Thursday, September 06, 2007

Still "Getting Shep"

Shep Shepard - 9 decades of Music

Sometimes a hero takes a journey that allows him to
bring a great talent to the world. Shep Shepard took such
a journey starting in the musical world of the 1930s.
Today at 90, Shep continues to entertain with his gift.
Listed in The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz, International
Who’s Who of Intellectuals and Who’s Who Among Black
Americans, “Shep” is a musical treasure.

Gushing with spunk, Berisford “Shep” Shepard was born
a traveling man. His mother-to-be was en route to
Philadelphia when the ship stopped in the Honduras.
Shep, figuring it was time to see the world, was born.

Island life sounds idyllic but back then the goal was
to get out. See the world. Opportunities were limited
in the West Indies. Fortunately, Shep’s dad was able to
attain work on the Panama Canal. He saved money to send
his pregnant wife onto her brother’s in Philadelphia
to get the family started in the US. Shep just couldn’t wait.

Shep’s West Indian family was engulfed in music. Even
with few or no instruments, they had their voices, and
hymns. Shep’s dad sang a deep bass that could drown out
the entire church choir! Rhythm took hold of Shep’s soul.
From early on he’d get a beat going on whatever he could
find. “I was banging on chairs seats and tabletops.”
In junior high, Shep fell in love. It was a cute little
black-lacquered, nickel-plated drum. “Oh it was beautiful.
It had a great sound. I would have given anything to have
access to that beautiful drum.” He got the drum by promising
to take lessons and study music.

Most of Shep’s early music training was in Philadelphia,
a musical breeding ground that raised greats like Tony Bennett,
and Vic Damon. By 14 Shep could read and execute drum parts.
His first gig paid more than his paper route. Shep credits
the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra with inspiring youth.
Shep said, “It set a standard for music schools and teachers
to uphold.”

Shep’s creativity took many forms. At Mastbaum conservatory,
a private school, Shep studied cabinet making. He’s made
the beautiful, stunning wooden furniture on his home.
Once after Shep played in a concert, his teacher said,
“Berisford. Don’t forget your woodwork” (keep a steady job!)
Berisford took the advice to heart. Later when he toured,
he always carried 2 sets of drums and his woodworking
equipment…and a fishing pole.

In 1941 Benny Carter heard Shep’s drumming and called
him. Shep soaked up all the musical knowledge he could
from Carter and went to NY. “I was very glad to move to
NY because of the opportunities. “Philadelphia’s local
union 274 was segregated. Shep could only get jobs locals
didn’t want. New York’s local 802 was non-segregated,
but there was a six-month transfer period. “That meant
you couldn’t take a steady job. You could only do ‘casuals,’
one-time gigs.”

Shep was a very good “copier,” a skill in high demand
in jiving NY. Many scores had to be ready the next day.
It led to a term used throughout the NY musical scene,
“Get Shep.” By the time six months was up, Shep didn’t
want a steady job. He was making too much money
recording a couple days a week.

A divorce gave Shep the opportunity to go on the road
with Bill Doggett. One day while Shep was touring, the
musicians were jamming before their performance. “The
guitarist started with, ‘Here’s how uncle used to do
it on the back porch back home.’ The saxophone player
jumped in with a melody. I put a little shuffle backbeat
to it. Doggett came back and said, ‘Break it up. Let’s
rehearse.’ That was all there was to that.” Months later,
in the recording studio, one extra song was needed.
Doggett said, ‘What’s that thing you guys were clowning
around with, a honky-tonk sounding thing?’ “Doggett had a
fantastic memory. We recorded the song. We thought nothing
of it. Weeks later the hit “Honky Tonk” started
spreading across the country.”

Broadway beckoned. Sy Oliver had to whip Broadway shows
into shape, “which meant rehearsing up and down the New
England coast, changing the music until they got exactly
what they wanted. When you hear about a show becoming a
hit, it’s been through an awful lot of trials. I’d be up
all night writing, copying parts for the next day’s
rehearsal.” Versatility helps in the music biz. Shep played
timpani, xylophone, vibraphone, snare drum, bass drum, and
trombone to name a few!

On project after project, Shep wrote down every note,
arranging, copying, putting each note in its proper place.
Music is life to Shep. “It’s a universal language. It’s
unlimited. It’s always growing, You never get it all.”

“The last gospel thing I did of note was with Patti Page.
Malcolm Dodge had done some beautiful things with the voices.
Unbelievable things. I was in the studio blue-booking,
playing by ear. Malcolm trusted me to do that with his
scores– can you imagine? I was fascinated with the job
Pattie Page did. She had so much feeling.”

This is by no means a complete list of all the musicians
or jazz bands Shep’s played with like Lionel Hampton or
Lena Horne. Today he entertains from 7-10 PM on Thursdays at
Molly Brown’s, spreading his great love of music. You can see
it on his face. The joy of entertaining hundreds of thousands
of people throughout the world. Millions, if you include the
hit Honky Tonk, and you should. Nine beautiful music-filled
decades. Shep has seen lots of changes on the music front.
“Music… somebody felt it. That’s all. It ‘s a human expression
but a God-given impulse. It’s been my life. It’s just
appreciating people, loving people. Nat Cole said it a long
time ago in a song, ‘The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is
just to love and be loved in return.’ It doesn’t have to be a
romantic love - just a deep love and appreciation from one
human being to another.”
Go meet Shep. He will touch your life.
He is one of the most non-judgmental men I’ve met.

Live like a hero,

Terri Marie
Award winning author of Be the Hero of Your Own Game

Shep’s Life Lessons

• Sometimes Less is More
Shep knew that his job was to blend, enhance, not to showboat.
He got the job with Carter because Shep toned down the drum so
as not to overpower the other instruments. “My bass drum got me
the gig. I ‘d tempered it down from the inside so that the
overtones of it BOOM didn’t kill the bass. Carter liked that.
The other instruments weren’t amplified in those days.”

• Use your Power of Choice

While touring, Shep's mother got a list of ministers around
the South from her minister. “Anytime I went near any of them
I’d contact them. My accommodations in many cases were much
above the one hotel in town, which would usually be down in
the ghetto. You can imagine what goes on. Usually I didn’t
have to be exposed to that. It was enough to give me a
chance to experience the difference and make a choice.

• Give People What They Want
Shep’s mother told him, “Beris, You find out what they want
and you give it to them. You hear.” Shep credits her with
common sense. “My mama was way ahead. I’ve been doing that.
A lot of musicians go out into the field with preferences,
what they’d rather play. Anything else is just subordinate.
While I’m in the studio, that’s my thing too,
whatever they’re doing.

• Accept other people
Shep had learned a concept called tolerance. Shep’s
acceptance of other people caused him to be loved wherever he goes.

• Do the Thing and Get On Out
“That’s how I made my reputation. Do the job and get out.” Shep
knew why he was hired. That’s what Sy Oliver appreciated -
Shep’s “get it done and then socialize” attitude.

• Self-esteem Begins at Home
Today there are many, more opportunities and many temptations too.
Unfortunately, a lot of children go out into the streets without
enough self-respect, love, and respect for other human beings.
Without knowing they have choices, they’re susceptible to fall into
the trap of peer pressures. When you go out with the good home
training you don’t have the hunger for belonging. You already have it.
Your back is straight. You say your name with pride. You’re not looking
for another name, another self. You’ve got it. Your mind is open for
new things. You’re not stymied by ‘Who am I?’ Your approach is
‘What’s going on? What’s new? Tell me about it.’”

• Praise Your Peers

From Lunceford to Crawford, Shep had nothing but praise. I didn’t
hear Shep say one negative thing about any one.
That’s probably why they still “Get Shep.”

• Know What You’re Good At and What You’re Not Ready For
Shep had a 4-year stint in the army, writing, arranging, and
conducting voices. When he came out, he went with Cab Callaway.
He got the job because a drummer didn’t show, Shep played.
Calloway walked in and said, “Hire him.” Shep stayed a year
until Calloway needed a show drummer. At the time it was a
skill Shep didn’t have. He vowed he’d learn.

Learn he did. Years later Shep became the house drummer at
Finocchios in San Francisco for 23 years! Callaway called
in an experienced show drummer to play the Zanzibar but
kept Shep on as an arranger. “You can write emphasis and
breaks and all that stuff can be written but the feeling
has to come from experience and people like Jimmy Crawford–
people like him had it. They had a knack for it.

• Don’t Get a Chip on Your Shoulder
Shep believes it’s very important to introduce young people
to various cultures.. He grew up in a Jewish neighborhood.
Come Saturday, “I couldn’t understand why my friends didn’t
come out and play. Come Sunday, my mother took me all the way
downtown on the trolley to a church. I couldn’t play on Sunday.
But I learned why. We all got together on Monday again. It was
beautiful really. I grew up without a chip on my shoulder as
far as who was from where, or what they looked like.
It served me well. I lived a happy life without all that foolishness.”

Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home