In their series of Jazz greats, Arthaus Musik releases a DVD of the second part of a jazz night with famed sax player Archie Shepp and his Quartet. The concert took place in Turin in 1977.
Archie Shepp was a popular topic of conversation among jazz fans during the 1970s as it was becoming increasingly clear that a profound change was taking place in his approach to music and even his physical appearance. For years he had been the embodiment of black resistance, dressing in traditional African garments and protesting against the suppression of black people. But now he was wearing suits and had given up his free style of playing in favour of interpretations of well-known pieces from the jazz tradition.
Inevitably, the changes upset some people and pleased others. But Shepp never made it easy for people to judge him, and ignoring the talk he continued along the straight path, which had already led him to a place among the jazz greats while he was still a young man. Actually Shepp did not really break with his musical past. Before he became an avant-gardist Shepp played R&B and modern jazz and – as the younger Shepp once said: “New Jazz is no different from old jazz. There is really nothing new in it, if you set aside a message that couldn’t have been formulated earlier. This message is the truth. New Jazz tells the story of a people’s suffering. It talks about emancipation, the destruction of the ghettos, fascism. I’m a black jazz musician, a black father, an anti-fascist.” And in interview with jazz journalist Christian Broecking in 1993 he explained: “When I played Free Jazz, that pleased a lot of critics. But it’s a music black people as good as never hear. Then when I turned more to my people, the grumble started up that my audience was entirely white. Added to that, I’d always had a clear message for Afro-Americans, and still have, but I never reached them.”
Nothing could underline the continuity in Shepp’s career more effectively than the 1977 concert with Siegfried Kessler, Cameron Brown and Clifford Jordan, now being issued by Arthaus Musik in cooperation with Italian Television RAI.