Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Bob Sheppard Masterclass

I hopped on the red line and headed up to Evanston on Saturday afternoon. Work on the lines made it slow going and it cut into the time I set aside for trying out soprano's before the Bob Sheppard masterclass hosted by PM Woodwind.

The turnout was ok - less than I expected but respectable. Sheppard had a nice relaxed, free-wheeling style of presentation. He started things off with a bit of background on how he came up in music - plenty of on the job training and learning what you need to know by failing. "It's all about not sucking" (as he put it).

Four main points go plenty of attention:

  • Fun: It's always easier when you enjoy what you are doing.
  • Tone: Develop a sound concert. Emulate the greats. "All the chops in the world don't mean a thing if it doesn't sound good." He talked a bit about some of Joe Allard's methods though I have heard them explained and demonstrate better by others - namely my teacher Richard Tabnik. In fact he said a couple things about facial muscles that seemed to have very little to do with Allard's teachings (as I understand it). He did emphasize staying relaxed to allow the reed to vibrate to it potential.
  • Play Melodies: Any melodies - tunes, melodic fragments, intervals. Different Keys. Move them around the horn by ear. Develop the connection between your ear and the horn. A few attendees had a crack at this with some success.
  • Play along with recordings of your favourite players: Emulate their sound, articulation, lines, and nuance. Sheppard mentioned over the years he has done this with artists such as Cannonball Adderly, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Stan Getz, David Liebman, Steve Grossman, Michael Brecker & Jerry Bergonzi.

Everything was presented with a demonstration and there was a solo performance of "I Can't Get Started" as well as "It Could Happen To You" with a young guitarist and tenor player (sorry guys I didn't get your names).

Sheppard made the excellent point that all the answers are in the recordings and your imagination - there is not need to rely on books for practice ideas/chops/transcriptions etc.

When he mentioned (while on the subject of sound and blending I think) Lee Konitz wasn't hired to play in big band saxophone sections - I had to interject.... "Yes he was. Claude Thornhill... Stan Kenton." I couldn't let that pass.

It Could Happen To You
Added bonus was Sheppard had reed samples to hand out (he's a Rico endorsee). I grabbed some Rico Select Jazz (Unfiled) 3 Mediums - the only soprano reeds he had with him. I hadn't tried Rico Jazz on soprano for quite some time (Lately I've had some luck with Rico Reserve) and from the few I warmed up yesterday they are playing a bit soft for me. 

It was refreshing that someone who has a couple of endorsement deals and a new album due out wasn't trying to sell them to you for two hours. He mentioned those things in passing but for the vast majority of time it was all about playing. Very little shop talk. He did have some of the Macsax Bob Sheppard Signature Edition mouthpieces for people to have a play on after the masterclass.

It's great PM Woodwind hold these masterclasses - this was the 3rd  that I have been able to get to (Ernie Watts and David Liebman were the others). I look forward to future events they hold.

For those after a bit more from Bob Sheppard check out the audio interviews over at the Best Saxophone Website Ever - here & here

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