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Archie Shepp

Biography

That Shepp was one of the most controversial jazzmen of the 1960s had as much to do with his outspoken Afro-American politics as it did his music -- at least to the extent that the two can be separated. As a poet and playwright (as well as a tenor saxophonist and composer), he clearly articulated feelings of frustration and anger; but he could also be lyrical and, even by his own admission, sentimental. Despite his alignment with the "New Thing" (another term for the radical Free Jazz movement, as referenced on a split 1965 LP with mentor John Coltrane), his roots lay firmly in the jazz tradition. His gruff, woozy tone in particular recalled the big tenors of the pre-Bop era, and when coupled with the brassy trombone of frequent frontline partner Roswell Rudd, the results could suggest a parallel universe circa 1937. By the mid-1970s, and especially the 1980s, he'd taken a more overtly traditional path, playing Bebop and standards with more frequency. While his later music isn't what he's best known for, there are still some fine moments to be found -- for instance, Goin' Home (1977), an album of reverent spiritual interpretations with pianist Horace Parlan.
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