Archie Shepp

From Academic Kids

Archie Shepp is an American free jazz saxophonist.

Shepp was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on May 24, 1937, but raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he studied piano, clarinet and alto saxophone before focusing on tenor saxophone (he occasionally plays soprano saxophone). He is best known for his passionately Afrocentric music of the late sixties which focused on highlighting the injustices faced by the African race, as well as for his work with the New York Contemporary Five and his collaborations with his "New Thing" contemporaries, most notably Cecil Taylor and John Coltrane.

Shepp studied drama at Goddard College from 1955 to 1959, but after a lack of success in securing acting jobs after moving to New York, he turned to music professionally. He played in a Latin jazz band for a short time before joining the band of avantgarde pianist Cecil Taylor, who at that time was just beginning to blossom from merely a very eccentric Thelonious Monk-influenced young upstart into one of the most important and controversial figures of the 1960s avantgarde. Shepp appeared on Air, The World Of Cecil Taylor and Cell Walk For Celeste, all of which remain defining Taylor recordings. His first notable forays into recording under his own name came with the New York Contemporary Five band, which included Don Cherry. Shepp participated in the sessions for Coltrane's A Love Supreme in early 1965 but none of the takes he participated in were included on the final LP release (they were made available for the first time on a 2002 reissue). However, Shepp then cut the massively influential and extremely avantgarde Ascension with Coltrane in 1965, and his place alongside Trane at the forefront of the avantgarde scene was epitomized when the pair split a record (the first side a Coltrane set, the second a Shepp set) entitled New Thing At Newport released in late 1965. Some critics felt Shepp was rather too heavily influenced by Coltrane, but it should be noted that Trane's influence at the time was so vast that nearly every saxophonist who was attaining stardom at the time was on the receiving end of this criticism at one point in their careers (most notably Wayne Shorter).

1965 also saw the release of the Fire Music LP which included the first signs of Shepp's increasingly prominent Afrocentricity: it included the reading of an elegy for Malcolm X, and the title is derived from a ceremonial African music tradition. It also saw Shepp pushing the boundaries of jazz but remaining somewhat tethered to bebop traditions, as the saxophonist performed bizarre readings of standards "Prelude To A Kiss" and "The Girl From Ipanema". The Magic Of Ju-Ju in 1967 also took its name from African musical traditions and this time the music too dived headlong into the continent's music itself, utilising a frenetic African percussion ensemble. At this time, many African-American jazzmen were becoming increasingly aware of Afrocentrism and the musical traditions of the African continent; along with Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp was at the forefront of this movement. The Magic Of Ju-Ju defined Shepp's sound for the next few years - seemingly chaotic avantgarde sax lines coupled with the rhythms and ideologies of Africa. Shepp continued to experiment into the new decade, at various times including harmonica players and spoken word poets in his ensembles. Attica Blues and The Cry Of My People, meanwhile, from 1972 were Shepp's angriest statements of black freedom yet.

In the late 1970s and beyond, Shepp's career zigzagged between various old territories and various new territories. He continued to explore the music of Africa, while also recording tributes to more traditional jazz figures like Charlie Parker and Sidney Bechet, dabbling in R&B, and recording with various European artists like Jasper Van't Hof and Mihaly Dresch.

Shepp has also returned to his first love, drama, at various times in his career - his works include The Communist (1965) and Lady Day: A Musical Tragedy (1972).


"Negro music and culture are intrinsically improvisational, existential. Nothing is sacred." - Archie Shepp 1990

External link

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