Primary Instrument: Bass, acoustic
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, on August 23, 1954. 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.
In 1972, Sharpe enrolled at the University of Massachusetts, where he majored in Economics and minored in music, 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. Shepp and Max Roach, his professors at the time, had a major influence on him. Sharpe also performed in orchestra and chamber groups at UMASS, and completed one year of graduate school in Music Performance. In 1980, he auditioned with McCoy Tyner and won a spot in the pianist's group. He has worked with Tyner almost continuously since then, playing hundreds of live gigs and appearing on more than 20 records with him.
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.
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 commisssioned by the Classical group Fideleo to write 3 extended works for them.
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.
--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, Jazzi
z“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.”
Dragon Fly - JKNM Records
Extended Family III (Family Values) - JKNM Records
Extended Family II (Thoughts of My Ancestors) - JKNM Records
Extended Family - JKNM Records
Epic Ebony Journey Sharpe/Blake Duo - JKNM Records
Unspoken Words - Sunnyside Records
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The artist composes or arranges music especially for a jazz ensemble. The ensemble can be of any size, from a trio to a traditional big band. The ensembles are usually high school or college ensembles but are not limited to them. The artist rehearses and performs with the ensemble. The performance is conducted by either the artist or the ensemble’s own conductor. Children’s Jazz Ed./Demonstration
The history of Jazz is demonstrated through familiar children’s songs and cartoon themes. The workshop is a participatory activity utilizing African children’s songs and stories to show the roots of jazz. This can be a 45 min. (brief) or a week-long residency. If a longer residency is chosen, those children who play instruments have workshops of their own with the artist where they learn the songs used to demonstrate the history of jazz. They are then able to participate in the demonstrations for the larger body of children. Children’s ages range from grades K-12. Improvisation Workshop
The artist works with area musicians, elementary students through college, as well as professional musicians. The artist talks about, demonstrates and teaches improvisational techniques. This workshop is useful for all levels of musicianship and can also reach out to the classical musician. This workshop can also lead into a jam session. Master Classes
This class is organized for a limited number of students. All ability levels are welcome. This class is available for bass, keyboards, drums/percussion and reeds. The Business of Music
This workshop demonstrates techniques used by working surviving musicians. With insights into working in studios, film scoring, grant writing and touring. Workshops and residencies are available with Avery alone or up to including the entire group.