Hey Reddit!

I’m here with the 100 years young, Berisford “Shep” Shepherd. There is so much to say about this wonderful man, but this quick bio will have to do. “Mr. Berisford “Shep” Shepherd is an arranger, composer, drummer, trombonist, contractor, and singer. Born in Honduras in 1917, and raised in Philadelphia, he attended Jules E. Mastbaum Area Conservatory and Vocational School where he was being groomed to play percussion in the Philadelphia Orchestra. Shep served four years in the army composing, arranging, conducting, and playing trombone. After his service, he settled in New York City where he played and contracted for Broadway shows. Shep has performed and written for seminal figures such as Benny Carter, Cy Oliver, Artie Shaw, Patti Page, Lionel Hampton, and Lena Horne among others. Because of the high-demand for his arrangements, the catchphrase “Get Shep” became common among New York musicians. He toured with various Broadway shows while based in New York. One of these shows led to San Francisco, where he eventually settled and was the house drummer at Finocchio’s for 23 years. Shep moved down to South Orange County in 2007 where he met his wife, Joy. She and Shep currently reside in San Clemente, California” Here’s a video of him singing at 99 years old. He’s got a concert this Friday singing with the Saddleback College Big Band in Mission Viejo, CA. Ask him anything!


Edit: Shep is going to rehearse with the band, but he will be back to answer more questions! If you guys have any questions about his upcoming concert, I'll be more than happy to answer them!

Edit 2: Shep is back!

Edit 3: Sorry guys, Shep has got to head home. Thanks so much for the questions! Hope to see you guys at the concert! Here’s a video of him being interviewed by Saddleback College’s jazz director, Joey Sellers, in case you wanted to know more about him.

Comments: 432 • Responses: 19  • Date: 

iwas99x800 karma

Shep, I just found out today that Ella Fitzgerald was born 100 years ago, did you ever meet and/or Perform with her?

callmeshorty1302 karma

"Yes, I did. Met and performed with her. It was a beautiful experience, she was a natural powerhouse, in a beautiful way. She never half did anything! I hear even in the bus when the bands were riding together, she sang full voice when she studied a song. The memory was being a contractor for a recording date she had, I was responsible for the individual musicians she worked with that day. The music was sent to me in advance to have it ready for the date. The date went down, with no mistakes! When I saw her last we were good buddies. 'Rhythm Is My Business' was the album if anyone wants to check it out!"

blackballed_687 karma

Any musicians you've met or played alongside that left you awestruck?

Also as a younger jazz fan, if I wanted to get a solid grasp on the genre and the history behind the music what decade of jazz/which performers would you suggest? Thanks!

Thank you to everyone for the feedback as well!

callmeshorty940 karma

"Benny Carter. The man who called me from Philadelphia in 1941 to join his orchestra. He was so versatile, a gentleman, so understanding, so patient and he dug the sound of my bass drum!"

When asked about how old he was at the time he said, "you do the math!"

discoveringplutonium316 karma

What was it like to get married at the age of 90? I'd love to know more about Joy, your wedding, and your perspective on waiting to settle down.

callmeshorty594 karma

"Life is unpredictable, that I couldn't really tell you how it happened. I found myself in the midst of it and it was marvelous. Being put together by a mutual friend, Dr.Willis Kurk, without ever knowing each other. I met him as a drummer, in 1948. He stayed in Indianapolis and he got his teaching degree. He became president of city college in San Fransisco, where I moved to. He was Joy's lifetime friend. Much life went on, before Joy came into the picture in a time when i needed someone. She came much after the death of my first wife. He introduced me to some of his homies with his wife, and took me to LA. Joy was in that group.When I saw her, I made up my mind, that's what I wanted. Seeing her dressed beautifully at concerts.

Joy: "He courted me everyday for one year. Gifts, flowers, it wore me down after one year."

Shep: "The same guy that introduced us was our best man. We went to Las Vegas to be married."

Joy: "We invited 25. 72 came, from all over!"

Shep: "We didn't want to get caught in the commercial wedding trap. We flew her minster from Indianapolis We got married in a super suite. It's been up hill ever since, she's my reason."

OldManJimster244 karma

What is Shep's first recollection/ favorite memory of music?

callmeshorty397 karma

"I believe, after being trained as a classical percussionist and going into jazz to make a living, which meant putting aside so many things I learned, my favorite memory is recording with Patti Page. She did her gospel album in New York, and the arranger did a beautiful job of it. Some [of the band members] said he didn't put enough timpani in there. They called me to do some timps and chimes, and I played the whole set without any scores, only allowed to listen to first takes. This experience pops up my in my mind whenever I hear gospel."

iwas99x226 karma

Do you prefer to be called Shep or Mr. Sheppard?

callmeshorty744 karma

"Depends on the situation. Say it with love I don't care!"

iwas99x199 karma

Shep, I linked your AMA to the subreddits r/jazz and r/music, is this okay?

callmeshorty182 karma

That's perfect, thank you!

box-of-butthurt144 karma

Man, you look great for your age. What's the secret?

callmeshorty263 karma

"One day at a time, and get a 2-4 nap when you can! Every possible day. I don't drink or smoke, cause I take too much medicine!"

porchturkey121 karma


callmeshorty360 karma

" At a very early age, I had a snare drum. I also had a paper route. Someone came knocking on my door asking for the drummer. I learned that a block party was about to start near my neighborhood, and the drummer had not shown. I just started studying drums, and I learned that Peal Baily told that man that, ' Berisford got a drum.' With the drum that I had, the one drum, he had me play in the orchestra. When the afternoon was over, he gave me 2 dollars. And I said then, 'this is better than a paper route!' This is how I go started in the business. "

FluffyMackerel110 karma

What was the biggest non-musical event to have an effect on your music?

callmeshorty218 karma

"I think it was, courting Joy. Because gigs had nothing to do with it. Although, it was my music that I used to try to keep her interest, by sending her tapes and CDs. But she had nothing to do with music when I met her. My conversation to her was not based on any theoretic subject, just pure love. Love from a sincere, reciprocating individual. That was honest and had no ulterior motive. Ive seen a lot of people that were fascinated that I was a musician. Joy, and I didn't start on that. She learned to understand music and what it means to me. Between to the two of use we are having a bunch of fun. Joy: I was in church choir for 25 years, so I had some music experience haha! Shep: That never came up in our courting, and good thing it didn't."

Harambes_Spirit102 karma

Hi Shep!

Do you think you'll ever retire?


callmeshorty289 karma

"Hahaha. Well, every time I call myself retired from one facet or another, I get busier. Let it roll, cause I'm enjoying it all. As long as I can do it, I'll do it."

RatedRGamer91 karma

What was your reaction to Elvis at the time? Surely that was the first of many times in your life when you saw music wvolve into something completely different than what you were used to. Thanks!

callmeshorty234 karma

"To me, it wasn't completely different because, it was a basic 12 bar strain that he was following that was being followed for ages. But he put another slant on it with the twisting of his hips! and lowered the register of his voice, but he presented a new flavor to the old stuff. I give him all the credit in the world for listening to the older guys and adapting his own style to what they were doing. The girls of course stuck to his style and his appearance. I appreciated him, if he didn't do it someone else would have done it."

sex_panther9667 karma

What is your favorite jazz song? What is your favorite chord? I've been wanting to get into jazz, and you seem like an awesome person to ask. Thanks for the AMA!

callmeshorty132 karma

"I haven't been drumming regularly, but every time I'm asked, I ask them to play "Cute." It has breaks in it for the drums!

CrayonFox61 karma

First of all, congratulations on turning 100 Mr. Shepherd!

I believe that every person has a personal way of experiencing music. Therefore I would like to know, how do you feel while playing? What kind of emotions do you usually run through during a concert?

If possible, I have a second question. A good friend of mine plays the flute, and she loves music more than anything. However, she lacks confidence; she desires to break away from studied music and develop her own style of playing, but at the same time she believes that she does not have enough talent.

You on the other hand did not shy away from any role music offered you. Be it playing drums, trombone, singing, or writing music yourself, you did it all with your own skill in your own Shep Shepherd way. So on behalf of my friend, I would like to ask: How did you find the confidence to play freely and to put your own stamp on music?

callmeshorty104 karma

"Well, my emotions would be based on the title of the song, the mood of the song, and the story to be told. You don't go in on a gig feeling the same way every evening. You sew yourself in the job off acting, and I'm an actor. I'm not a singer, I'm acting haha. Seriously taking on the responsibility of telling the story of each song. The roots take into how well you can tell the story, and getting it across to the best to their ability. "

When asked the second question, "There lies that wonderful thing, called talent. And if you have the talent to feel for someone else good, bad or indifferent, that's where the root of it is. Putting yourself into the story and I found that the lyrics tell you something, something you may not get the same message as someone else. You respond to the message it gives you. Some songs really get into my being. I'm not a singer, but I'm inspired by lyrics. I've has been nicely accepted by most quarters. Honesty is the best policy, if your teacher tells you your not cut out for this, do something else haha! I just found joy in all of it, one thing suggest another. There is a common denominator that shows itself, joy. I found the crown of my life in joy. I picked up my trombone which had been under the bed for some time. But the horn I had played it occasional, but that was just reading the marches. I picked it up to play ad-libed solos in an organ group. I had never played solos before, so i talked with a friend of mine, and he said if you can sing it you can play it! Be conscious of the basics! Give yourself room to feel and it'll happen! With the organ group I became the prime soloist. Take that attitude and see if it helps with your confidence. Do it! cause you've done it. "

Sleepless_Devil48 karma

How do you feel about the transition of music over the years, as well as the newer genres of musical entertainment such as EDM, etc? Do you feel the music that is popular these days is bettering or worsening the industry/the quality of music in the industry?

callmeshorty219 karma

"That's a loaded question. I see a bright future, for any serious student because there are so many facets of music. It's a universal language in itself. People all over the world people understand it, and the various structures of. There are only 12 different pitches in a chromatic scale. No matter what language is used to express it, it's just 12 different sounds worked out in different octaves! From generation to generation you have people coming up with different ideas and different events, and you end up with a different sound, and it's universal. It's an on going thing we are blessed with! So there I go, there I go!"

Nowhereman12339 karma

Wow, 100 years. 10 decades, 18 presidents, 2 world wars, a great depression, and countless other historic events. What are some of the most memorable historic events you've witnessed?

callmeshorty147 karma

"A black president of the united states, who just congratulated me on being 100 years old. Joy: He got a letter from him. Shep: Got a letter from the mayor, governor brown. The most important that I've seen happen, a marvelous memorable 8 years."

XenonBlu23 karma

Did you ever feel like you were stuck in a rut during your jazz career just playing the standards or simple songs that don't push you to get by? Also you're in great shape for 100, I feel honored as a young jazz musician that we can have people like you with such seniority and experience of the big band era still alive and able to perform!

callmeshorty54 karma

"No, because there was always a chance to ad-lib. Playing a song over and over again you find something in it you didn't find before. Its never old hat. Put it in another key! Joy:"I think that's one of the beauties of jazz it's impromptu"

Navebippzy20 karma

Shep, I'm a classically trained Baritone choral music educator and I just love the video of you performing "This is All I Ask" and "So Young". I hope to be as hale and hearty as you are when I'm 99!

  • What is the best way for a classically trained singer to get into jazz singing?

  • What songs/musicians from jazz would you want every child to know about through their education?

callmeshorty58 karma

"Listen! Listen, and emulate until you find that you can, not necessarily duplicate, but move on your own knowing that your within the structure of the song that your working with. Listen to others, and experiment. You'll always find something different to work with, and keep an open ear. Thelonius monk, will turn your mind around if you've never been associated. Dizzy Gillespie, with whom I went to school with. Benny Carter, was my first impression of professional music, that could ad-lib read your part, and write."

LittleDrumminBoy13 karma

Mr. Shepherd, thank you for doing this AMA! I'm a big fan of your work and of the genre you've done so much for. I can't imagine how incredible it must be for you to have seen so much history in your lifetime. You've seen everything from hand crank Victrolas to the digital world we live in today - and everything in between. Top that off with playing with the likes of Cab Calloway and Artie Shaw... you are quite an amazing man.

I'm sure you get asked this almost daily, but what piece of advice would you offer to anyone who would like to live to be 100 one day?

Thank you again.. wishing you many more years of happiness and great music!

callmeshorty17 karma

He answered it below, but he added, "I've been arranging more, and keeping an active mind helps."