How often do you get to meet a true jazz legend? Not very often in my circles, anyway. Well, this week I went to hear Harry Sheppard, international performer, former member of the Benny Goodman Orchestra, a Houston institution, and master of the Vibraphone. Every Monday night he plays at a local restaurant, Brasil Cafe, and he is a real treat.
Now I have to admit, I had not heard of Harry before last month, but I got in the mood for some jazz music and started looking online for local places that offered free performances. I am living on a budget these days, so free is always a good option for me. As I browsed the options available for Monday nights, not the most popular night it seems, I came across several choices, including Harry Sheppard. I flipped a coin and went to hear another band, which I enjoyed, but they took a really long break so I ended up spending the majority of the evening watching a NBA playoff game. Not really what I had in mind.
This week, I wanted to go hear jazz again so I went to the Brasil Cafe. What a wonderful decision! Some of the best pizza I have ever eaten and it was very reasonable. By far the best part, however, was listening to Harry Sheppard play the vibraphones and meeting him during his break. Oh. Did I mention he is 84?
Wow! That was my first reaction when I read his bio and went to his website a few weeks ago. “WOW!” was my response after meeting and visiting with him. He is truly a remarkable guy. He is featured on the Ken Burns documentary “JAZZ”, which tells you something right there. He has performed with some of the biggest names in the history of jazz, and started it all at the age of 7, when he received his first vibraphone lesson from his big brother, 8 years his senior. Big brother is now 92 and still plays around Houston, according to Harry. Vibraphones must be good for longevity.
His music was awesome and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him play. You would NEVER know he is in his 80s or that he has suffered from some serious health complications that could have ended his career. I felt bad for him that the majority of the young people in the cafe that night likely had no idea who he is, where he has been, who he knows, and the skills that he possesses, though that became evident very quickly. Applause was sparse, except from my table, and I was totally surprised when he came over, introduced himself, and started talking to us. Humble, funny, pleasant, sharp, and very open about his life, his diet, his unbelievable career, and challenges faced over the years, he appears to be on top of his game and has an awesome attitude. He still plays 12 gigs a week! Did I mention he is 84?