Weekend Extra: Mystery Men

The Coleman Hawkins DVD recommendation in Doug’ Picks (right-hand column) mentions an unidentified vibes player. Rifftides reader Russ Chase says the vibist is Harry Sheppard. Barry Feldman, the producer of the CD, confirms it. Sheppard worked in the 1950s with Billie Holiday, Cozy Cole and Sol Yaged and in the ‘60s with Benny Goodman, Doc Severinsen and Georgie Auld. In recent decades, he has been in Houston, where, according to his website, he remains gainfully employed in music at the age of seventy-seven. After listening to one of Sheppard’s CDs, Jon Pareles wrote in The New York Times, “Mr. Sheppard wrings unexpected tones out of his instrument. He juxtaposes a floating vibrato, quick skittering notes and a marimba like percussive tremolo.” Sheppard is reported to be a four-mallet man these days, but at the Hawkins session he used two mallets and still managed to skitter impressively.
Unlike Pee Wee Russell, Charlie Shavers, J.C. Higginbotham and others whom viewers might recognize on the DVD, Sheppard and guitarist Dickie Thompson never became household names, let alone household faces. Thompson is easy to identify once you know to look for that rarity, a left-handed guitarist. He had a distinctive style founded on crisp swing and worked for years in the trio of organist Wild Bill Davis. I came across photographs of him on bassist Ed Friedland’s web site. They show Thompson playing last year in Tucson, where he settled but apparently did not retire. At eighty-seven, Thompson was sporting a nifty red guitar and had less hair than in the late fifties—in fact, no hair—but otherwise looked remarkably unchanged. It used to be said that jazz was a young man’s art. Not if you’re Dickie Thompson or those amazing upper octagenarian pianists Hank Jones and Marian McPartland.

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