Double bassist Dan Sheppard spoke to SJM editor Charlie Anderson about his beginnings in jazz, The Jazz Agency and his plans for the future.
How did you get into jazz?
“It was my parents fault; they had a really good record collection. I got used to the sound of it when I was pretty young, then I started listening a bit more closely and started liking certain things. My ‘gateway drug’ was Kind of Blue, as it is for a lot of people.”
“I played piano, guitar, and bass guitar when I was young, and I would try and work out little things but I didn’t really know it was called ‘jazz’ or what it was; I was just into working it out. I really liked that record and that got me to the point where I started getting interested in finding out more, so I found out who was on the record and listened to Miles’s other records. I kind of went backwards; I went back towards bebop, swing. I didn’t go as far back as trad but I started listening to swing, then started going forward again, through bebop and hard bop. So it was my parents fault, really.”
Is there one era that really appealed to you?
“It’s bebop that floats my boat. I’m not a purist. I like the sound of the Seventies, such as Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, but bebop really is the main thing for me.”
I’m guessing you started on bass guitar and moved to double bass?
“Yeah. It’s kind of a bit of an accident. I was in a band at school and we had three guitarists playing Led Zepellin, AC/DC and stuff like that. We decided that we needed a bass player so one day we literally drew straws and I got the short straw. I think my dad went and bought me a bass guitar, a really cheap one and I just started plonking around on that, learning bass lines from people like The Cure and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Somewhere along that path I found Jaco and really got into that for a bit. Then the double bass came into the picture and it was Oscar Pettiford and Ray Brown that made me listen to that. I still do. I never get bored of that.”
How did you go about buying a double bass?
“I was fortunate enough to be given one when I was about 16. I’d been plonking around on the ones at college with no idea of what I was doing, but I got one for free and it sat in the corner looking at me, for a year or two and then I just started playing it and I haven’t really stopped. I think I found my voice on double bass. I gave up with the guitar and the piano and just played the bass after that.”
So the first bands that you played in were jazz?
“Every fortnight we had a little jazz gig in a pub in Eastleigh, Portsmouth. It was when I was at Chichester College. After my A levels I went to Chichester and did their jazz course. Before Adrian Kendon was in charge it was a guy called Chris McDonald. They had Bobby Wellins on the faculty and was great to bump into, at that stage of my learning. We had a little fortnightly gig with a few of us from the college that lived around that way. That must have been when I was 18, so about 1993, when I started doing my first jazz gigs.”
Where are you from?
“I was born in Dorset, in Lyme Regis, but I grew up in Portsmouth, apart from a quick year in Dublin when I was 12. In 1994 I moved over to Brighton because there weren’t any gigs in Portsmouth then.”
Then I guess you played quite a bit on the Brighton scene…
“Yeah I was really lucky. I moved to Brighton in October ’94 and local bass player John Bedford, left to go to India for a year so I immediately picked up a bunch of his gigs, even though I was very basic on the instrument at that point. As soon as I got here I just became very busy. So, thanks John for leaving Brighton at that opportune moment.”
You also run The Jazz Agency.
“For a while I was content getting wedding gigs through agents and then I thought ‘I could do that as well’. It was kind of speculative, I just created a website on a basic template and I called that Event Music. It wasn’t particularly searchable on Google but I got a few little gigs from it, then it just died on the vine. A couple of years later I thought I’d give it another shot but a bit more of a concerted effort. I actually paid money to get someone to design it properly and make it all html friendly and searchable. It’s really just an effort to net some gigs for me and my friends. It’s not really a big agency or anything. I just try and keep it in the rankings a little bit and put a bit of effort into advertising. At the moment it’s treading water but in the last couple of years it’s netted quite a few weddings and corporate gigs. I think it’s good because I don’t take a big cut of the fee. I just try and keep my running costs covered, then the band comes in a bit cheaper than it does with the other agencies, then my friends and I can get work because of it.”
Are you working on anything at the moment, like a special project?
“We’re trying to put a big band thing together. We spend most of the winter in Spain and there’s a big band out there called The Big Band of Andalucia. They do these projects with a guest artist. We haven’t got the green light yet but this chap we know, Mike Fletcher, he’s directing a different big band out there and he’s got a way in. He wants to do a project with me and Sara [Oschlag] in this big band, doing Monk tunes, with arrangements written for that one project. That’s exciting.”
“While we’re here at the moment we’re busy doing weddings and corporate work, busking in Brighton when we’re not gigging and doing the regular gigs like the Paris House and the Hand. We’re not really working on a project here at the moment but we’ve got a couple of ideas. We were thinking of doing a Return to Forever type of thing but nothing’s concrete.”
Do you have any interests outside of music?
“Me and Sara go cycling a lot, especially when we’re in Spain. Cycling is a big thing for us. We’re a bit foodie. We go looking for good food experiences and going to markets to get ingredients and getting a bit obsessed with it and then spending a whole day cooking something.”
Dan Sheppard appears regularly at The Paris House and The Hand in Hand in Brighton and appears with Sara Oschlag at the Splash Point Jazz Festival, Eastbourne on Sunday 30th September, 2018.
The Jazz Agency: www.thejazzagency.co.uk
(Photo of Dan Sheppard by Lisa Wormsley)