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Avery Sharpe Group
"Legends and Mentors"

The Avery Sharpe Quintet will perform on Friday, Sept. 19, at 8 p.m. in Chapin Hall on the Williams College campus. This free event is open to the public.

The Avery Sharpe group includes Onaje Allan Gumbs, Winard Harper, Joe Ford, John Blake, and, of course Avery Sharpe.

Legends and Mentors pays homage to three of America’s greatest living jazz musicians – McCoy Tyner, Archie Shepp and Yusef Lateef. As Avery puts it, ” these individuals not only helped to change the face of music, my association with them changed my life and the way I view music.”

McCoy Tyner – Avery worked with McCoy for a record number of 20 years. Their touring and recording works are probably one of the longest associations in modern Jazz history. They became family, McCoy watched as Sharpe’s family grew. Sharpe witnessed many of Tyner’s life challenges and triumphs. The mark of a great musician is one who changes the way his contemporaries and those who follow, think about piano. This is one of McCoy’s stellar achievements.

Archie Shepp – Avery has known Archie since he was 19 years old. He was Avery’s first introduction to Jazz as a high art form. He was one of Sharpe’s professors at the Univ. of Massachusetts and took Avery under his wing. Shepp taught Sharpe about the music, but also made him a student of the history of the music. Avery’s first European and professional tour was with Shepp.

Yusef Lateef – Great musician and one of our greatest thinkers. Yusef’s intellectual prowess is legendary. Sharpe has appeared on at least 7 of Lateef’s CDs. Sharpe has worked with Yusef for at least 15 years.

On Legends and Mentors, Avery wrote a tune for each mentor and recorded two of their tunes, for a total of 9 tunes.

About Avery Sharpe
Honesty. Clarity. Dignity. These are words that come to mind when you listen to the music of bassist-composer Avery Sharpe. In an age of ephemeral pop stars and flavor-of-the-month trends, Sharpe is a reminder of the lasting value of steadfast dedication and personal integrity. As the title of one of his tunes asserts, Always Expect the Best of Yourself.

Sharpe was born in Valdosta, Georgia and his first instrument was the piano. “I started playing when I was eight years old,” he recalls. “My mother was a piano player in the Church of God in Christ, and she gave lessons to everybody in the family—I’m the sixth of eight children—but it didn’t stick until it got to me.” He moved on to accordion and then switched to electric bass in high school.

Sharpe enrolled at the University of Massachusetts, where he studied economics and continued to play electric bass in gospel, funk, and rock groups. While at UMass, he met the jazz bassist Reggie Workman, who encouraged him to learn the acoustic bass. Sharpe adapted quickly to the big instrument, and within a few years he was performing with such notables as Archie Shepp and Art Blakey. In 1980, Sharpe auditioned with McCoy Tyner and won a spot in the pianist’s group. He worked with Tyner almost continuously for 20 years, playing hundreds of live gigs and appearing on more than 20 records.

Sharpe’s credits also include sideman stints with many other jazz greats, from Dizzy Gillespie to Pat Metheny, as well as leading his own groups. His first recording as a leader was the 1988 album Unspoken Words on Sunnyside Records, which was praised by critic Jim Roberts as “a diverse, challenging record that rewards repeated listening.” In 1994, he recorded Extended Family, the first CD of a trilogy that includes Extended Family II: Thoughts of My Ancestors (1995) and Extended Family III: Family Values (2001). All three were released on Sharpe’s own label, JKNM Records. His latest recording Dragon Fly on JKNM Records was released February 2005, features Winard Harper and Onaje Allan Gumbs, with special guest Jeri Brown and Chico Freeman.

All of Sharpe’s recordings feature his distinctive original compositions, which draw from the full range of his musical background. “The most important thing is depth,” he says. “You have to seek out what was happening before and try to understand it. In my music, I do things that are a little older as well as things that are contemporary. If I try to do just one type of music, that limits me. But the more bases I cover—the more experience I have in my life—the further I can go.” He is equally adept at songs and longer compositional forms. In 1989, he wrote and conducted the soundtrack for the movie An Unremarkable Life; a decade later, his six-movement piece America’s Promise debuted in a concert-hall performance that featured Sharpe’s quintet and a gospel choir backed by the Springfield (Mass.) Symphony Orchestra. In the 1990’s Sharpe was commissioned by the Classical group Fideleo to write 3 extended works for them. Recently composed music for a one actor musical portrait based on the Harlem Renaissance titled Raisin’ Cane. He was commissioned by Chamber Music Plus (2004) to write the music for this portrait.

After receiving rave reviews at the famous Apollo Theater in NYC, this musical portrait will be on tour in 2008-2009 featuring the actress Jasmine Guy and the Avery Sharpe Trio, with Avery on bass, John Blake-violin and Kevin Sharpe-percussion. In 2006 Avery was commissioned by the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (Springfield, MA)to write a Jazz Concerto for Jazz Trio and Orchestra. The performance which premiered in the Spring of 2007 was a rousing success. The trio featured Kevin Eubanks-acoustic guitar(The Tonight Show’s musical director), Marvin “Smitty” Smith-drums(also of the Tonight Show’s Band) and Avery on Acoustic Bass.

Regardless of the setting, Avery Sharpe always brings both exceptional musical skill and unswerving honesty to the endeavor. “You can be sincere or you can be jive about what you do,” he says. “People might not be able to tell at first, but if you’re really sincere it will come through.”

What the Critics Say

“Even in these times of extraordinary bass players, Sharpe stands out.”

—Leonard Feather, Los Angeles Times

“The key to the thrusting power of Mr. Tyner’s current trio is the bassist, Mr. Sharpe. . . . Alternating between acoustic and electric bass, [he] maintains such a commanding presence on both that he is a center around which everything else rolls.”

—John S. Wilson, The New York Times

“Heavy gospel influences are often evident in Sharpe’s original work. The way his solos slowly enlarge, like the sermons of a pulpit-thumping preacher, reflect the spirits of his childhood home.”
—Mike Ervin, Jazziz

“Long-time bassist for McCoy Tyner, Sharpe excels on his instrument and shows creative composing and arranging skills as well.”
—Sunsh Stein, JazzTimes

“Sharpe is amazing on the electric bass. . . . His guitar-like solos display a musicianship and a melodic quality that are almost unheard of on that instrument.”

—Jim Fuller, Minneapolis Star and Tribune

“Sharpe’s technique on both electric and acoustic bass is always used to further the music … [and] his fellow musicians have noticed.”
—Jim Roberts, Guitar Player

“Forget about categories like mainstream and fusion and neobop … because if there’s one thing you can say about Avery Sharpe, it’s that there’s no label worth hanging on him except musician. And at that, he’s extraordinary.”
—Gene Santoro