The man who has emerged as one of Britain’s foremost tenor and soprano saxophonists was introduced to the music of John Coltrane at the age of 19 and immediately went out and bought his own saxophone. Three weeks later, he was playing with the Bristol based quartet Sphere, which gathered an impressive reputation through the late 70s, recording several albums, winning the occasional award and playing an astonishing number of live dates throughout Britain and Europe. These years established Sheppard as a saxophonist to watch, but instead of the obvious move to London he based himself in Paris, working with French bands Lumière and Urban Sax.
Returning to the UK in the mid-80s, Sheppard signed to Island’s Antilles label and released his self-titled debut album in 1987. Star trumpeter Randy Brecker featured on several tracks, and the record was produced by the great American bassist Steve Swallow – the beginning of a musical relationship that continues to this day. The album was an immediate critical and popular success and was boosted by Andy winning the Best Newcomer at the British Jazz Awards, shortly followed by Best Instrumentalist Award in 1988, Best Album and Best Instrumentalist in 1989 and the Big Band Award in 1990.
The music on the first album was built around the nucleus of his acoustic quartet, augmented by a distinctive use of percussion and exploration into Latin and African grooves. The follow up album Introductions In The Dark featured a sophisticated mix of acoustic and electric sounds – just one week after release the album entered the British pop chart. A growing reputation was reflected by documentaries on both BBCTV and HTV and Andy was invited to present his choice of jazz archive footage to celebrate the 25th anniversary of BBC2.
At the same time, Sheppard was building an impressive reputation internationally. His band toured throughout Europe and to Canada – and pulled off a unique coup by being the first Western jazz group to play in Outer Mongolia.
During 1987, he joined George Russell’s Living Time Orchestra as featured saxophone soloist and also toured with the legendary Gil Evans. Andy remains one of very few soloists to have played in the big bands of all three of the greatest post-war jazz composers – Evans, Russell and Carla Bley, and continues to tour and record with the latter two.
In 1990 Sheppard formed his Soft On The Inside Big Band, which was carefully assembled to include the diverse talents of Han Bennink and Ernst Reisjeger, Gary Valente, and several luminaries of the London scene – Claude Deppa, Chris Biscoe and Orphy Robinson among them. The band produced an album and video, and toured extensively in the UK and Europe. The album was credited as one of the finest releases of the year in Q, The Daily Mail and The Guardian. The project confirmed Sheppard’s growing status as a composer.
After Sheppard’s original acoustic group had run its course, he looked towards a punchier, electronic sound for his next move. The result was In Co-Motion, a band including the trumpeter Claude Deppa and Steve Lodder on keyboards, drummer Dave Adams and electric bassist Sylvan Richardson (once guitarist with Simply Red). The music was a potent mix of funk and rock grooves, complex ensemble lines, and solos that moved from lyrical ballad passages to exciting free jazz. An In Co-Motion album followed in the autumn of 1991. In Co-Motion toured throughout the world, often for the British Council, playing throughout Europe, in the USA, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Nigeria, and a memorable trip to South Africa.
In Co-Motion also featured on Andy’s first recording for Blue Note, Rhythm Method, in 1993. An expanded band, almost inevitably called Big Co-Motion, added five horn players, including the ebullient Gary Valente. Big Co-Motion, recorded a fine live album at Ronnie Scott’s, Delivery Suite, also released on Blue Note in 1994, followed by an extensive UK tour.
Andy also formed a trio, Inclassificable, again with Steve Lodder and the brilliant Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos. They devised the music for the award winning dance piece Modern Living, choreographed by Jonathan Lunn. Inclassificable also played at major festivals in Macedonia, Austria, Norway, Istanbul and London and released a self-titled album on French label, Label Bleu in 1995.
Sheppard’s writing talents have become increasingly in demand over the years. He has been invited to write music for big band – working with the renowned UMO Orchestra in Finland, in a special project with the Bergen Big Band, and with the Voice of the North band in the UK; and he composed View from the Pyramids, a concerto for saxophone and piano (played by pianist Joanna MacGregor) which was premiered by the Bournemouth Sinfonietta at the Salisbury Festival in 1998. He has written music for theatre (Bristol Theatre Royal’s production of Arthur Miller’s first play, The Man Who Had All the Luck); dance (including the afore-mentioned Modern Living); radio and TV. His TV credits include original music commissioned for the BBC Omnibus documentary about ice dancers Torvill and Dean; the Oscar-nominated Channel 4 short Syrup; HTV’s documentary on the life of 18th century black violinist Joseph Emidy; and BBC2 Arena documentary series about Peter Sellers.
Sheppard formed a quartet with long-term writing partner Steve Lodder to record the music for the latter two TV shows, subsequently released as a CD for Verve. This group, featuring bassist Dudley Philips and powerhouse drummer Mark Mondesir, toured internationally, and re-forms occasionally, most recently for a season at Ronnie Scotts in February 2000.
Often described as a serial collaborator, Sheppard has worked with an astonishing range of musical partners. As well as Carla Bley, George Russell and Gil Evans, he has played with Indian violinist Shankar; Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos; with percussionists from Malaysia, India and Singapore (as a featured soloist at the 1997 Princes Trust concert for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in Edinburgh); with organist Barbara Dennerlein, Danish pianist Maj-Britt Kramer and French bassist Michel Benita; with violinist and string quartet leader Alex Balanescu, improvising pianist Keith Tippett, Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger, and Austrian composer Michael Mantler. An invitation to take part in a month-long residency as part of Copenhagen’s City of Culture year, enabled him to play with a number of leading Danish musicians, alongside workshop and teaching activity – and in 1997, he undertook a two month educational residency at the Turner Sims Concert Hall in Southampton. A further education project involved a year-long residency with St. Laurence School, Bradford-on-Avon. He has also worked often with classical saxophonist John Harle, in the trio Twentieth Century Saxophones, and as featured soloist in Harle’s recording and touring project Terror and Magnificence, alongside Elvis Costello and soprano Sarah Leonard. Sheppard and Harle have also worked together on a film and music project with composer Will Gregory.
Andy can also be found on an equally eclectic range of recordings – as well as featuring on CDs with Carla Bley and George Russell, he has played on sessions with dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah, John Martyn, Baaba Maal, Basia, Nigel Kennedy, Bristol indie band Blue Aeroplanes – and he even turned up on a tribute album to the New York Dolls.
In 1998 Sheppard took the decision to sign to independent label Provocateur Records. He formed a new sextet, with a fresh and individual sound based around his gift for subtly melodic themes and a fascination with rhythms from Africa, South America and Asia. The group recorded two highly rated CDs, Learning To Wave and Dancing Man and Woman, which added Steve Swallow’s electric bass and to the band’s regular line-up of Steve Lodder, guitarist John Parricelli, bassist Chris Laurence and percussionist Paul Clarvis, and tabla player Kuljit Bhamra. The music was commissioned by the arts programme at Canary Wharf, and received a UK live premiere in April 2000 with performances in Bristol, London and Newcastle, followed by a short tour of Turkey.
Sheppard continued to perform this music throughout 2000 – whether in quintet or sextet form, or with the acoustic trio he formed with Lodder and Laurence. Other activity in 2000 included an October residency in Bologna, one of the millennium Cities of Culture; an Autumn European tour with Carla Bley’s new eight-piece band; and more live work with Maj-Britt Kramer and the French pianist Jean-Marie Machado.
Two other projects pointed toward yet another new directions – a solo performance with live saxophone and electronics was commissioned by the Maison de la Culture in Amiens and performed there in December 1999. Then, at the end of 1999, Sheppard connected with trumpeter Claude Deppa and DJs Rita Ray and Max Reinhardt, for a short tour commissioned by the Serious Sampler series. The work that developed through these projects led to his most recent recording, Nocturnal Tourist, released in March 2002. Built around his growing interest in new music technologies and the grooves of club culture, the record is something of a tour-de-force, inspired by his travels around the world - a heady mix of ambient electronic soundscapes, fragments of spoken word and sampled urban sounds, topped by Andy’s unmistakeable saxophones.
He also received a landmark commission from The Sage, Gateshead, to write and record music for the Gateshead Millennium Bridge project, which opened to the public on 17 September 2001. For the project Sheppard collaborated with the renowned Northumbrian pipes player Kathryn Tickell, and the first performance, played live on the spectacular setting of bridge itself, also featured the Northern Sinfonia.
During 2002 and 2003, Andy toured the live version of Nocturnal Tourist, as a duo with drummers Stephane San Juan or Mark Mondesir; was guest soloist with Jean-Marie Machado, Maj-Britt Kramer and Carla Bley, touring throughout Europe and Asia. He also toured and recorded with the brilliant Italian pianist Rita Marcotulli and in 2003 he toured again with George Russell, in celebration of the composer’s 80th birthday.
Sheppard’s priority for 2003, however, was the focus around a new recording with guitarist John Parricelli, following the tremendous response to a short residency at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in September 2002. The record, entitled PS was released on Provocateur in March. He also worked on a major commission – Cityscapes – with Joanna Macgregor, for the 2003 City of London Festival and in November/December was the guest soloist, along with Joanna MacGregor and Shrikanth Sriram (Shri) with the Britten Sinfonia in a programme of Moondog and Bach’s Art of Fugue.
In 2004 Andy has been working on repertoire for a new quartet project with John Parricelli (guitars), Dudley Phillips (double bass) and Kuljit Bhamra (tabla/percussion), which will make its debut at the Pizza Express in August. In addition to touring Europe with Carla Bley’s Lost Chords Quartet in the autumn, Andy continues to play regularly with Maj-Britt Kramer, Jean-Marie Machado, Rita Marcotulli and is in demand in the UK with his own bands.