DALLAS, TX—After two years of piano lessons, Jack Melick, then age 7 of North Plainfield, New Jersey, proudly told his parents of his dream to become a big band leader.
By the time he was a teenager, he was well on his way of fulfilling his goal during summers at a resort in the Pocono Mountains. Seventy-eight years later, he continues to make beautiful music before appreciative audiences.
The resident of Highland Springs, the Erickson Living retirement community, continues to lead Jack Melick and His Big Band in performances mainly in the Dallas area. His career has taken him across the nation and the world, playing with some of the biggest contributors to the Great American Songbook era of the 20th century.
"I still say that I've never worked a day in my life," stated Mr. Melick. "From the very beginning, I was blessed with two incredibly supportive parents."
His mother, a school teacher, made sure he received piano lessons before going outside to play. His father traveled with young Jack so his son could be inspired by famous musicians, including Louie Armstrong during a visit to Harlem.
World War II meant that many experienced musicians were serving in the military overseas so young Jack's first ten-member band played a three-summer gig in the Poconos. In 1947, he enrolled in the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio to pursue a major in public school music education.
Mr. Melick's career path was ready to soar, but the Korean War was a temporary detour—and an opportunity. In 1951, he was drafted by the United States Army and eventually stationed at Camp Yokohama in Japan, booking musical entertainment and playing with other musicians during leave time. Following his formal enlistment, he stayed in Japan on a work visa until the fall of 1954, touring southeast Asia.
"For a young man in his twenties, this was an amazing experience to work with other hungry musicians and be exposed to foreign cultures," noted Mr. Melick.
He returned stateside to begin his domestic career, placing an ad in Billboard Magazine. His first job was as a pianist with the Leo Peeper and His Orchestra, a territory band based in Iowa.
Mr. Melick next big break came with his discovery by KTLA television in Los Angeles. It led to regular program appearances on the Palladium Dance Time and the Orrin Tucker Show through 1956.
That exposure led to a call in 1956 from MCA, Inc., one of the most prestigious Hollywood booking agencies of its time. It was now Mr. Melick's time to shine as a band leader.
Of note, he worked the famous Sky Room lounge at the Mapes Hotel in Reno, Nevada where he performed with Mickey Rooney, Sammy Davis, Jr., Betty Grable and Milton Berle, among other celebrities, through the summer of 1960.
Even Frank Sinatra was a fan. When the iconic entertainer dined at the Sultan's Table Club at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas, Mr. Melick's band would play "Nancy (With the Laughing Face)," an ode to Ol' Blue Eyes' daughter. Upon hearing the song, Sinatra would give the band a hearty thumbs-up from his front-row table.
In the early 1960's, MCA arranged for Mr. Melick to play the Chaparral Club in downtown Dallas, a hub of the new social scene that included oil and banking business leaders and sports personalities.
"This was a life-changer for me as I made Dallas my permanent home-base in 1968," noted Mr. Melick.
Although he is semi-retired, Jack Melick and His Big Band play four-to-six dates per month in the Dallas area and entertain residents at Highland Springs during the community's annual gala each fall. He's a charter member of the Big Band Academy of America, too.
"As a big band leader, I've been part musician, pianist, comedian, manager and negotiator. To travel the world with people who play the best genre of music ever performed is a blessing," recalled Mr. Melick.
"I believe the human body yearns for the rhythm of music so all God's children have to dance," said Mr. Melick. "That's where I come in."
About Highland Springs: Highland Springs is one of eighteen continuing care retirement communities managed by Erickson Living. Located in North Dallas, Texas, the scenic 89-acre campus is home to more than 700 residents. Highland Springs is the ideal greater Dallas retirement destination offering a true sense of community, convenience beyond compare and a sensible financial structure.