Penny Peyser will be back at her parents’ Irvington home this weekend, back from L.A., where she has lived for 34 years.
She and her husband, radio talk-show host Doug McIntyre, will be at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville on June 3 to screen their 2008 movie: “Trying to Get Good: The Jazz Odyssey of Jack Sheldon.”
Don’t know Jack Sheldon?
If you’re of a certain age — between, say, 40 and 48 — you might know him from “Schoolhouse Rock,” the 1970’s Saturday-morning cartoons that taught about government and grammar.
Sheldon sang “I’m Just a Bill,” lending his smoky voice to a scrolled-up piece of legislation to teach kids how a bill becomes a law.
He also sang as the conductor at “Conjunction Junction,” who put “and, but and or” in their place.
Sheldon certainly has plenty of “ands” in his resumé, “ands” that make it possible you’ve heard of him, even if you don’t remember where or when.
A jazz trumpeter who helped to craft the West Coast jazz sound;
And a singer.
And a songwriter.
And TV sidekick to Merv Griffin.
And a star of the short-lived 1966 TV action series “Run, Buddy, Run.”
And a much-in-demand movie soundtrack soloist.
And a hard-drinker who overcame his addictions, unlike his friend and fellow jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, who succumbed to them.
He also overcame cancer.
“Trying to Get Good” covers all of those facets of Sheldon’s long career, with archival footage — playing with Benny Goodman, scat-singing with Clint Eastwood — and a stunning performance from November 2002, on Sheldon’s 71st birthday.
The soundtrack is all Sheldon, whose inimitable style seems to fill every pore of the 90-minute documentary.
His fingers fly, his cheeks fill like the sails of a tall ship and he is off to the races.
Peyser says the idea for the film came on Labor Day 2002, as she and McIntyre drove home from a Sheldon concert.
“Someone should make a movie about him,” McIntyre said.
“That ‘someone’ became us,” Peyser says with a laugh.
For the next five years, they followed the sometimes-elusive Sheldon and lined up interviews with a host of celebrities from TV, film and even politics.
It turns out James A. Baker, the Texas powerbroker and former Secretary of the Treasury, is a huge Sheldon fan.
He’s in the film — Peyser calls him “our big non-sequitur” — talking about how funny the trumpeter is.
“James Baker thought Jack was the best comedian he had ever seen,” she says.
Baker knew Sheldon, but Sheldon had no idea who Baker was.
“What do you do?” the jazz great asked Baker, who produced a dollar bill with his signature on it.
Billy Crystal talks about inadvertently giving Sheldon some pretty blue material that the trumpeter threw into his act.
Clint Eastwood, himself a composer, talks about the ease with which Sheldon approaches his music.
What emerges through the interviews with trumpeter Chris Botti, Merv Griffin, Dom DeLuise, and jazz great Dave Frishberg, among others, is a portrait of a troubled, tortured soul who lives to practice, forever “trying to get good.”
Los Angeles becomes a character in the film, with archival photos and home movies.
There are also great photos of Sheldon alongside Tony Bennett, Bette Midler, Joe Williams, Rosemary Clooney and Tierney Sutton, Lenny Bruce and Diane Schuur.
Peyser says the access wasn’t universal.
“There were plenty of times when Jack didn’t want to hear from us,” Peyser says. “He just went underground.”
One of those instances was when his son, Kevin, died in 2003, and Sheldon went into seclusion for three months.
Peyser and McIntyre, who had worked in film and television (McIntyre wrote for “Married with Children” and other shows) hadn’t made a film before, but Peyser says they knew how to tell a story.
And tell a story they do.
“Trying to Get Good: The Jazz Odyssey of Jack Sheldon,” followed by a Q@A with filmmakers Penny Peyser and Doug McIntyre.
When: 7:30 p.m., June 3.
Where: Jacob Burns Film Center, 364 Manville Road, Pleasantville.
Tickets: $9 for members, $14 for non-members.
Photos courtesy Penny Peyser: Top, Penny Peyser. Middle, Jack Sheldon in concert, from “Trying to Get Good.” Bottom, “I’m Just a Bill” from “Schoolhouse Rock.”