Bob Sheppard Puts Careless Whisper To Shame

With original compositions, Sheppard turned the Feddersen Recital Hall into a scene out of a New York bar

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Bob Sheppard makes his saxaphone wail at the Feddersen Recital Hall on Oct. 19, 2019. Photo credit: Destany Anderson/SAC.Media.

The lights go out slowly. The room feels a stiff pressure as the air gets tighter and tighter until all the tension is released with a screaming wail from two dueling saxophones. While there is not a cigarette in sight, this live performance takes the listener away from the Feddersen Recital Hall on Oct. 19 and into a steamy night at a timeless night club bar with nothing to do and no cares in the world.

Bob Sheppard’s tenor saxophone is bold and loud, while Jeff Ellwood’s tenor plays softer when paired with Sheppard’s brass. The back beat is composed of groovy pickings from Katie Thiroux’s double bass, and Dean Koba makes each drum beat sting as he paces each hit with more flair than Anton Fig from David Letterman’s CBS Orchestra.

Each of the six pieces were 10-minute thrillers of varying compositions from big band to classical jazz, and Sheppard’s original arrangements packed excitement into each note for the crowd as it grew to around 75 with new attendees shuffling in.

Of the arrangements, the second arrangement was based upon the classic “It Had To Be You” with a Sheppard twist of “Did It Have To Be You?” While the audience chuckled at Sheppard’s delivery of the line, the music did not hesitate. A bombastic start temporarily deafened listeners as they began with a heartily deep sound from all four musicians that gradually lightened into a saxophone focus with bass and drums as more of a backbeat. Koba’s drumming kept pace, however, and he was a noticeable addition to the live performance.

Backed by Thiroux’s picking of that double bass, Koba’s drumming was unlike the studio sounds that can be found in other renditions of Sheppard’s piece. The acoustics of the Feddersen also played a huge part in having the sax wail across the back as if the tenors were playing with the intent of having their sound bounce up and down the walls as it panned across the audience.

There were lulls in the performances for the saxophonists, and that would be the only complaint to be levied against the live act. While Thiroux and Koba were electric and in almost every second of the action, there were many segments where Ellwood was alone on sax, or both saxophones were resting as Thiroux wooed the audience with slender pickings. The audience got rowdy with cheers during these lulls, much to the dismay of listeners who love the melody of a double bass solo, but the real crime was the lack of Sheppard.

Ellwood was phenomenal, and this is not an affront to his dominant presence on the sax, but the event was originally billed as a class with Sheppard and a performance to follow. After the class, Sheppard was, by most accounts, a supporting sax, even when his tenor took the dominating role. It is understandable that he would want to share the love, as most of the arrangements and compositions were his, but visually, it was painful to see Sheppard on a water break when he was what several listeners came for.

Despite the breaks, Sheppard and Ellwood harmonized well when it became a duet towards the ends of the pieces, but the live venue was shocked when the lights came back on. Several photos were taken outside the hall, as it was an extra credit opportunity, and cheers were heard alongside talk about how people enjoyed the event.