When asked about playing on John Coltrane's avant-garde jazz masterpiece, Ascension (1965), Archie Shepp said, "I didn't quite understand what I was doing. I suppose that's what John [Coltrane] wanted."
In 1995, saxophonist, composer, and educator Archie Shepp was awarded the New England Foundation for the Arts' "Achievement in Jazz Award." It honors New England jazz artists whose performance achievements, as well as their musical and social contributions, have enriched and furthered the integrity of the jazz art form.
After making arrangements with him, my co-producer Margot Stage, engineer James Donahue, and I drove out to Amherst, Mass., where Shepp lived and was teaching at the University of Massachusetts.
At 9:45 a.m., Shepp showed up in a three-piece suit and felt hat and proceeded to talk to us for an hour and a half, telling us his story and answering every question we asked with seriousness, humor, and complete candor. In this 28-minute program, Shepp paints a vivid picture of what it was like to make jazz music in the avant-garde/free-jazz era of the 1960s, and gives us insight into teaching jazz on the college level.
This documentary won the "Best Profile/Community Portrait" Gold Medal at the 1997 New York Festival's International Radio Competition.