Archie Shepp
Archie Shepp in Warsaw, 2008
Archie Shepp in Warsaw, 2008
Background information
Birth nameArchie Shepp
Born (1937-05-24) May 24, 1937 (age 86)
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, United States
GenresJazz, free jazz, avant-garde jazz
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, educator
Instrument(s)Tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, piano, vocals
Years active1960–present
LabelsImpulse!, SteepleChase, Denon, BYG Actuel, Marge

Archie Shepp (born May 24, 1937) is an American jazz saxophonist, educator and playwright who since the 1960s has played a central part in the development of avant-garde jazz.[1]


Early life

Shepp was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He began playing banjo with his father, then studied piano and saxophone while attending high school in Germantown. He studied drama at Goddard College from 1955 to 1959.[2]

He played in a Latin jazz band for a short time before joining the band of avant-garde pianist Cecil Taylor. Shepp's first recording under his own name, Archie Shepp - Bill Dixon Quartet, was released on Savoy Records in 1962 and featured a composition by Ornette Coleman.[3] In 1962, he performed with Dixon at the 8th World Festival of Youth and Students in Helsinki, Finland.[4] Along with alto saxophonist John Tchicai and trumpeter Don Cherry, he formed the New York Contemporary Five.[5] John Coltrane's admiration for Shepp led to recordings for Impulse! Records, the first of which was Four for Trane in 1964, an album of mainly Coltrane compositions on which he was joined by Tchicai, trombonist Roswell Rudd, trumpeter Alan Shorter, bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Charles Moffett.[6]

Early career

Shepp participated in the sessions for Coltrane's A Love Supreme in late 1964, 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).[5] However, Shepp, along with Tchicai and others from the Four for Trane sessions, then recorded Ascension with Coltrane in 1965, and his place alongside Coltrane at the forefront of the avant-garde jazz 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.

(video) Interview from 1978, Archie Shepp discusses jazz trends, poverty, politics, civil rights, culture and society.
Archie Shepp with the singer Shirley Bunnie Foy, with whom he recorded the 1975 album A Sea of Faces

In 1965, Shepp released Fire Music, which included the first signs of his developing political consciousness and his increasingly Afrocentric orientation. The album took its title from a ceremonial African music tradition and included a reading of an elegy for Malcolm X.[5] Shepp's 1967 The Magic of Ju-Ju also took its name from African musical traditions, and the music was strongly rooted in African music, featuring an African percussion ensemble. At this time, many African-American jazzmen were increasingly influenced by various continental African cultural and musical traditions; along with Pharoah Sanders, Shepp was at the forefront of this movement. The Magic of Ju-Ju defined Shepp's sound for the next few years: freeform avant-garde saxophone lines coupled with rhythms and cultural concepts from Africa.

Shepp was invited to perform in Algiers for the 1969 Pan-African Cultural Festival[7] of the Organization for African Unity, along with Dave Burrell, Sunny Murray, and Clifford Thornton. This ensemble then recorded several sessions in Paris at the BYG Actuel studios.

Shepp continued to experiment into the new decade, at various times including harmonica players and spoken word poets in his ensembles. With 1972's Attica Blues and The Cry of My People, he spoke out for civil rights; the former album was a response to the Attica Prison riots.[5] Shepp also writes for theater; his works include The Communist (1965)[7] and Lady Day: A Musical Tragedy (1972).[8] Both were produced by Robert Kalfin at the Chelsea Theater Center.[9]

Archie Shepp in France, 1982

In the late 1960s, Shepp began his teaching career as a professor of African-American Studies at SUNY in Buffalo, New York.[10] In 1971, Shepp was recruited to the University of Massachusetts Amherst by Randolph Bromery,[11] beginning a 30-year career as a professor of music. Shepp's first two courses were entitled "Revolutionary Concepts in African-American Music" and "Black Musician in the Theater".[12]

Archie Shepp at Keystone Korner, San Francisco, August 19, 1982

In the late 1970s and beyond, Shepp's career went between various old territories and various new ones. He continued to explore African music, while also recording blues, ballads, spirituals (on the 1977 album Goin' Home with Horace Parlan) and tributes to more traditional jazz figures such as Charlie Parker and Sidney Bechet, while at other times dabbling in R&B, and recording with various European artists including Jasper van't Hof, Tchangodei and Dresch Mihály.

Later career

Archie Shepp 2016

Shepp is featured in the 1981 documentary film Imagine the Sound, in which he discusses and performs his music and poetry. Shepp also appears in Mystery, Mr. Ra, a 1984 French documentary about Sun Ra. The film also includes footage of Shepp playing with Sun Ra's Arkestra.

Since the early 1990s, he has often played with the French trumpeter Eric Le Lann. In 1993, he worked with Michel Herr to create the original score for the film Just Friends.

In 2002, Shepp appeared on the Red Hot Organization's tribute album to Fela Kuti, Red Hot and Riot. Shepp appeared on a track entitled "No Agreement" alongside Res, Tony Allen, Ray Lema, Baaba Maal, and Positive Black Soul. In 2004 Archie Shepp founded his own record label, Archieball, together with Monette Berthomier. The label is located in Paris, France, and includes collaborations with Jacques Coursil, Monica Passos, Bernard Lubat, and Frank Cassenti.


Main article: Archie Shepp discography


  1. ^ "Archie Shepp: American Musician and Educator", Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  2. ^ "NEA Jazz Masters". Retrieved October 26, 2017.
  3. ^ "Archie Shepp Discography". Retrieved July 30, 2009.
  4. ^ Grundy, David; Crépon, Pierre (10 May 2021). "Free Jazz Communism: Archie Shepp–Bill Dixon Quartet at the 8th World Festival of Youth and Students in Helsinki 1962". Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études Critiques en Improvisation. Critical Improv. 14 (2–3). doi:10.21083/csieci.v14i2.6322. S2CID 241856641. Retrieved May 18, 2023.
  5. ^ a b c d Wynn, Ron. "Archie Shepp". AllMusic. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  6. ^ Jones, Leroi (2010). "Four for Trane". Black Music. AkashiClassics. pp. 151–155.
  7. ^ a b "Archie Shepp Profile". All About Jazz. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  8. ^ "Lady Day: A Musical Tragedy". Guide to Musical Theater. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  9. ^ "New York Magazine". Google Books. New York Media, LLC. October 23, 1972. p. 15. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  10. ^ "National Endowment for the Arts". National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved May 18, 2023.
  11. ^ "Randolph W. Bromery, Champion of Diversity, Du Bois and Jazz as UMass Amherst Chancellor, Dead at 87". February 27, 2013. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  12. ^ Farberman, Bradley (January 29, 2007). "Retired Prof. Archie Shepp discuses legendary career". The Massachusetts Daily Collegian. Retrieved November 9, 2017.