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Articles - June, 09 1994

Achievement in Music Award New England Foundation for the Arts

Burlington, VT (USA) | Scott Cashman

Recipient 1995: Archie Shepp

I would like to thank the New England Foundation for the Arts for offering this award. It is of great importance to the artists in New England to have such an award available and to the community in general to have an outlet for their appreciation of the great music that we have in our area.

It is also rewarding to be here with the New England Foundation because of the great work that they are doing with the National Jazz Service Organization to establish and expand the National Jazz Network. The future of this music is in maintaining and in some cases reestablishing contact with the traditional base of this music; since it is a grassroots, community based music and tradition.

I first came into Archie Shepp’s presence when I enrolled in his class at the University of Massachusetts. I was attracted to his course, Revolutionary Concepts in Afro-American Music, because it presented me with the opportunity to deepen my understanding of the blues. In addition to achieving this goal, I also opened up to what we commonly call "jazz" through his teaching.

Sitting in that room for two semesters I was awestruck at his presence in the classroom and the intellectuality that he presented. During this time I also had the opportunity to see him perform at Simon’s Rock of Bard in Great Barrington. I quickly became aware of his imposing musical talent. This fusion of intellect and artistry comes together in something called presence; and it is presence that makes this man more than the sum of his great parts.

In fact, his presence is so substantial that it took me almost three years to come to the realization that I was actually taller than Professor Shepp. This was a startling revelation to me!

Archie Shepp really began his career as a professional musician when Cecil Taylor gave him an opportunity to join his group in 1960. John Coltrane’s appreciation of his artistry led to Shepp’s recording contract with Impulse!. Throughout the 1960s he participated in a collective innovation which introduced a new set of possibilities for African American music.

Known as either "Free Jazz" or "Avant-Garde Jazz" this music spoke to a generation not content with the status quo in terms of music and social equality. As a spokes- person for this new music Shepp proved to be intelligent, educated, forceful and controversial. Through it all, in his music, spoken and written words, and non-musical jobs, he was a forceful advocate for equality and justice.

Beginning in the 1970s Archie Shepp began to experiment with the various forms of his African American musical heritage. Mainstream jazz, traditional spirituals and blues, and original compositions were explored in settings ranging from duos to his Attica Blues Big Band.

Today, in addition to being a master of the tenor saxophone, I believe that through his performances he has become one of the most profound bluesmen on the scene. I don’t have to wait for his old age to proclaim my belief that he is one of our national treasures.

It is with this firm belief that I am proud to present Archie Shepp with this Achievement in Jazz Award. Ladies and gentlemen, Archie Shepp.

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