The 62nd Annual EIU Jazz Festival will be held on February 4-5, 2022. The festival will open on Friday, February 4th, with a concert featuring the EIU Jazz Ensemble and guest performer, Bob Sheppard.
Information for Directors - please complete all three forms below by Friday, January 7, 2022.
Some musicians’ careers are easily pigeonholed. Not so Bob Sheppard’s. For more than four decades, the multi-instrumentalist has played on countless sessions with an astounding crop of A-list jazz giants—among them Chick Corea, Freddie Hubbard, Michael and Randy Brecker, Mike Stern, Herbie Hancock, Kurt Elling, Dianne Reeves, Lyle Mays, John Beasley and Steps Ahead—and artists within several other genres. He’s also recorded and toured as a leader, contributed to hundreds of movie and TV soundtracks, served as an educator and more.
He’s been at it since he was a child. Music entered Sheppard’s life via his amateur saxophonist father and was nurtured via a culturally aware high school that brought in big band legends like Woody Herman, Buddy Rich and Stan Kenton for the enrichment of the students. Although he originally wanted to play the drums, by the fifth grade sax and woodwinds became Sheppard’s calling. He got his first alto saxophone in junior high school. “Practicing became my friend, a place to escape,” he says.
Sheppard began playing professionally while still living in the Philadelphia area, where he grew up. He continued while attending college, working various stage shows and even the circus, and soon found gigs accompanying giants of the business such as Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr. and the 5th Dimension. A steady spot in the orchestra of Chuck Mangione provided vital learning experience.
As his reputation grew, Sheppard made the all-important decision to relocate to Los Angeles. The move paid off immediately when he went to work with trumpet legend Freddie Hubbard. The gig lasted several years. “Playing on the same stage as Freddie was a breathtaking and frightening experience,” Sheppard says. “Much like jazz survival training, it exposed everything good and bad about my playing and inspired me to work harder. How lucky I was to get that close to his talent.”
With a solid list of credentials building up, and his ability to play numerous instruments—he is virtuosic on all varieties of sax, flute and clarinet—Sheppard became a first-call musician, a valued sideman who could be counted upon to bring fresh ideas to any recording session or live gig. Along the way, his own horizons expanded. “I learned to function in so many environments,” he says. “Learning how to react and relate stylistically, to become a musical mind reader and deliver what’s needed is still fun for me. Certainly it’s a skill that only comes from the experience and the array of gigs I’ve done along the way. The cumulative effect of experience is a priceless education.”
Those gigs included work not just with the top jazz artists cited above, but also stars of the pop, rock and R&B worlds, among them Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Queen Latifah, Elvis Costello, Natalie Cole, Randy Newman, Rickie Lee Jones, Boz Scaggs and many others. He also put in time playing in the TV bands of legendary hosts like Johnny Carson and Joan Rivers.
By the early ’90s, it was time for Sheppard to step out front. In 1991, he recorded his first album as a leader, Tell Tale Signs, for the Windham Hill Jazz label. Since then he’s released several other solo projects, most recently Close Your Eyes and From The Hip, both for BFM Jazz. He remains involved with other leaders, however, and has spent significant time, in particular, working with pianist Billy Childs’ ensembles and drummer Peter Erskine’s trio. “All of these amazing players are friends that I love and have played with a lot over many years, and I also love being a part of a community of mutually respected professionals,” he says. “The musical connections are deep and comfortable. When I lead my own band, I know that all my musical history has contributed and helped me communicate something that’s my own.”
Now, says Sheppard, he is fortunate to be in the position of being able to choose how he spends his time—a luxury he’s earned after decades of paying his dues. But, he says, he still hungers for the experiences his craft affords him. “I’m enjoying what I’m doing: the touring, playing with artists that rely upon my creativity and working in the industry,” he says. “I certainly want to do more recording and performing my own music as a leader. I’m planning a new CD and expanding my clinic schedule in addition to developing my teaching concepts on the web. My goal is to bring my ideas to the many interested musicians who are inspired to learn to improvise, developing their saxophone skills and help finding their own voice.”
But, he adds, “At this point in my life, I really want to create and enjoy playing more than ever.”