendary Indian tabla player Alla Rakha and played with such cutting-edge artists as bassist/composer Charles Mingus and trumpeter-bandleader Don Ellis.


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“Ed’s one of the only guys I know from his generation who’s open-minded enough to try something new,” Ellis once told an interviewer.

Buddy Rich called Shaughnessy “one of my all-time favorite drummers” — high praise from a musician whose dynamic, virtuosic style contrasted with Shaughnessy’s profound belief in the drummer as a vital member of a band’s rhythm section.

Times critic Leonard Feather agreed, writing in 1992 that Shaughnessy “does what jazz drummers were originally called on to do: Keep a firm swinging beat and play a supportive role.”

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.

For decades, he taught privately as well as conducting more than 600 clinics at high schools and universities.

Edwin Thomas Shaughnessy was born Jan. 29, 1929, in Jersey City, N.J. His father was a longshoreman and his mother sewed in a garment factory.

At 12, Shaughnessy started taking piano lessons and continued until his father brought home a drum set two years later.

Still in his teens when he became a regular participant in New York City’s thriving jazz scene, he worked with Jack Teagarden and the popular bands led by George Shearing and Charlie Ventura before he turned 20.

He also played in numerous small jazz groups with such big names as Billie Holiday, Horace Silver and Gene Ammons. His big band career began in the 1950s with the Benny Goodman and Count Basie bands. He replaced Buddy Rich in Tommy Dorsey’s band.

In the mid-1950s, he was a staff musician at CBS, performing on the Steve Allen and Garry Moore shows.

From 1963 to 1992, Shaughnessy was the drummer with Severinsen’s band on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” In Shaughnessy’s 2010 memoir “Lucky Drummer,” Severinsen called him “the superb engine that drove our Tonight Show Band for thirty years … with spirit and immense skill.”

In the early 1970s, Shaughnessy helped a young singer named Dianne Schuur, who had been blind since birth, arranging for her to appear at the prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival. Her career soon took off.

He was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 2004.

Shaughnessy married Ilene Woods in 1963. A singer, she was the voice of Disney’s Cinderella in 1950. She died in 2010.

He is survived by his son Daniel Shaughnessy, his daughter-in-law Nicah Shaughnessy and three grandchildren. Another son, Jimmy, died in a 1984 traffic accident.