Jan. 22, 1932 – Jan. 28, 2020
Jack J. Piasecki, a jazz percussionist and band leader whose stage name was Jack Shilling, died Jan. 28. He was 88.
Born in Nanticoke, Pa., he was quickly recognized as a musical prodigy.
“Believed to be the youngest who can actually play the drums with an orchestral accompaniment is Jackie Piasecki, who is but four years of age,” a reporter wrote in the Pennsylvania Rambler in 1936. “The youngster is said to have always had a yen for the drum since he was able to talk. That was the first plaything that he asked for. ... The tot surprised his parents when he would keep time with his 10-cent drum to music on the radio.
“Since that time, the little marvel has mastered the bass drums and all other instruments connected with the drummer’s performance in an orchestra. Last Wednesday night, young Piasecki astonished 600 persons assembled in Duplan Silk Mill auditorium when he played several selections to the accompaniment of Wilbur Kearney’s orchestra.”
Young Mr. Piasecki won many talent contests and performed across Pennsylvania with his band, the Sharp Shooters.
When he was 6, he played the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, N.J. In high school, he played for dances every Saturday night and, at age 16, was invited to play a summer tour with the Tommy Dorsey Band.
He adopted his stage name at the insistence of a band leader who thought Piasecki was inappropriate for an entertainer.
“The band leader was flipping a coin at the time,” his wife, Joyce, said, “and he said, ‘That’s what we’ll call you – Jack Shilling.’ ”
After the start of the Korean War, he won a scholarship to the Army School of Music. Playing with the 5th Armored Division Band, he performed for President Harry Truman and attained the rank of staff sergeant.
Returning from service, Mr. Piasecki met Joyce Farranto, a dance teacher, by chance while he was playing at the Versailles Lounge in a hotel on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo. She was attending a dance convention elsewhere in the building and they struck up a conversation when he looked in on it. After they were married, he moved to Buffalo.
He quickly was hired by Buffalo’s leading dance band, the Dave Cheskin Orchestra, which played regularly on the radio.
He also was drummer for Kleinhans Checkmates, the Sentimental Journey Dance Orchestra and Frank Romanoski’s polka band, which hosted the “Pic-a-Polka” TV show in the 1950s. He also appeared nationally on the Arthur Godfrey Variety Show.
He accompanied Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Sammy Davis Jr. and other stars at the Glen Casino and the Town Casino.
"Phyllis Diller wanted to take him on the road," his wife said, "but he wanted to stay in Buffalo."
He was band leader for the Buffalo Bills Band at War Memorial Stadium and percussionist for local appearances by touring ice shows, as well as the TV show “Dialing for Dollars.” He played for the Miss USA Pageant when it was held in Niagara Falls in the 1970s.
In later years, his Jack Shilling Band was a regular attraction at Buffalo’s Italian Festival and Canal Fest in the Tonawandas. He also gave private lessons to hundreds of aspiring young drummers, including Gary Mallaber of the Steve Miller Band, at the Buffalo Music School and Kenmore Music.
He was an emeritus member of the executive committee of Local 92, American Federation of Musicians.
In addition to his wife, survivors include a son, Brandon; a sister, Patricia Osiek; and two grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial was offered Feb. 3 in Blessed Sacrament Church, 1035 Delaware Ave.