July 5, 1929 – November 5, 2013
Whenever Jack Arnold’s high school teachers received a note from his pianist mother that Jack was “needed at home,” they knew he would be hitchhiking to Columbus to sit through every show of the Tommy Dorsey, Harry James or Woody Herman band at the Ohio Theatre.
Born John Edward Arnold on July 5, 1929 in Cambridge, Ohio to Vernon and Margaret Lerner Arnold, Jack was never impeded by his relative lack of interest in academics. He made his “professional” drumming debut in May of 1942 at Buckeye Lake. (All the other drummers had been drafted and the bass player told him when to hit the cymbals.) One of the few freshmen accepted to play drums in The Ohio State Marching Band, Jack’s college career ended with a draft notice during the Korean War. In what was to become a typical twist of fate, he wound up in the 4th Infantry Division band in Frankfurt, Germany and it was there he met some talented fellow band members who would change his life. Within 14 months he was learning mallet percussion, writing big band charts, making connections that would land him in the New York music scene and spending every other weekend in Paris.
New York in the fifties was a wonder and Jack took every advantage available to a young man with determination and little money. He hung out at the same Musicians’ Union as Lester Young, spent summers in the Catskills hearing Debussy recordings for the first time, got a big break working the Waldorf-Astoria with Rosemary Clooney and a cross-dressing bandleader, was soon supplementing club dates and lame one-nighters with studio recording work and endured a memorable stint with Russ Morgan’s band. In 1959 he received a call from Louis Bellson to join his band for a Las Vegas engagement with Pearl Bailey playing percussion and rehearsal drums. He was invited to contribute arrangements – and he did. This was followed by weeks at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem and was the beginning of a friendship and business relationship that lasted over 40 years. During this period Jack was still active in recording, primarily jingles, in the City; but the music business drifted to Los Angeles and in 1967 he decided to make his California move.
Los Angeles and Jack Arnold were ready for each other. It was an era of unsurpassed recording activity: albums, TV variety shows, television and movie scores and hundreds of commercial jingles. He often spent two to three days a week at Motown, where his vibes and congas and tambourine continue to be heard on recordings of the Supremes, the Jackson Five and Marvin Gaye, among others. The best part was just being a part of the LA recording world and the vibrant jazz club scene. He worked with some of the world’s finest studio and jazz musicians: including Ray Brown, who called him “The Eel,” after a chart he’d written for the Bellson band; Joe Pass, who occasionally let him have one of the “good” cigars; and Harry “Sweets” Edison, whose greeting to him was always, “When I grow up I want to be just like you.” In 1971 Earl Palmer introduced Jack to Percy Faith, who needed a percussionist not only for recordings but to join the orchestra for what would be the first of many tours of Japan. He was immensely proud of his association with Percy’s organization, which provided not only the chance to play the elegant arrangements with world-class musicians, but the opportunity to visit aikido dojos all over Japan, including Aikido World Headquarters in Tokyo.
While working in New York Jack had come to realize (probably while pushing a set of drums through Central Park) that, as a person of relatively small physical stature, some self-defense training would not be out of order. After a few years of study he had obtained black belts in judo and jujitsu. He had heard of aikido, which sounded more interesting, and was searching for a suitable dojo when the opportunity came to relocate to the West Coast. One of his first tasks in his new city was to join Los Angeles Aiki Kai. With the training he received there he achieved the rank of Sandan (third-degree black belt).
In 1979, Los Angeles Valley College, wanting to add aikido to their curriculum, contacted Jack and he accepted an offer to begin his own dojo, operating out of the wrestling room with plastic covered mats. Soon, he was looking to expand the operation and eventually Aikido Daiwa wound up at Laurel Canyon and Burbank where his influence and membership grew until the move was made in 1997 to Victory Boulevard in Burbank. The Victory dojo became the site for many regional seminars featuring the finest sensei of the aikido community. Starting in the early eighties, the music business had made its inevitable shift in less musical directions, and Arnold Sensei was more than content to devote himself full-time to aikido.
Early in his aikido training, Jack made the decision to align himself with the teaching of T.K. Chiba, Shihan, a student of the founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, and himself the head of the Birankai aikido organization. This was a union of mutual respect and loyalty and in 2006 Jack Arnold Sensei traveled with Chiba Sensei and a dozen other American and European senior instructors to receive their rank of Shihan (master teacher) at Hombu Dojo – an unprecedented event for those of non-Japanese descent. The honor was followed, in April 2010, by Jack’s elevation to Nanadan (seventh-degree black belt), making him the most highly ranked member of Birankai after Chiba Sensei.
In 2011, the sale of the dojo building resulted in a forced move and, at the age of 82, Arnold Sensei, aided by his enthusiastic students, relocated Aikido Daiwa to its present Magnolia Boulevard location where until May of this year he taught six classes per week and where his spirit continues to reside.
Jack Arnold loved live music and theater, Impressionist paintings, American antiques, classic cars (including the 1952 Mark VI Bentley he restored almost single-handedly and drove to Pennsylvania to win in the Rolls-Royce Owners Club national meet), learning plein air painting and, especially, playing piano (while chastising himself for not having studied sooner). He had no need to tell everything he knew, but he told the greatest stories his friends and students ever heard, and practically all of them were true.
In October 1968, while working with Louis Bellson’s band at Donte’s jazz club in North Hollywood, Jack met Melinda, who became his wife and from whom he was rarely apart. She was by his side through the night until his passing in the early morning of November 5, as were almost a dozen of his devoted students.
He has joined his mother and father, his beloved Grandma and Grandpa Lerner, his cherished sister Phyllis and her husband George James. He is survived by his brothers David Caygill (Karen) of California and Michael Caygill (Joyce) of Ohio, many nieces and nephews, especially Robyn James of North Carolina, Dan James of Virginia and Cherie Reich of North Carolina, by his sister-in-law Lucinda Cronin, and by hundreds of his students and members of the aikido community.
In Dave Frishberg’s words, Jack Arnold was “quietly hip.” He was never gregarious but always confident. He detested self-aggrandizement and ostentation. He was gracious, elegant, kind and, above all, totally cool. He touched more lives that he could ever have envisioned and is loved beyond his imagining.