William Shepherd

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This trombonist was credited as both William Shepherd and Bill Shepherd throughout a delightful pile of bebop sides, including one of the great Dizzy Gillespie big bands as well as the antic activity…
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Artist Biography by

This trombonist was credited as both William Shepherd and Bill Shepherd throughout a delightful pile of bebop sides, including one of the great Dizzy Gillespie big bands as well as the antic activity of James Moody, a flutist and saxophonist who was a Gillespie veteran as well. It is worth mentioning this artist's nickname of "Shep" -- not that this is the slightest bit unusual for anyone with this surname, but because of the danger of confusing him with Shep Shepherd, drummer and co-writer of the hit "Honky Tonk," who also played some trombone. William Shepherd came from Cleveland, however, while the drummer grew up a stretch eastward in Philadelphia. The trombonist would eventually return to his native Cleveland in the early '50s, subsequently keeping his performing activities local and his road case under his bed.

Shepherd's professional career began while he was still in high school. Both he and his cousin Bernard Simms played in the Evelyn Freeman Ensemble, a popular attraction at Cleveland dances. Arranger Ernie Freeman also played in this band, a tight-knit group of players who decided to enlist together during the Second World War, forming the Navy's first all-black band -- the Gobs of Swing, one of the few band names in jazz history that simply demands to spat out. Johnny Powell, another musician whom the trombonist had known since the high-school days, became a significant bandleader employer following the war, Shepherd again working around the Cleveland area.

When you have the benefit of having attended what sounds like a "jazz high school" there may be no reason to hit the road: another acquaintance from the teenager days, the brilliant pianist and composer Tadd Dameron, was responsible for leading this Shepherd into the Gillespie combo. Fans of vocal music may come across the trombonist on favorite sides, sometimes connecting back to the Gillespie experience as Ella Fitzgerald had toured with the group. Shepherd also backed Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Nellie Lutcher, and Billie Holiday.