21 April, 2009
Archie Shepp is a prominent American jazz saxophonist. Shepp is best known for his passionately Afrocentric music of the late 1960s which focused on highlighting the injustices faced by the African race, as well as for his work with the New York Contemporary Five, Horace Parlan, and his collaborations with his "New Thing" contemporaries, most notably Cecil Taylor and John Coltrane.
Shepp was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he studied piano, clarinet and alto saxophone before focusing on tenor saxophone (he occasionally plays soprano saxophone and piano). 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 avant-garde 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. John Coltrane's admiration led to recordings for Impulse!, the first of which was Four for Trane in 1964, an album of mainly Coltrane compositions on which he was sided by his long-time friend, trombonist Roswell Rudd, bassist Reggie Workman and alto player John Tchicai. The album Giant Steps had been one of Coltrane's best-known, and this collection of new versions on Coltrane's own label was a statement that jazz was not standing still. And Coltrane, Shepp and others were about to move it forward again.
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. However, Shepp, along with Tchicai and others from the Four for Trane sessions, 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, though 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.
Beginning in 1971, Archie Shepp began a thirty year career as a professor of music at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Shepp's first two courses were entitled "Revolutionary Concepts in African-American Music" and "Black Musician in the Theater."