Monday, December 24, 2012

Archie Shepp Still Making Fire Music

Archie Shepp still making Fire Music

By Norman (Otis) Richmond aka Jalali

At 75 years of age Archie Shepp is still making FIRE MUSIC! Shepp proved this on Sunday, October 7th at The Ford Amphitheatre in Hollywood.

He had not played in Los Angeles since 1986.

The audience was diverse and the fans were from eight to 80.

I first saw Shepp backstage at Amiri Baraka's Spirit House in New Ark, New Jersey in the late 1960s. His columns in the jazz magazine Down Beat fascinated me as a youth.

Shepp was born in 1937 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida before moving to Philadelphia at the age of six.

He is a saxophone player, composer, pianist, singer, politically committed poet and playwright, who is still producing Diasporic Music, which is music made in the West but not of the West.

It is music of Africa but is not made in Africa.

His performance was like a serious history lesson in GREAT BLACK MUSIC.

Shepp resurrected the music of Duke Ellington, Bill Strayhorn as well as drawing from his own playbook.

He paid tribute to Sir Duke with a soul stirring rendition of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore".

After starting on his tenor saxophone, he crooned the tune in a voice that was reminiscent of Johnny Hartman and Howling Wolf.

The Renaissance Man played selections from his latest CD, "Gemini".

"How two" is for Elmo Hope.

Hope (June 27, 1923 – May 19, 1967) was an African American jazz pianist, who performed chiefly in the bop and hard bop genres.

His highly individual piano-playing and his compositions have led a few enthusiasts and critics such as David Rosenthal to place him alongside his contemporaries Bud Powell, Herbie Nichols and Thelonious Monk, but he remains less recognized than his colleagues.

He played "Ujaama" (for his daughter) and "Revolution" (for his grandmother Rose).

Shepp even called upon his drummer Steve McCraven to demonstrate The Hambone to the Hollywood crowd.

The Hambone springs from the West African Juba dance. It was an African-American plantation dance, that was brought from West Africa by captives who performed it during their gatherings when no rhythm instruments were allowed due to fear of secret codes hidden in the drumming.

The sounds were also used just as Yoruba and Haitian talking drums were used to communicate. The dance was performed in the southern United States as well as parts of the Caribbean as well as Dutch Guyana.

Shepp has always managed to stay up to date.

Gemini features a track,"The Reverse (alternate version 1 &2)" with Public Enemy's Chuck D.

Public Enemy invited Shepp on their show in Paris on April 3rd 2007.He talked about his impression of Chuck D and PE.

Says Shepp, "It was a wonderful moment . I remember when I've seen Spike Lee's film, 'Do The Right Thing. I found the final scene particular significant: The Black community's marching on the street and in the background Public Enemy was singing 'Fight The Power'".

"It was moving. Not only Chuck is really gifted as a poet, but he also extends and enriches the essential qualities in black music: rhythm and dance. Chuck and I immediately understood each other, because we come from the same historical experiences. At the end of the day, we are both blues people!."

His band featured bassist Avery Sharpe, drummer Steve McCraven and pianist Tom McClug.

Shepp played tenor and soprano saxophones as will as vocals and spoken word. Shepp's band were his students as well as his band members.

Mentorship is an important factor in Great Black Music and Shepp has been mentored by some of the greatest.

Avant garde pianist Cecil Taylor and the iconic saxophonist John William Coltrane both played roles in jump-starting Shepp's career.

Shepp has passed on his knowledge through education, including three decades teaching at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Several of his former students who have relocated to Southern California were in attendance at the meet and greet for their former teacher as well as at his concert.

Shepp was joined by Ambrose Akinmusire during his performance. The award-winning trumpeter speaks highly of elder Shepp.

Says Akinmusire,whose free but tuneful "When the Heart Emerges Glistening" ranked as one of last year's most lauded jazz recordings.

"Archie Shepp is one of the unsung heroes of jazz. He's a musician of integrity, and it's an honor to be recognized by him. I heard him play recently, and at 75 years old, he's still searching and innovating."

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