Hello Reddit!

I have reformed a new Attica Blues Big Band composed of 26 young musicians (French & American) to commemorate my 1972 album "Attica Blues" which was dedicated to the victims of the Attica Prison Riots in NY in 1971 in order to release a Live Attica Blues Band Album this fall.

We have launched a Kickstarter campaign to finalize the budget on this exciting project and I am eager to share this wonderful experience with the new generation, promote young talents as well as support the creation of independent jazz!

Check it out here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/archieshepp/attica-blues

Ask me anything about the project, my view on how jazz has changed since the 1960's, and anything else on your mind. I am looking forward to your questions!

EDIT: I had a lot of fun discussing with you all! I would like to thank all of you who took the time to come questions and share your passion for music with me. I had a great time on my first IAMA, lots of love from Paris, France.

For those of you interested, our campaign for the new Attica Blues Big Band Album runs until sunday and we will be releasing a new album in the fall, thanks again for coming!

Comments: 70 • Responses: 25  • Date: 

savemejebus09 karma

Archie, you are a jazz icon that is far too often overlooked. I went to college for jazz and am fortunate to be exposed to your music and want to thank you for your incredible music. What factors so you think most influenced your unique style of improvisation? Was there a point where you felt you found your identity musically?

ArchieShepp16 karma

Hello and thank you for the kind words!!

As I said Cecil Taylor had a profound influence on my ability to step outside the traditional idioms and being to entertain other ways to enrich my improvisation!

WaitForItTheMongols8 karma

What do you think is the future of jazz? Do you see it continuing for a long time further, or fizzling out?

ArchieShepp13 karma

Hello! I don't use the term jazz. I see the term "Jazz" more of a marketing term, and that might fizzle out. African American music, or music composed by people of color- that music will certainly continue as it stems from the suffering of those people. This genuine music will never fizzle out. I personally prefer the term African-American music. This does not only mean African-Americans are the only ones who play this music, but we are the authors, the originators and a lot of current music such as hip hop, rap or RnB stem from this. What people consider traditional Jazz or what I call African-American music originates in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem. I am very proud my people have had enormous influence on world music from Louis Armstrong to Chuck D!

aero19926 karma

What about jazz composed by people who aren't black?

ArchieShepp12 karma

I meant to say that African-Americans were the first ones to play this music but obviously non African-Americans have taken an interest and have helped develop the genre over the past few decades. Music is shared, and we all share our various experiences. Some non African-American musicians perform very well such as Roswell Rudd as well as many other nationalities!

loltdubs7 karma

Hi Archie, I just have to say that I love your The Magic of Ju-Ju album. I also have a couple questions that I would love for you to answer.

1) What was it like being in the Love Supreme session? Did anyone feel at that time that it was going to be one of the most influential records in jazz?

2) What your initial reactions to hearing avant-garde music? How did you get into it?

3) Do you have a favourite modern artist that you see being much more successful in the future?


ArchieShepp20 karma

Hello and thanks for the kind words. I will try to answer your questions in

1) As a young man I was overwhelmed by performing with a great musician like John Coltrane and was very humbled when he asked me to make the recording with him. He called me one day out of the blue and for me it was a realization of a dream come true, to perform with an important man like John Coltrane. That he considered I would add something to his musical project was a great honor! I was very impressed to be there and in my own small way I added something to the date. Everything that Coltrane did during the relatively short period of his creative life eventually became important. Love Supreme takes on a certain importance because it takes on spiritual and social significance. Whether Coltrane thought it would become his legacy, I am not sure, he did everything more on a spiritual. He had a deep social awareness and I think that becomes apparent in a work like Love Supreme. He demonstrates his musical virtuosity in his work but also makes a verbal statement on the meaning of love, and by implication for everyone is very important! When he uses the word "love" he uses it in a social sense, in a greater societal sense as well as the romantic love. We need love in our society in order to survive, therefore the Love Supreme entails all of us.

ArchieShepp16 karma

2) The term avant-garde is ever evolving. When I was a young man they called me "avant-gardiste" and now they call me an "veteran of avant-garde", as time passes by your relationship to the title is different.

The "avant-garde" is a term you go back to rather than arrive to, so I look at it in the past tense rather than the future. That was 50 years ago and now my style has evolved, maybe not what avant-garde was considered at the time.

At the time, music critics gave me the name "avant-garde" but I sort of stumbled into it. My biggest influence was Cecil Taylor. He was looking for a saxophone player and I was looking for a gig. I never imagined I would began my career playing that kind of music. I'm immensely indebted to Cecil Taylor as he opened up another music that I might not have started playing if it wasn't for him!

ArchieShepp15 karma

3) Our reality is the sum total of our past, present and future. Modern can be part of our past as far as I am concerned - I still to this day listen to John Coltrane a lot as well as practice Mozart pieces when I practice. I have discovered through classical music many new things. Classical music has improved my technique a lot, and he's not so modern, but modern for me as I never knew his music before ha!

The real question is one of originality outside the context of time. I could go to a Baptist Church and the choir could bring tears to my eyes, not for their innovation but the emotion they give me. Any artist who can do that is definitely worth following.

loltdubs5 karma

Thank you so much for answering my questions! Your answers have really inspired me to think of different ways to approach music and art, as well as the ability to communicate through this medium.

ArchieShepp6 karma

Thank you and good luck!

ambivalentanglican6 karma

Who do you think is the most socially relevant artist in music today? Who is doing the most good with their music?

ArchieShepp13 karma

Hello, For me I would save Public Enemy.

They're visibly and tangibly in touch with social issues and they try to consciously express some social/political idea in a lot of their songs. You could say the same of KRS-One as well!

Very few jazz performers take any political stance these days, and very few ever did! Miles Davis challenged the social scene which was racist in the day. Louis Armstrong was appreciated because the whites saw some subservient attitude and he has been criticized by black people and people weren't clear until the 1950's when he contested against Governor Faubus!

mof09125 karma

Hi Mr. Shepp, thanks so much for doing this. Mama Too Tight is one of my all time favorite albums.

  1. Who are some of your favorite drummers?

  2. What advice would you give a young drummer?

  3. Can you tell us about the Ascension sessions? What musical directions were given? Any other stories about that date?

ArchieShepp11 karma

Hello there! 1. I would have to say Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Max Roach, Sam Woodyard, Big Cid Catlett, Kenny Clark, Baby Dodds, Cozy Cole, Elvin Jones among others!! 2. For a young drummer, you should practice hard and listen to all the music you can, no matter what musical idiom - from classical, to polkas, to indian music, to traditional korean music and work hard. Hope for the best and you will be fine!! 3. John had written out some notes, and after each soloists he would play an interlude based on the chord. The soloists were playing free and that's what he wanted - the sound of freedom of something controlled, that's why he wrote the chords down himself to have a fulcrum around which everything evolved.

SpartanerMcGee4 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA! Growing up , who was your biggest musical influence?

ArchieShepp13 karma

Hello, growing up I would have to say the biggest musical influences were my father who played the banjo and my mother who sang a lot at home as well. The black community was also very important to me as a child.

bobbybrownjazz4 karma

How did you meet Coltrane?

ArchieShepp15 karma


I met John Coltrane a few years before the Love Supreme. I heard him in the club "The Five Spot" when he was there with the Thelonious Monk. One night I had the courage to ask if he would give me some lessons. John was a very kind man and he wrote his address down for me and I was at his home the next morning at 10 o'clock! He was still asleep, and at about 1 o'clock he got up and I got to meet him in his living room. He went right to the saxophone and I was really impressed to see how large his arms was until I saw the weights in the corner of the living room!

He practiced relentlessly, he started to play for 10 minutes - it was really quite impressive to hear him!

Giant Steps is an improvisation based on range of minor thirds and fourths - he actually broke the mold in his harmonic approach to improvising and to that extent he evolved beyond Charlie Parker.

What a great artist!

bobbybrownjazz3 karma

thank you so much!

ArchieShepp6 karma

No problem!

BlakeC933 karma


ArchieShepp7 karma

Hello, I would have to say I consider ignorance and lack of educational opportunities as huge injustices. Everywhere, the wealthier are getting wealthier and the poor and getting poorer. Today's world faces big economic problems, governments seem to spend a lot of money on wars abroad and not concentrating on social day to day issues.

WingAndDing3 karma

What's your favorite big band? Another question: Through your eyes and experience, how has music (particularly jazz) transformed throughout time?

ArchieShepp12 karma

Hello, I've followed several big bands such as the Ellington Orchestra, Jimmy Lunceford (one of the great big bands in the 40's).

Music has evolved now, and successful jazz artists are making a lot more money than in my time. The capital ethic has really taken route, as Jazz has been marketed over time - but it is not to say the new generation is any weaker, there's some great virtuosos, but many of them are less original than in the 60's.

grant03 karma

What, for you, has been the best moment of your career so far? Was there one show where you felt "on top of the world"?

This might be a tough one: Which of your albums is your favourite? If there was one that would still be listened to in 300 years, which one do you hope it is?

ArchieShepp8 karma

Hello! As a young man, playing in different places around the world was very impressive, for example Japan at the Koseinenkin Hall - partly because everything was new to me. I imagine that comes through in the music as well

In 1967 when I played in England, it was a very impressive moment for me because it was my first big tour in Europe with the Newport Festival. It was well produced and my reputation now is based on my time then. The people who produced that festival are still the most important "Jazz Entrepreneurs" in Europe.

One of the most exciting times was when I played with Duke Ellington - I felt like I was on top of the world, a little scared maybe but a great experience!

ArchieShepp5 karma

I always look at my albums like looking at my children. I always try to do my best! So I would not choose one, it would be like choosing your favorite child!

BenoitC813 karma

Hey Archie - How was the jazz scene back in the 1950s & 1960s when you first started out?

ArchieShepp9 karma


It was a great ambience to be a part of. There were a lot of fine musicians around Philadelphia. My father was a blues man and was confronted with Blues musicians in my childhood.

My childhood was enhanced and enriched by this ambience!

Jon-A3 karma

Do you still teach? Did you find that rewarding?

Any info for sax gearheads - preferred horns, mouthpiece/reed set-up?

I've read that you had to work through some embouchure issues years ago. Could you describe what occurred?

And - just thanks for your great recordings. A fantastically rich discography, that is a continuing source of inspiration and enjoyment!

ArchieShepp9 karma

Hello and thank you!

Yes I cut my lip some years ago - I was playing a Baritone saxophone and the vibration opened my lip inside - I had to have surgery and it was very difficult because I had to basically play all over again. I still use the same mouthpiece, I bought it second hand, it was owned by Paul Gonsalves (Duke Ellington's tenor saxophone player) in a music store called Sorrensen in Denmark. The store had new pieces but I loved Paul's sound and I said, that's the one I want and I still play with it. It's a seven star Otto link.

I thought for 32 years and it was in fact a rewarding experience, especially in the first 15 years, to be able to interact with Amherst college students because they were motivated and brought something to the class, they brought the level of the class up! Some had been to Vietnam War and it was very interesting to relate with them. I retired in 2000, I brought a great deal of enthusiasm to my teaching in my earlier years and I dealt with students more interested in jobs in the late 80's and 90's which was a bit different atmosphere.

wellvis2 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA.

Do you find much of a difference (if any) playing with French musicians vs. American musicians? How about white vs. black musicians (all other things being equal)?

ArchieShepp11 karma


I generally expect a black musican to be closer to the authenticity of the blues but it's not always the case. Some white musicians are "blacker" than black artists in their soul and conversely! Color does not always make the difference but it's experience that makes the big difference and integrity.

As for french v. american musicians, it depends what each brings to the table. Some french musicians can compare very well to some blues musicians to the US but at the end of the day they're not real blues men, but very similar to the blues.

BenoitC812 karma

What is your view on the struggle for independent labels to prevail v. big majors the music industry?

ArchieShepp9 karma

We're trying with our label but it's very difficult in a capitalist world so it takes capital to make things happen. The ultimate goal in a capitalist world, ultimately you need the money and unfortunately small record labels rarely survive and end up selling their catalogue to bigger record labels.

Which is precisely why more and more artists are turning towards crowdfunding platforms - like we are doing with the New Attica Blue Band on Kickstarter!

Jazzattitude2 karma

What did the Attica prison riots change in the way you see the world? Did those events change the way you perceived music?

ArchieShepp11 karma


The Attica Prison riot was symbolic, metaphoric in that it raised people's awareness of just how terrible conditions in prisons really are. Unfortunately, many people had to lose their lives to make people aware of this situation. Prisons from Attica in New York or in Brazil, Argentina or China - prisons are terrible places where justice is ignored in the lives of many people as we go on with illusions of a free world.

We permit ourselves to believe that we are living in a free world, but prisons are proof of the tremendous injustices and mistreatment in our world. We allow ourselves to ignore how poor people in prisons are mistreated and brutalized in penal systems everywhere in the world. I'm sure in many countries are much like purgatory!

As for the music, I grew up in the ghetto and grew up with people who had been to jail so prison was very much a reality growing up and it shaped my perspective of life vis à vis justice and injustice. It certainly made the blues feeling more authentic - those experiences are still in my mind and they helped deepen my musical experiences for sure.

RyanBoston472 karma

If you could play anywhere in the world, where would you choose?

ArchieShepp8 karma


It really depends on who I am playing with. Just last week, I was playing with the new Attica Blue Big band and it gave a different perspective!

So it's more of the context I would play in than the place.

I really enjoy playing in the United States, precisely because there's a huge Blues culture that we don't find anywhere else in the world such as New York, Chicago, Cleveland, South Carolina and many other places!

ArchieShepp7 karma

When I perform in the US, I always feel the people relate more, that they are closer to me than anywhere.

RyanBoston472 karma

So why don't you play more often in US?

ArchieShepp15 karma

I do perform there occasionally but the business of music in the US is very political. The fact that I've been outspoken about racism in music or racism in culture has sort of put me on a blacklist (no pun intendended) - so I am not so popular with people who produce in the United States partly because of my socio and political ideas which I have expressed without reticence.

grant01 karma

After all these years of performing, do you still get nervous before you go out on stage?

ArchieShepp7 karma

Oh yea! I take every gig very seriously so I want to give it my all. So there are always a bit of nerves before and feeling inspired and feeling that you are about to do something cathartic.

It's hard to do something cathartic without some nerves since you're projecting your soul and message on other and hope they will understand and accept that message.