Photo: Archie Shepp (sax) and Amina Claudine Meyers (piano) | Joyce Jones. Some Rights Reserved. Creative Commons CC-NC-BY-ND.
The next show will air on Sunday, April 3, 2016 from 11:00 PM – 1:00 AM Monday Eastern Standard Time on WBAI, 99.5 FM in the NYC metro area or streaming online at wbai.org. This broadcast will feature a rare interview with a 2016 NEA Jazz Master recipient, alto saxophone player, composer, pianist, singer, politically committed poet, playwright and legend Archie Shepp.
Shepp grew up in Philadelphia PA, studied piano and saxophone and attended high school in Germantown. He became involved with theatre while in college and met writers and poets including Leroi Jones and wrote “The Communist,” an allegorical play about the situation of Black Americans. In the beginning of the sixties he met Cecil Taylor and did two recordings with him which influenced his musical approach.
In 1962 he recorded his first album with Bill Dixon as co-leader. During the following year he created the New York Contemporary Five with John Tchichai; made four records for the Fontana, Storyville and Savoy labels; and traveled to Europe with this group. Starting in August 1964, he worked with Impulse and made 17 records which include Four For Trane, Fire Music, and Mama Too Tight: some of the classics of Free Music. His collaboration with John Coltrane materialized further with Ascension in 1965, a real turning point in Avant-Garde music. His militancy was evidenced by his participation in the creation of the Jazz Composers Guild with Paul and Carla Bley, Sun Ra, Roswell Rudd and Cecil Taylor.
In July 1969 he went for the first time to Africa for the Pan African Festival in Algiers where many Black American militants were living. On this occasion he recorded Live at the Pan African Festival, the first of six albums in the Actual series. In 1969 he began teaching Ethnomusicology at the University of Amherst, Massachusetts while continuing to travel around the world to express his identity as an African American musician.
The dictionary of Jazz (Robert Laffont, Bouquins) defines him in the following way: “A first rate artist and intellectual, Archie Shepp has been at the head of the Avant-Garde Free Jazz movement and has been able to join the mainstream of Jazz, while remaining true to his esthetic. He has developed a true poli-instrumentality: an alto player, he also plays soprano since 1969, piano since 1975, and more recently occasionally sings blues and standards.”
With his freedom loving sensitivity, Archie Shepp has made an inestimable contribution to the gathering, publicizing, and inventing of jazz.
Bio adapted from Archie Shepp’s website.
Shepp will be honored as a NEA Jazz Master on Monday April 4, 2016. The tribute concert will feature performances by NEA Jazz Masters Chick Corea, Randy Weston, and Jimmy Heath, as well as Ambrose Akinmusire, Lakecia Benjamin, Billy Harper, Stefon Harris, Justin Kauflin, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Pedrito Martinez, Jason Moran, David Murray, Linda Oh, Karriem Riggins, Roswell Rudd, and Catherine Russell. It will be livestreamed starting at 8 PM EST.
This program is co-hosted by Joyce Jones and Hank Williams. It is engineered, produced, and edited by Joyce Jones.
Listen for our On the Bandstand segment with NYC metro area appearances of Suga’ guests at the end of the first hour with Associate Producer Hank Williams.
Watch Shepp in a live 2001 performance of “You Gotta Call Him” with Amina Claudine Myers.
Watch Shepp in this 2011 live performance in France.
Watch Shepp sing “Mama Rose” live at the 2010 Sant’Anna Arresi Jazz Festival.
Hank Williams is assistant producer for Suga’ in My Bowl and produces the weekly “On the Bandstand” segment as well as running the show’s website and blog, where he has reviewed several jazz festivals. His writing has also appeared in Left Turn magazine and American Music Review. He teaches at Lehman and Hunter colleges in the City University of New York system.
Tune into this program to hear more about this legendary composer, band leader tenor and soprano saxophonist. We’ll talk to Dexter’s wife Maxine Gordon and host a repeat visit from Woody Shaw III. We will also sample the box set Dexter Gordon – The Complete Columbia Albums Collection.
Dexter Keith Gordon was born on February 27, 1923 in Los Angeles, California. His father, Dr. Frank Gordon, was one of the first African American doctors in Los Angeles who arrived in 1918 after graduating from Howard Medical School in Washington, D.C. Dexter’s mother, Gwendolyn Baker, was the daughter of Captain Edward Baker, one of the five African American Medal of Honor recipients in the Spanish-American War.
Dexter began his study of music with the clarinet at age 13, then switched to the alto saxophone at 15, and finally to the tenor saxophone at 17. He studied music with Lloyd Reese and at Jefferson High School with Sam Browne. In his last year of high school, he received a call from alto saxophonist Marshall Royal asking him to join the Lionel Hampton Band. He left Los Angeles with the band, traveling down south and learning to play from fellow band members Illinois Jacquet and Joe Newman. In January 1941, the band played at the Grand Terrace in Chicago for six months and the radio broadcasts made there were Dexter’s first recordings.
It was in 1943, while in New York City with the Hampton band, that Dexter sat in at Minton’s Playhouse with Ben Webster and Lester Young. This was to be one of the most important moments in his long musical career as, as he put it, “people started to take notice.”
In the late 40s, Dexter appeared on the famed 52nd Street in New York City with Charlie Parker, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, Max Roach, and many of the bebop innovators of the day.
In 1960, Dexter was approached by Alfred Lion to sign with Blue Note Records. For five years, he made one session after another, and they are all considered classics. When asked which of all his recordings was his favorite, Dexter said: “I would have to say it is “Go!” The perfect rhythm section which made is possible for me to play whatever I wanted to play.”
In 1976, Dexter enjoyed a hero’s welcome in the U.S. when he made his return engagement at Storyville in New York City with Woody Shaw, Louis Hayes, Ronnie Mathews, and Stafford James. He subsequently played the Village Vanguard, signed with Columbia Records, and was officially back in town. He organized his first working band during this period with George Cables, Rufus Reid, and Eddie Gladden. He considered this band to be his best band and he toured extensively with them and recorded Live at the Keystone (Mosaic) and Manhattan Symphonie (CBS Sony) with the group.
In 1986, Dexter moved into his new career, acting, in the motion picture Round Midnight, which was directed by Bertrand Tavernier. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Leading Actor in 1986 for his portrayal of Dale Turner, a character based on the lives of Lester Young and Bud Powell. The music for the film won an Oscar for musical director, Herbie Hancock. The film included fellow musicians Bobby Hutcherson, Billy Higgins, Cedar Walton, Freddie Hubbard, Tony Williams, Pierre Michelot, John McLaughlin, and Wayne Shorter.
Dexter died on April 25, 1990 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Hosted by Arts Producer Joyce Jones.