Ed Shaughnessy Dies: Former ‘Tonight Show’ Drummer (+Video)

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Ed Shaughnessy dies: Renowned jazz drummer and long-time Tonight Show drummer Ed Shaughnessy died May 24 at the age of 84.

Shaughnessy died of a heart attack at his home in Calabasas, Calif., his friend William Selditz told the L.A. Times.

Before he signed on with the Tonight Show in 1963—a gig he would stick with until 1992—he played for CBS’s The Garry Moore Show. In a Percussive Arts Society (PAS) interview, he recalled that the saxophone player in his jazz combo said, “You’re really weird; you’re the only guy here out of 50 musicians who tries to play his best all the time.” 

He wasn’t happy playing along the uninspired, and took the Tonight Show job, luckily to discover, “This is not your ordinary studio situation,” he recalled in his interview with PAS.

Shaughnessy ventured beyond the realm of jazz throughout his career, playing, for example, alongside Indian tabla player Alla Rakha, country performer Johnny Cash, soul music star James Brown, and even multiple opera stars.

He recalled his time as a young drummer for Charlie Ventura in the late 1940s in an interview with Jazz Wax in 2012.

“[Ventura] was warm and effusive, and when he put his arm around you, man, you felt 10 feet tall. A real confidence-builder. I was a high-energy kind of drummer, and he liked that,” Shaughnessy said.

Shaughnessy grew up in Jersey City, N.J., during the Great Depression, the son of an alcoholic longshoreman. Someone who owed his father repaid the debt with a drum kit, and so began Shaughnessy’s musical career.

Shaughnessy’s wife, Ilene Woods was the voice of Disney’s Cinderella; she died in 2010. According to the L.A. Times, he is survived by his son, Daniel Shaughnessy, and three grandchildren.

Ed Shaughnessy (L) plays drums with Buddy Rich (R) on the Tonight Show, hosted by Johnny Carson in 1978.


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