Ed Shaughnessy widely known for his drumming skills on the Tonight show, performing there from 1963 until 1992, has sadly passed away this past Friday (May 24th.). He was at home in Calabasas, California. He had reached the age of eighty four. He was considered THE drummer alongside legendary trumpeter Doc Severinsen of the Tonight show band.
He use to perform with Doc Severinsen’s jazz band from 1963 until 1992. This wasn’t his only gig, he also used his talents to perform with Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash and the more energetic and lively, Oscar Peterson.
He did have quite a few fond memories of the time he spent performing on the Tonight show. He loved working with John McLaughlin, jamming with B.B King, and playing a drum duet with Buddy Rich, which he didn’t find nerve wrecking because he had a specific outlook in that situation: “I know who is the greater drummer between the two of us, and I know, if I do pretty good, then I’m doing as good as anybody,” Ed commented “As long as you accept that, you go in relaxed. But if you go in there with your head up your behind and say, ‘Gee, maybe I could carve Buddy Rich,’ you might as well go home. By having confidence in yourself, but still respecting the greatness of his talent, I think you do better.”
As a teenager Shaughnessy became part of the New York Jazz scene and during this period he got noticed and was asked to join the band for the Tonight show, which at that point in time, was hosted by Johnny Carson.
The road to get there was not easy for him. Shaughnessy had the following to say about it: “I had a very unhappy home life. I had an alcoholic father who was a good man, but it was traumatic. I was an only child and music very, very definitely was a way out. A psych friend of mine says it’s called doing the right thing for the wrong reason. But thank God for it.” In 1992 he decided not to appear on the show anymore, however he did continue drumming. He had the following to say about that: “When you have a high profile gig like [The Tonight Show], people kind of assume that’s your bag, and I certainly don’t blame anybody,” Shaughnessy said in a 1998 “But prior to getting that gig, I had a really deep and rich jazz background and I really made my living as a jazz drummer.”
Sadly, Shaughnessy has been a widow for three years. His wife; Ilene Woods, the beautiful and fragile voice of Cinderella in the Disney animated movie, passed away in 2010.
Shaughnessy doesn’t only leave a musical legacy behind he also wrote a memoir in 2010 titled “Lucky Drummer”. In this book you will be able to read about his life story; Ed growing up in New York, and became a part of the jazz scene. He was discovered by the Tonight show band, which allowed him the privilege of collaborating with fantastic artists like Miles Davis, Gene Ammons, Roy Eldridge, Billie Holiday and many other musical geniuses.
A quote we can all live by is: “I think I’m playing the best I’ve ever played now,” he said: “I love that Dizzy Gillespie quote: ‘You finally learn what to leave out.’ As we mature, I think we all learn what to leave out. If you work at your craft every day, you can only get better. So I play every day.” Let’s make an effort today and apply Ed Shaughnessy’s lesson to our own lives.
By Georgina Pijttersen