World-renowned bandleader Paul Shaffer has been David Letterman’s musical director and sidekick on CBS-TV’s “Late Show” for the past 27 years. A Grammy Award-winning master of musical and verbal improv, he has conducted a televised jam that included Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and Jeff Beck; been musical director at the White House; delivered the riffs that got the nod when he played with Ray Charles, and traded on-air quips with celebrities from Julia Roberts, Tina Fey, and Nathan Lane to Bill Murray, Donald Trump, and Jack Black.
Shaffer’s professional career was launched in 1972 when, after hearing him play piano, composer Stephen Schwartz hired him on the spot to be musical director for the celebrated Toronto production of “Godspell.” The now-legendary cast included Eugene Levy, Martin Short, Andrea Martin, Victor Garber, and Gilda Radner. The show was a massive hit and Shaffer’s star ignited. Two years later, he opened on Broadway, playing piano in the musical, “The Magic Show.” The next stop on his trajectory was a five-year stint with a new television show, “NBC’s Saturday Night Live.” He played keyboards, composed special musical material and, in 1980, became a featured performer; his dead-on impression of Don Kirshner became an SNL mainstay.
In 1977, Shaffer took a brief break from “Saturday Night Live” to star in the CBS-TV comedy series “A Year at the Top,” produced by Norman Lear and the aforementioned Don Kirshner. After his return to SNL, he collaborated with Gilda Radner on the songs for her one-woman Broadway show, “Gilda Radner: Live from New York,” in which he also appeared. He served as musical director for the Blues Brothers-John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd-on their double platinum album and national tour.
In addition to his albums “Coast to Coast” (1989) and “The World’s Most Dangerous Party” (1993), Shaffer has recorded with such diverse artists as Diana Ross, Yoko Ono and Robert Plant’s Honeydrippers. He composed the “Late Show” theme song and, with Paul Jabara, wrote the #1’80s dance hit “It’s Raining Men,” performed by the Weather Girls and re-recorded by Geri Halliwell for the “Bridget Jones’s Diary” soundtrack, topping the British pop charts in 2001. In 2002, he received his first Grammy Award, Best Country Instrumental, for the “Earl Scruggs and Friends” album. He also co-produced an avant-garde jazz album for his mentor, Tsziji Munoz.
His feature film roles include infamous local promotion man Artie Fufkin in Rob Reiner’s “This Is Spinal Tap.” He also appeared in the Mike Nichols-directed “Gilda Live,” the Bill Murray movie “Scrooged,” and with John Travolta in “Look Who’s Talking Too,” and voiced Hermes in Disney’s animated feature “Hercules” and the television series based on the film. He produced the gold-selling soundtrack for and appeared in “Blues Brothers 2000” and composed original songs for the movie “Strangers with Candy.”
Shaffer has served as musical producer for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony since its inception in 1986. He led the band for the “We Are the World” finale of “Live Aid,” hosted CBS’s 1994 New Year’s Eve special from New York’s Times Square, and was musical director of the closing concert at the 1996 Olympic Games. He appeared with the Blues Brothers at the 1996 Super Bowl halftime show and was musical director of the 1999 “Concert of the Century” at the White House, featuring Eric Clapton, B. B. King, Gloria Estefan, ‘N Sync and others, to aid music programs in public schools. He was the musical director of Paul McCartney’s “Concert for New York” and appeared with Faith Hill on the “America: A Tribute to Heroes” telethon, both of which honored and raised money for victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Shaffer holds two honorary doctorate degrees, was inducted into the National Black Sports and Entertainment Hall of Fame, and was awarded a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. Paul recently received the Order of Canada, the highest Canadian civilian honor. He lives in the New York area with his wife and two children.
Shaffer currently resides in New York.