For more than four decades, jazz saxophonist Bob Sheppard has played sessions with A-list jazz giants Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Dianne Reeves, as well as big-name artists of other genres.
Producer Woody Wilson, a longtime Tempe civic leader and 2020 Don Carlos Humanitarian of the Year, brings that artistry to the Valley on Nov. 20 when Sheppard and his quintet play a 7:30 p.m. concert, presented by Wilson’s Lakeshore Music at Ravenscroft Hall in North Scottsdale.
“Bob Sheppard is truly in a class of his own,” said Wilson, founder, president and executive producer of Lakeshore Music. “He’s the A-list session player in Los Angeles when you absolutely have to have a dazzling reed player. He has worked with the legends.
“Our show on Nov. 20 is going to be something splendid. Besides Bob Sheppard, acclaimed guitarist Larry Koonse is in the band, along with Otmaro Ruiz on piano, bassist Luca Alemano and drummer Mark Ferber. It’s a monster band, just the sort of ensemble Ravenscroft Hall was built to showcase. It will be a spectacular show in a world-class venue.”
Wilson initially met Sheppard, who also is virtuosic on flute and clarinet, eight years ago while producing a concert starring Los Angeles pianist John Proulx. Sheppard was in the band.
“He literally blew the audience away with his tenor sax and nearly stole the show,” Wilson said of Sheppard. “People were coming up to me after the concert and asking, ‘Who is this guy?’
“The same thing happened a few years later when we presented West Coast singer Denise Donatelli. She included Bob in her band and our crowd remembered. That’s when I knew we had to bring Bob back to headline his own show, but schedules always got in the way.”
Sheppard found gigs accompanying Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., the 5th Dimension and a steady spot with Chuck Mangione’s orchestra. He also has played with Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Queen Latifah, Elvis Costello, Natalie Cole, Randy Newman, Rickie Lee Jones and Boz Scaggs.
He got those calls due mostly to his improvisational and interpretive abilities, and, of course, his unique sound.
“Playing with the best of the best is huge. It makes me play better,” Sheppard said. “All those top 40 and funk bands in the ’70s were very much jazz gigs to me. They taught me styles, how to hear my way through music, how to play in horn sections with singers.
“The pop tunes of the ’70s and ’80s had great harmonies and forms that left much room for individuality and expression.”
From the start, it was jazz that lured Sheppard.
“When I was a kid, there was jazz all over TV and radio,” he said. “I really didn’t need to search jazz out. It was all around me. I really liked the idea of finding melodies and the freedom of exploring sounds on my horn. I was constantly noodling and experimenting. I never waited for my teacher to tell me what to practice. Playing along with all of the music I heard was a huge factor in how I learned to use my ear, identify harmony and develop acute relative pitch, and to play in tune.”
Sheppard became a first-call musician who could be counted upon to bring fresh ideas to a recording session or live gig.
“I learned to function in so many environments,” Sheppard said. “Knowing how to react and relate stylistically to become a musical mind reader and deliver what’s needed is still fun for me. The cumulative effect of experience is a priceless education.”
Bob Sheppard Quintet
Saturday, Nov. 20, 7:30 p.m.
8445 E. Hartford Drive, Scottsdale, AZ 85255
Reserved Seating: $55 at lakeshoremusic.org
Students 50% off (must present student ID)