Ed Shaughnessy, born Edwin Thomas Shaughnessy on January 29, 1929 in Jersey City, New Jersey, was a Jazz/Big Band drummer, best known for his tenure with Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show Band, appearing on NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” (1962-1992).
Growing up in New Jersey, Shaughnessy, whose father was a longshoreman and his mother sewed in a garment factory, began playing the piano at age 12. He wasn’t very enthusiastic about the piano, so two years later his dad brought home a rudimentary set of drums which he started to play at the age of 14.
By the time he was 19, Ed was already performing with George Shearing in New York City, and went on to work with the likes of Jack Teagarden and Charlie Ventura. In the 1950s, Shaughnessy’s big band career really took off, working with the Benny Goodman Orchestra, Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (replacing Buddy Rich), and the Count Basic Orchestra. He was also a staff musician at CBS, performing on the Steve Allen and Garry Moore shows.
In 1962, Ed joined The Tonight Show Band, with Doc Severinsen, where he remained for three decades until Jay Leno took over the show in 1992. It was this same year, in 1962, that we hear Shaughnessy’s drumming prowess on Bashin’: The Unpredictable Jimmy Smith. The album featured big band arrangements by Oliver Nelson, and included the pop hit “Walk on the Wild Side” which peaked at #21 on the Billboard charts.
Although best known as a big band drummer (and for his mutton-chops and turquoise medallion), Shaughnessy also performed small combos, working with the likes of Gene Ammons, Roy Eldridge, Billie Holiday, Mundell Lowe, Teo Macero, Charles Mingus, Shirley Scott, Jack Sheldon, Horace Silver, and numerous others. For several years Shaughnessy was also member of the house band at Birdland and other New York clubs.
In 1972, The Tonight Show made the move to Los Angeles, and so did Ed. Quickly establishing himself in the West Coast music scene, Shaughnessy formed his own 17-piece big band, Energy Force, which performed locally throughout the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. A few other ‘claims to fame’ moments would include Ed’s discovery of Diane Schuur, whom he introduced during his performance at the 1976 Monterey Jazz Festival, playing drums in an early incarnation of the “Sesame Street” orchestra along with percussionist, Danny Epstein, and his drum battles with legendary drummer, Buddy Rich.
Although Shaughnessy played drums on over 500 recordings, his first and only recording as a band leader was the quintet album, Jazz in the Pocket, which was released in 1990.
Throughout his career, Shaughnessy was an avid educator, giving private drum lessons and conducting over 600 drum clinics at high schools and universities around the globe. An author of two instruction books, “New Time Signatures in Jazz Drumming” and Show Drumming: The Essential Guide to Playing Drumset for Live Shows and Musicals, and an instructional DVD, Time, Taste, Technique & Timbre/Big Band Drumming, Ed was one of the most sought after drumset clinicians in international music education.
One of the few musicians from his generation to stay open-minded enough to try something new, Ed Shaughnessy studied tabla with the legendary Alla Rakha for three years, and played drums for such cutting-edge artists as bassist/composer Charles Mingus and trumpeter-bandleader Don Ellis. He also performed with Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, John McLaughlin, Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, and George Balanchine and the New York City Ballet.
In 2004, Ed Shaughnessy was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame.
Ed’s wife, actress/singer Ilene Woods, the original voice of Disney’s 1950 film, Cinderella, died July 1, 2010.
Shaughnessy’s memoir, Lucky Drummer, was published in 2012.
An endorser of Ludwig drums, Sabian cymbals and Pro-Mark drumsticks, Ed Shaughnessy died of a heart attack at his home in Calabasas, California on May 24, 2013; he was 84.