Jack Sperling

Outstanding jazz drummer
Click to follow
The Independent Online

John Sperling, drummer: born Trenton, New Jersey 17 August 1922; married 1943 Louise Permetti (deceased; two sons, two daughters), 1987 Nancy Lewis (two sons); died Los Angeles 26 February 2004.

The trumpeter Bunny Berigan lived just long enough to hire Jack Sperling as the drummer for his big band. Berigan's agent was concerned about his habit of being drunk on the stand - and just about everywhere else - whilst the band was on tour. He hired Berigan's father to travel with the band and to discipline the young man and keep his drinking under control. The move was not a success. Berigan father and son drank each other under the table every night.

Sperling joined the band in July 1941 and the job lasted until he was called into the US Navy in the spring of 1942. Berigan, who was 33, completed the business of drinking himself to death a couple of weeks later.

After beginning to study the violin when he was four, Jack Sperling taught himself to play drums in the style of his hero Gene Krupa. By the time he was 15 he was good enough to play professionally in local bands. He played in navy bands during the Second World War, one of which was led by Tex Beneke, who had been a star in the Glenn Miller Orchestra. On his discharge in 1946 Sperling immediately joined Beneke, who was now running the Glenn Miller "ghost" band. The pianist with the group was Henry Mancini, who took Sperling into his own band 10 years later. Sperling played the prominent drum role in Beneke's hit record "St Louis Blues March".

By now Sperling was an outstanding drummer whose playing was musical and sensitive, making him ideal for the studio career that was to come later. Throughout his career he was able to work in different idioms from Dixieland to the more modern styles of jazz.

From 1949 to 1954 he played in the smooth but powerful band of Les Brown, accompanying many of the leading stars of the day. When he left Brown, Sperling was for three years with the band of Bob Crosby, who had a daily television show. He also found time to work for Crosby's brother Bing and as a member of the then modern Dave Pell Octet.

Mancini called him to work on his television shows Peter Gunn and Mr Lucky and Sperling's career in the Hollywood studios was confirmed. He became a staff musician for NBC in 1959 and held the job for 12 years. It allowed him time to play with other bands and he was swamped with work. He was with Charlie Barnet in 1962 and again in 1966, and also returned to Les Brown's band on many occasions, most often after 1972 when he'd left NBC. In 1960 he returned briefly to Bob Crosby and worked for a while with Benny Goodman's band.

Over the same period Sperling played Dixieland for Pete Fountain whilst the clarinettist was at the height of his popularity. They travelled to New Orleans for a residency at the French Quarter Inn and Sperling worked for Fountain for four years. Later he returned to Brown and also worked in Los Angeles with the experimental band led by the composer Bob Florence.

Sperling made countless recording sessions with a variety of jazz stars and appeared in several short films featuring Les Brown and Pete Fountain. He played for the soundtrack of Five Pennies (1959) and was regularly called on when there was a jazz spectacular on television. He played at jazz festivals at home and in Japan and spent his later years freelancing with big bands and mainstream groups.

Steve Voce