Instrumentalists on The Muppet Show!

I’ve always been a fan of Jim Henson’s Muppets. I grew up in the 80s, so Sesame Street was a big part of my childhood. As an adult I continue to find joy in the vaudevillian style comedy of The Muppet show and movies. I’ve also been interested in how the Muppets were produced as well as the career of Jim Henson, which is well told in the biography by Brian Jay Jones and in the DefunctTV 6 part series. Needless to say, I am beyond excited that Disney+ recently added all 5 seasons of The Muppet Show to its catalogue. I already owned the first 2 seasons on DVD, but seasons 4 and 5 haven’t been available for some time.

Music played an important role on The Muppet Show. Which should come to no surprise, as Jim Henson started out lip syncing his handmade puppets to records after the local nightly news in the Maryland/DC area. It’s pretty much known that what took so long for the show to make its streaming debut was obtaining the rights of those musical performances. In fact, there are a still few instances of missing performances or whole shows (depending on region). But I think Muppet fans should not dwell on the technical incompleteness and just enjoy the 118 episodes released.

Even though I knew these episodes existed, it was great to see that several instrumentalists were featured guest stars during the show’s run. Dizzy Gillespie appeared in season 4 (ep 12), and in season 5 Jean-Pierre Rampal (ep 9) and Buddy Rich (ep 20). Also Hal Linden of Barney Miller fame played the clarinet in the closing number of season 5 episode 16. Before he was an actor, in the 1950’s he was a woodwind doubler and big band leader.

Dizzy’s episode featured some good musician jokes. Rampal’s episode was pretty flat. Unfortunately the audio from that episode just wasn’t quite tuned well for solo flute. Still, great to see a classical flautist as the featured guest star on a hit show at its peak in the early 80s. And be sure to catch the Waldorf and Statler joke after the end credits. The Buddy Rich episode was fantastic. Buddy was fairly active in the sketches, probably because he literally grew up in the theater. Buddy’s parents were in fact “vaudevillians” and he was a part of their act even before the age of two. Of course they had to close that episode with a drum battle between Buddy and Animal!

Any acts you enjoyed from The Muppet Show?