Andy Sheppard features in impressive roster at Triskel for Cork Jazz Festival

English saxophonist Andy Sheppard played in a band led by legendary American bassist Charlie Haden, a multi-faceted musician whose backgrounds ranged from folk to free jazz.

“I’m in the middle of a solo, and Charlie was playing right behind me, and I could hear him keep saying, ‘Tell your story, man! Tell your story, man!“says Shepard. “I guess that’s the thing with jazz: you can have all the technique and all the knowledge in the world, but if you don’t have a story to tell, you’re going to sound flat.”

Sheppard believes in working hard and dedicating yourself completely to the music, no matter what. “In my twenties, I went to Paris, I played in the streets and in the metro, and at one point I lived in a room with 15 Polish refugees, who drank vodka, nonstop. But I survived thanks to my music, and it helped me build my story. As Charlie Parker so aptly put it, “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.”

Andy Sheppard’s story has much more to draw from than his Parisian period. For one thing, he didn’t discover jazz or start playing the saxophone until the relatively late age of 19, when he was introduced to the music of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and Keith Jarrett by pianist Geoff Williams.

“I was going to art college, but Geoff said to me, ‘You’re not an artist; you’re a natural musician,” says Sheppard, 65, who already played guitar and flute. “He said, ‘Sit there. Smoke that. And listen to this. I had never taken jazz seriously – I thought it was all Acker Bilk and bow ties. But it made sense to me. I understood it immediately; I could feel the incredible energy coming from the music, especially Coltrane’s. Then I thought, ‘This is it! I want to dedicate my life to making music like that!’”

The next day, Sheppard sold everything he owned, bought a tenor saxophone, and started learning and practicing all the hours he could. Within three weeks, he had his first paid gig. He took up the soprano saxophone soon after and began to build a reputation, particularly during the British jazz boom of the 1980s, as a player of rare lyricism, invention and expressiveness. – qualities that seem to match his very engaging and easy-going personality. . It has been in the job and in demand, especially in Europe, ever since.

Describing and defining Sheppard’s wonderfully diverse music is no easy task. He has performed and written for settings ranging from solo concerts to large orchestras, chamber orchestras and a 200-piece Massive Saxophone. He has led groups of all kinds, sometimes integrating the colors and rhythms of Africa, Asia and South America; most recently, he released four atmospherically captivating albums on the prestigious German label ECM.

Sometimes described as a “serial collaborator”, Sheppard has also worked with musicians as varied as folk-blues singer-songwriter John Martyn, contemporary classical pianist Joanna MacGregor, English bagpiper and violinist Kathryn Tickell and three of the most innovative and important composers. in modern jazz — Carla Bley, George Russell and Gil Evans. The Catalan title of his 1994 album perhaps best sums up his career: Inclassificable.

This month, Sheppard is bringing a new band to Ireland for the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival. Called East Coast and featuring John Parricelli on guitar, Dudley Phillips on bass and Mário Costa on drums, the quartet is somewhat different, Sheppard says, from his more contemplative ECM bands.

“It’s a lot more ‘get stuck in, play a few tunes and screw it up’,” he laughs. “It’s kind of a kicking group!”

Much of the new music for East Coast was written by Sheppard during and in response to the pandemic – on the far west coast of Europe, near Ericeira in Portugal, where he now lives.

“My wife Sara is Portuguese and we moved here the day after the Brexit vote in 2016. I sold my flat in Bristol; felt out of place in the UK. I have always had the feeling of being part of the European jazz family and music is for me a world without borders or restrictions. England retreated; I wanted to retain a sense of freedom.

While Sheppard continued to work as much as he could during Covid, that sense of personal freedom was seriously threatened in June when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He underwent “radical surgery” shortly afterwards and, remarkably, after only a few months of recovery, he is now back on the road.

“I dodged the bullet and it’s great to be back,” he says, stroking the long gray goatee that now accompanies his distinctive number three buzzcut. “And thanks to this experience, I am sure that my music will have more weight and depth. Now there’s more to my story, man! »

  • Andy Sheppard East Coast plays Triskel Christchurch at 8pm on Sunday October 30
Amaro Freitas performs on Sunday at the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival

Four more highlights at Triskel for the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival

  • NOTIFY and Aoife Doyle, 8 p.m., Friday, October 28: Double Irish billing from the nimble contemporary trad six-piece ensemble NOTIFY, fronted by talented concertina player Pádraig Rynne, and upcoming and beyond jazz vocalist Doyle.
  • Amaro Freitas, 2 p.m., Saturday October 29: 31-year-old piano sensation whose intricate rhythms and thrilling percussive playing are “pioneering the new sound of Brazilian jazz.”
Selene Saint Aime.
Selene Saint Aime.
  • Ralph Towner, 8 p.m., Saturday, October 29: rare solo performance by the former acoustic guitar statesman, a modern master whose worldview encompasses jazz, classical, folk, Brazilian music and more.
  • Sélène Saint-Aimé, 2:30 p.m., Sunday, October 30: Every festival should have its total surprise and unexpected discovery – the irresistible double bass player and Afro-French/global jazz singer Saint-Aimé could well be both.

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