L.A. Studio Legends: Sheridon Stokes

Legendary flutist talks his career as studio musician in Hollywood, from his early days at 20th Century Fox to his many collaborations with John Williams as principal flute, including his solos in such scores as Jaws, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and The Witches of Eastwick

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Flutist Sheridon Stokes is one of the true all-time greats among Hollywood studio musicians. In a career spanning six decades, Sheridon Stokes became one of the most heard flute artists in the world mostly thanks to his impressive career in the film and television industry in Los Angeles. He has performed as principal flute on dozens of classic film scores including many by John Williams. For the Maestro, he performed solos on Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and The Witches of Eastwick. It’s his beautiful, crystalline tone that accompanies some of the most iconic scenes in those films. But, as you’ll hear in the episode, Sheridon and John Williams met long before the Maestro would become the most famous and celebrated film composer in history.

Born in Los Angeles, Sheridon Stokes started his professional career in music at a very young age. He was hired as a piccolo player in the Denver Symphony when he was 16 years old and was the youngest contract musician in Hollywood at age 20, with the 20th Century Fox Orchestra under Alfred Newman. He studied at the University of Denver and was a scholarship student at University of Southern California majoring in composition. His primary flute teachers were Haaken Bergh and Arthur Gleghorn. He also studied composition with Dr. Ernest Kanitz, Russell Garcia, Haaken Bergh and Walter Kelsey. During his years performing for Alfred Newman at 20th Century Fox, Sheridon was able to witness the amazing musicianship of that unique environment while playing in many incredible scores including The King and I, Boy on a Dolphin, South Pacific and Peyton Place. He performed in the 20th Century Fox Orchestra until 1958, when he got a drafting notice to join the US Army (and by coincidence the studio contracts in all the studios ended). Alfred Newman was kind enough to write a letter for Sheridon to make sure that he would be sent to Germany to play in the 7th Army Symphony.

Lionel Newman “drafting” Sheridon Stokes into the Army during a party at 20th Century Fox Studios for the end of studio contracts; L-R: Felix Statkin, Alfred Newman, Mickey (stage manager), Sheridon Stokes and Lionel Newman (photo courtesy of Sheridon Stokes)

After being discharged from the Army, Sheridon spent an extra 6 months traveling in Europe before coming back to Los Angeles, where he started to perform regularly as studio musician for film and television recordings, while also remaining active in classical music by performing in concerts and recitals. During the 1960s, he was flutist on dozens of film and tv scores, including Cleopatra (1963, by Alex North), The Sound of Music (1965), and also the tv show Lost In Space (1965-67) for which John Williams wrote the main theme and several episode scores. He started being noticed also by composer Lalo Schifrin, who asked Sheridon to perform on the immortal theme for the television series Mission: Impossible (1967). They collaborated on many other projects, including the Academy Award-nominated score for the film The Fox (1968), in which Sheridon performs an exquisite solo in the opening titles.

Sheridon performed as principal flute for John Williams for many years, following in the footsteps of his teacher and mentor Arthur Gleghorn. Sheridon can be heard in many scores by the Maestro starting from the early 1970s, including The Cowboys, The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. It was around the same time that Sheridon was asked by John Williams to perform his Flute Concerto, written in 1969 and premiered in 1973, as the flutist was often performing in concerts of modern music in Los Angeles in the celebrated Monday Evening Concerts series, where he showcased works by Pierre Boulez and Igor Stravinsky among many others. Following this experience, Sheridon performed in many other John Williams’ scores, including some of the Maestro’s most iconic scores including Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Fury, 1941, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, and The Witches of Eastwick, often performing enchanting flute solos, but also highly complex, virtuosic writing for the instrument.

The beautiful a cappella flute solo composed by John Williams for the film “The Witches of Eastwick” (1987), performed by Sheridon Stokes

Sheridon Stokes has performed as first chair flute, often as featured soloist, in dozens of film scores by many other top Hollywood composers including The Collector, Gorillas in the Mist and Ghost by Maurice Jarre; Patriot Games, Sneakers, Jumanji, Apollo 13 and The Spitfire Grill by James Horner; Out of Africa by John Barry, just to name a few. He was also soloist on television scores such as Roots (music by Gerald Fried) and Kung Fu (music by Jim Helms), as well as popular tv series such as Family Guy. He was solo flute at the Academy Awards in 1997 and 1998 and played the famous penny whistle solo from the Titanic song “My Heart Will Go On” with Céline Dion, and in 2008 was solo flute again for the Academy Awards.

Sheridon Stokes during one of his many recording sessions in Hollywood (photo courtesy of Sheridon Stokes)

Sheridon is also lecturer and wrote theory books of flute playing such as Illustrated Method for Flute (endorsed by Jean-Pierre Rampal) and Special Effects for Flute (by Sheridon Stokes and Richard A. Condon). He also wrote a memoir titled Sheridon Stokes: Hollywood Flutist, Stories From The Recording Business Plus Fifty Years in Studios. In his career as classical flutist, Sheridon Stokes has premiered solo works by contemporary composers Henri Lazarof, Paul Chihara, and Russell Steinberg, and the Flute Concerto by John Williams. In 2006, he performed with the Bill Mays Trio at Martha’s Vineyard and in 2007 he was soloist in La Mancha, Spain with the Murcia Chamber Orchestra.

Sheridon Stokes with the woodwind section of the Academy Awards orchestra at Capitol Studios (photo courtesy of Sheridon Stokes)

Sheridon received the MVP award in flute from the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences in 1980, 1981, and 1982, and in 1983 received the Emeritus award. He has taught and performed at music festivals around the world. He won the National Flute Association’s International Lifetime Achievement Award, which was presented to him at their annual convention in San Diego in August, 2005, during which he also performed Williams’ Flute Concerto with the San Diego Chamber Orchestra (a performance Sheridon still remembers fondly). He also appeared on several classical recordings performing works by Henri Lazarof, Leon Levitch, Paul Chihara, Christopher Caliendo, and the Six Sonatas for flute and harpsichord by Luigi Boccherini.

Sheridon Stokes devoted a great part of his musical life also to teaching the next generation of flutists. He taught for 45 years at UCLA becoming Professor Emeritus and was senior music lecturer in Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA. Many of his students went to become major musicians in symphony orchestras around the world. He also published several works as composer including “Bon Voyage” for alto flute and string bass (1996), “Robin Hood Fantasy” for solo bass flute (premiered with Ballet California, 1993), “Soulscapes” for flute and marimba (premiered at the National Flute Association Convention, 1997), and “Laissez le voler” for flute quartet (premiered at UCLA, 1997). His work, Irish In The Lowlands for contrabass flute, bass flutes, and Irish flutes was premiered at UCLA in 2008 and has been released on CD.

Final bows for the tribute concert “A Night in Hollywood: A Celebration with Sheridon Stokes” held in November 2019 at Zipper Hall, Los Angeles; L-R: composer Jürgen Kramlofsky, Sheridon Stokes, conductor Angel Velez, Bobby Schulgold, Paul Fried, Geri Rotella, Louise DiTullio, Sara Andon, Larry Kaplan, Stephanie McNab, David Shostac, Jim Walker and Robert Townson.

In November 2019, a special tribute concert to celebrate Sheridon’s illustrious career was held at Zipper Hall in Los Angeles, where he performed the world premiere of concert works by German composer Jürgen Kramlofsky and selections from film scores by John Williams, John Barry, James Horner, Lalo Schifrin, Alan Menken and Michael Kamen specifically arranged by Conrad Pope and David Raiklen. Attending the concert were colleague Hollywood flutists Jim Walker, Louise DiTullio, David Shostac, Geri Rotella, Stephen Kujala and Paul Fried.

Sheridon Stokes performing at Zipper Hall, Los Angeles, with conductor Angel Velez in the special tribute concert “A Night in Hollywood: A Celebration with Sheridon Stokes” (November 2019, photo courtesy of Sheridon Stokes)

In this conversation, Sheridon talks about his illustrious life and career as one of the most venerable studio musicians in Hollywood, from his early days performing in the 20th Century Fox Orchestra under Alfred Newman to his meeting with a young John Williams in 1957. He talks at length about his first works with Williams in the early 1970s and the world concert premiere of the composer’s Flute Concerto with the UCLA orchestra in 1973. He also reminisces his flute solos on Jaws, E.T. and The Witches of Eastwick, and the work with composer Lalo Schifrin, offering his own unique insight into the great history of Hollywood’s film music.

Sheridon Stokes performing at UCLA (photo courtesy of Miriam Bribiesca/Daily Bruin)

Special Thanks to Sheridon Stokes for his time and generosity; visit his official website to learn more about his musical life and career: http://sheridonstokes.com

List of musical excerpts featured in the episode (all music by John Williams except where noted):

. “The Seduction of Sukie”, from The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
. “End Title” from Jaws (1975)
. “E.T.’s Halloween”, from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
. Richard Rodgers / Oscar Hammerstein II (arranger: Alfred Newman), “Overture” from The King and I (1956)
. Hugo Friedhofer, “The Dive”, from Boy on a Dolphin (1957)
. Richard Rodgers (arranger: Alfred Newman), “Pacific Overture”, from South Pacific (1958)
. “Main Title” from Lost In Space – Season 1 (1965)
. “The Weightless Waltz”, from “The Reluctant Stowaway” – Lost In Space – Season 1 (1965)
. “Harlee Dressing”, from The Towering Inferno (1974)
. “The Seduction of Sukie”, from The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
. “End Title” from Jaws (1975)
. “Far From Home / E.T. Alone”, “Sending the Signal” and “Abandoned and Pursued” from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
. “Out to Sea” from Jaws (1975)
. Lalo Schifrin, “Theme” from Mission: Impossible (1966)
. Lalo Schifrin, “Main Title”, from The Fox (1968)
. “E.T.’s Halloween”, from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
. “More Boating”, from Jaws 2 (1978)
. “E.T.’s Powers”, from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
. “Departmental Pride and The Cat”, from The Towering Inferno (1974)
. “Sea Attack Number One”, from Jaws (1975)
. “Training Montage” from The Cowboys (1972)
. “E.T. and Me”, from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)