The Musicians on Late Show with David Letterman

Part 1. The Players

David Letterman’s final Late Night on NBC occurred on June 25, 1993. As he left to prepare his Late Show’s debut on CBS on August 30, his former network imposed certain “intellectual copyright” restrictions: Larry “Bud” Melman could no longer be called by his character but instead by his actual name, Calvert DeForest. The Top Ten list would now be called “Late Show Top Ten.” And Paul Shaffer’s house group could no longer be referred to as The World’s Most Dangerous Band (WMDB). They were hereafter the CBS Orchestra.

The core members of the NBC band continued on to the CBS show: Paul Shaffer, music director and keyboards; Sid McGinnis, guitar; Will Lee, bass, and Anton Fig, drums. Added for Late Show were two new players: Felicia Collins, second guitar, and Bernie Worrell, second keyboards. Felicia had first performed with Will and Anton at Live Aid in Philadelphia on July 13, 1985, and she had appeared on Late Night backing Cyndi Lauper on May 27, 1993. Bernie was the famed Parliament-Funkadelic co-founder and keyboardist; he had sat in with the WMDB once, on February 26, 1991.

Bernie would leave Late Show after two months, his last day on October 29, 1993. On the following Monday, November 1, he was succeeded by a two-person horn section that consisted of Tom “Bones” Malone on trombone and 5,000 other instruments, and Bruce Kapler on saxophone and, occasionally, flute. Tom and Paul had known each other since the 1975-80 SNL days and had together assembled The Blues Brothers in 1978. Still, Tom had sat in with the Late Night band only once, on August 22, 1991.

Bruce Kapler, though, along with his musical partner Alan Chesnovitz (Al Chez), had been sitting in frequently with the WMDB since their first joint appearance on September 14, 1988. Bruce would make 26 further sit-in appearances on Late Night.

Bruce and Al were hardly the first to sit in with the Late Night band. There’d be 370 Late Nights with music-guest sit-ins; some would have their own music segments, others only to play with the WMDB throughout the show.

(The full Late Night musicians history, along with PDF spreadsheets of all of the music performances, song titles, sit-ins, and substitutions, can be found here:
https://donzblog.home.blog/2022/04/17/the-musicians-on-late-night-with-david-letterman/)

The band sit-ins tradition continued on Late Show. Of the 4,214 Dave-hosted shows and 30 Guest-Host shows, 278 featured sit-in music guests.

Al Chez was a frequent CBS Orchestra sit-in and would officially become a permanent member of the horn section on February 28, 1997. The band personnel would then remain stable for the next fifteen years. Bruce would leave on February 2, 2012, and Al would follow five months later on July 26.

After weeks of auditions for the saxophone chair, Aaron Heick was officially brought in as Bruce’s successor on June 18, 2012. Auditions for Al’s trumpet chair began immediately after his departure, and on September 17, Frank Greene would begin his permanent position as Al’s successor. The band personnel from then on — Paul, Sid, Will, Anton, Felicia, Tom, Aaron, and Frank — would continue until the final show on May 20, 2015.


Part 2. The Performances

Of likely more interest to the more casual Late Show fan are the music guests. Gathered in the following PDF spreadsheets are complete rosters of the guest performers and song titles as well as all of the band sit-ins and substitutions.

The first PDF spreadsheet presents the overall history of the music performances and song titles sorted sequentially by show broadcast date, along with all band sit-ins and substitutions.

The rest of the PDF spreadsheets are sub-categories, all sorted alphabetically.

The second is sorted by musical artist.

The third is sorted by song title.

PDF Spreadsheet #4: The band Sit-Ins and the instruments played.

5: Paul Shaffer’s subs.

6: Sid McGinnis’s subs.

7: Will Lee’s subs.

8: Anton Fig’s subs.

9: Felicia Collins’ subs.

10: Tom Malone’s subs.

11: Bruce Kapler’s and Aaron Heick’s subs.

And, finally, #12: Al Chez’s subs.

The core members of the band — Paul, Sid, Will, and Anton — hold individual records for longest-serving players of their respective instruments on late night television:

Paul and Will: quite the appropriate 33 1/3 years (1982 to 2015)
Sid: 30 years, 5 months (1984 to 2015)
Anton: 29 years (1986 to 2015)

No other television band member will ever come close to these numbers again.

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3 thoughts on “The Musicians on Late Show with David Letterman

  1. ”No other television band member will ever come close to these numbers again.”

    I know you are meticulous and don’t throw out lines like this on a whim … but … Carson’s band? How close do the Doc Severinsens and Tommy Newsomes of that era to Dave’s bands?

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  2. That’s a valid point. I should have been clearer specifying references to the players’ instruments and, in Paul’s case, also position. Keyboard, bass, guitar, drums, and music director — all records set by Paul, Will, Sid, Anton, and Paul.

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