Primary Instrument: Composer/conductor/leader
I was born in 1941 and have lived in Chicago, Baltimore, Tulsa, New York and LA, mostly LA. These days I divide my time between Santa Monica, California, and Lynbrook, New York. I began to play the clarinet and saxophone in high school, took up the flute in 1960 and the oboe (at the instigation of Plas Johnson) in 1966. Composition came later.
In 1960 I moved to Tulsa and after a brief period with a band that made some pretty funny sounds, I joined the Ernie Fields Orchestra. Ernie's band had existed since the early 1930s, flirted with success briefly in the 1940s, and even won the Pittsburgh Courier poll in 1947 over the Ellington and Basie bands. (The Courier was then the most widely circulated African-American newspaper in the country.) By the late 1950s the band had shrunk to eight pieces and a remarkable singer, Ann Walls. In 1959 a former member of the band, René Hall, arranged a swing era tune, In The Mood, recorded it with Hollywood studio musicians, and released it under Ernie's name. The record became a hit and revitalized the band, if only briefly.
A lot of great musicians had worked for Ernie over the years, including Yusef Lateef, Teddy Edwards, Booker Ervin, Hal Singer, Paul Quinichette, Benny Powell, Earl Bostic, even King Kolax, whose name appears in the biographies of both Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. And there were great musicians in 1960, but only one, Billy Davenport, who later worked with Otis Rush and Paul Butterfield, whose name would be recognized today. Although I learned a lot about music during the time I spent with the band, the real education was in traveling throughout the midwest and southwest in segregated America. Six years after the Supreme Court ordered integration, there were still white only signs and towns where we were denied accommodations. I've written about that in the On The Road At 18 section of this web site.
I returned to LA and after some of the usual dues-paying stuff I began to do studio work as a woodwind player and eventually as a contractor. To read about some of the people I worked with over the years, please see Inside Studio A.
In addition to studio work I played a lot of concerts over the years, primarily as an oboe and English horn player, but occasionally on saxophone, clarinet or flute. I gave premier performances (world, American, LA, west coast, etc.) of works by Gilbert Amy, Luciano Berio, Harrison Birtwistle, Harold Budd, Paul Chihara, Paul-Heinz Dittrich, Ernst Krenek, Alexina Louie, Leonard Rosenman, Gerhard Samuel, Robert Saxon, Iannis Xenakis and others. Not exactly chamber music, I was the oboe soloist on Ray Charles's recording of Eleanor Rigby.
I played solo alto clarinet on a PBS (it was called National Educational Television in those days) videotape recording of Stravinsky's Symphony of Wind Instruments. It was an unusual experience and a revealing one, especially where the conductor, Robert Craft, was concerned. I've written about it in Lazy Dogmas Of Impossibility.
I did jazz gigs, too. I played lead alto on Sonny Criss's album, Sonny's Dream. Sonny had been an idol of mine when I was growing up; we met on a gig with Harry Sweets Edison in 1965 and became friends. Needless to say, it was a great thrill to be included in that project. He once even asked me for a lesson on a Handel oboe sonata he was playing (on alto saxophone) for his mother's luncheon club. I spent a lot of time with Sonny, who died in 1977, and I miss him. Plas Johnson was another idol, one of the great tenor players of all time. It was Plas who recommended me to Sweets Edison.
On occasion I was a soloist, as when I played a flute solo on David Benoit's first album. Other jazz gigs were with Oliver Nelson, Nelson Riddle, Buddy Collette, Bobby Bryant, Don Ellis and David Angel. Oliver Nelson's band was the opening attraction (along with the Red Norvo Quintet and Johnny Guarnieri playing solo piano) at a private jazz club in Beverly Hills, The Jazz Suite. We were also the closing attraction (minus Red and Johnny) two or three weeks later. Nelson Riddle's gigs were dances and the band was superb, made up of the people who did his studio work. Buddy Collette helped establish a jazz festival in San Diego and formed a band to play six charts he wrote for the occasion. The arrangements were extraordinary and the band was great. The saxophone section was Bill Green and John Bambridge on alto, Plas Johnson and Jackie Kelso on tenor and I played baritone. Plas shepherded me into the studio business, eventually arranging for me to replace him on the Carol Burnett Show. Bobby Bryant occasionally formed a medium-big band and I played baritone with him. One of my favorite jobs ever was a trio with Bobby and a guitarist, Mike Anthony, on a tv series for Black History Month on NBC around 1974. Somehow Bobby managed to sell management on live music for a show that aired at 6:30 AM. I played alto sax, flute, oboe and clarinet on that one.
I subbed on Don Ellis's band almost from its inception, when he worked at Club Havana in the Silver Lake section of LA. Between the difficulty of the music and the fact that it was copied mostly in soft-lead pencil, it was a pretty tough gig. It was a great band, with two musical geniuses in the saxophone section alone, Tom Scott and Ronny Starr. We played that and other clubs and even did a supermarket opening. The day before Thanksgiving, 1968, Don called and asked me to become a permanent member but I had already been alerted by Plas Johnson not to take any work that would preclude joining the Carol Burnett Show orchestra, so reluctantly I had to turn him down. I kept on subbing but eventually studio work made it impossible.
David Angel's band never released an album, as far as I know. Anything David knows, and he knows a lot, can wind up in any kind of piece. A string quartet can show the influence of John Coltrane, a jazz piece can incorporate elements of Charles Ives, all of it done masterfully. It was essentially a rehearsal band and among the other saxophone players over time were Pete Christlieb, Art Pepper, Bill Perkins, Allan Beutler, Lew Tabackin, Jim Timlin, Steve Kravitz, Herb Geller, Bud Shank and David Angel himself.
I have referred to myself as a recovering studio musician, but in truth I enjoyed the work (there were exceptions) and I got the chance to sit among some of the greatest musicians in the world (again, there were exceptions). But eventually it became time to do something else.
I had always loved both jazz and classical music and finally I decided to try to figure out a way I could combine the two. In January, 1996, I went to a concert that included Berio's Sequenzas for flute and clarinet. I had played Sequenza VII, for oboe, many times over the years, starting at Monday Evening Concerts in 1974 and ending there in 1990. I thought that if I were to do all three of them and jazz pieces that were somehow related, it might make for an interesting concert. The next day I called a composer friend, Mike Patterson, and told him my idea. He agreed to participate and we organized two concerts for the following January and February, but the demands on his time were such that he was not able to write companion pieces to the Sequenzas. When it came time to record them, I decided to try it myself. You can hear the result on Look Both Ways, the first cd; there are reviews in another part of this site.
Since Look Both Ways my primary focus has been composition, and two other cds have followed. You will find information about them in the Otherworld Music and Davie Code sections. Recently completed is a song cycle based on the poems Schoenberg used in Pierrot Lunaire. More about that and other new compositions on the Music page.
...an imaginative, well-executed project of music. Bill Kirchner, musician, composer, arranger, editor (The Oxford Companion To Jazz, A Miles Davis Reader, etc.)
I am listening to your CD and it is very interesting. The French speaking part brings a change of pace that warrants close listening to connect it to the whole concept. I especially like your clarinet work... Ellis Marsalis, pianist, pedagogue, patriarch
I'm impressed by the obvious depth of commitment and dedication to excellence of you, as writer and performer, and of all the other participants. The writing is beautifully done and much of the improvisation is startlingly good. The CD glows with musicianship and fervor. Robert Freedman, Grammy winning (for Wynton Marsalis's Hot House Flowers), composer/arranger
Lacks musicianship and a range of styles. Robert Blumenthal, critic, record company executive
Your Otherworld Music CD is awesome! Congratulations: the concept, the organization, the writing and the playing. Gerald Fried, composer of concert and film music (Star Trek, Roots, The first five Stanley Kubrick Movies, [Paths of Glory etc.]) musician (principal oboe, Dallas Symphony, solo English horn, Pittsburgh Symphony)
Your CD is amazing! I've listened to it a number of times and am finding new thought provoking and delightful moments each time.
The playing is spectacular. I don't think that I've heard any of the performers (all of whom are my friends) play with more feeling, intention, focus and emotion. True virtuosi. As the music flows, the players respond to one another in a fashion that I have not heard in many years. True genius. Joel Di Bartolo, bassist (The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson), educator (Director of Jazz Studies, Northern Arizona University)
California saxophonist and composer David Sherr's music is like the meal one receives at that well conceived multi-ethnic restaurant. It delights with such unexpected entree combinations that work so well together, the patrons must reconsider their idea of what is good. Sherr is never one to shy away from a challenge and he and the Bel Air Jazz Ensemble make it work. Otherworld Music is indeed otherworldly. C. Michael Bailey, allaboutjazz.com
Fabulous! Invigorating music and fresh ideas always makes a good mix! Nika Rejto, flutist, arranger, composer, vocalist
Great album. Fascinating combination of classical and the avant-garde. Marc Myers, jazzwax.com
I listened to your CD and enjoyed it very much. I appreciate the fact that you did exactly what you wanted to do without any bow to conventions and current fashion. Congratulations on a unique project. Randy Sandke, trumpeter, composer, arranger, leader
This is music full of rich satisfactions, more of which become apparent on successive hearings. If Sherr attracts the attention he should with this unconventional and intriguing project on an obscure label, we will undoubtedly be hearing more from him. Doug Ramsey, Rifftides
...you have no idea where this disc is going to take you next.
The kicker is: it works. David Sherr can make the Bel Air Jazz Ensemble sound like his music regardless that the music’s original DNA was Bach or Messiaen. To borrow from Homer Simpson, Otherworld Music is “sacrilicious.”
David Sherr’s music is equally beautiful when he is not functioning as a co-composer. The no-nonsense jazz style of A Little Flight Music is energetic but with a light touch. To the Muses is a soulful saxophone feature that oozes with gratitude and tenderness. If I could do what Sherr does, I’d be thanking the muses, too. Jay Batzner, Sequenza 21 ...an unusual recording that places Luciano Berio's modernist works alongside the jazzy musings of composer David Sherr. The Art Music Ensemble shows its versatility in this disc, giving both high quality jazz and contemporary classical performances. Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, Chamber Music
Sherr's saxophone is warm and his ideas thoughtful. His treatments of the Sequenzas for oboe and clarinet are as revealing as the one for flute...a stunning soundscape. Overall, this is a very texture-driven recording with many hidden corners and treasures. Recommended for the Postmodern or the not so Postmodern among us. C. Michael Bailey, allaboutjazz.com
Show us a recording that takes its inspiration from Luciano Berio's Sequenzas and the first 13 notes of Charlie Parker's riff on 'The Song Is You' and we'll show you an album that we flat-out love. These guys seriously cook. Jerry Bowles, Sequenza 21
An intriguing new sound world--provoking juxtaposition and integration of jazz and contemporary music. Joan Jeanrenaud, Kronos Quartet
Extremely innovative. Bill Watrous, trombonist
Berio’s 'Sequenzas' are interesting atonal works, all convincingly delivered by Sherr on flute (Sequenza I), oboe (Sequenza VII) and clarinet (Sequenza IXa). Sherr's Sequenza VII/Palimpsest is a lush accompaniment for Berio's piece. Convincingly delivered...clever compositional derivation. Francois Couture, All Music Guide
Sherr’s Debussy Deb-You-Do, partly written, partly improvised, supplies a missing link between Berio and Dizzy Gillespie. Tastefully accomplished. Julian Cowley, The Wire
Berio's series of Sequenza works for solo instruments, important 20th-century classics, are well represented on this CD with 'Sequenza I' (1958), for flute, 'Sequenza VII' (1969), for oboe, and 'Sequenza IXa' (1980), for clarinet. cdemusic.com
Beautifully played. Roger Kellaway, pianist and composer
Beautifully written and played. And of course, beyond category. Bill Kirchner, musician, composer, arranger, editor (The Oxford Companion To Jazz, A Miles Davis Reader, etc.)
Ugh. Doctor Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic
Definitive (Sequenza VII) Pamela Liszt Pecha, musician (asst. 1st oboe, Cleveland Orch., solo English horn, San Antonio Symphony Orch.), conductor
...a series of stunning juxtapositions...fine performances, state of the art from Sherr himself in all three cases. The oboe Sequenza is particularly alarming with its multiphonics and microtones, coming off as decidedly “modern” with respect to the later works. A fantastic performance of a fantastic piece. Mark Alburger, 21st Century Music
...a great interpreter and technical artist. Patric Standford, Music & Vision
In a world where there is so much that is negative, how vibrant is the rediscovery of man’s ability to be creative, original and daring! Jennifer Paull, MusicWeb International