By Avery Sharpe
An inspirational artist, bassist Avery Sharpe has earned his reputation as a talented musician and skillful performer. As a student at UMass Amherst, he studied economics and learned to play the acoustic bass, encouraged by none other than Reggie Workman. Within a few years he was performing with such notables as Archie Shepp and Art Blakey. In 1980, Sharpe auditioned with McCoy Tyner and won a spot in the pianist’s group. He worked with Tyner almost continuously for 20 years, playing hundreds of live gigs and appearing on more than 20 records. From live gigs to studio sessions and more, Avery Sharpe continues to touch fans around the world with his distinct and enjoyable musical style.
I met Dr. Tillis in 1973, my second semester Freshman year at UMass. I was 18 years old and interested in music. I was playing electric bass at the time. I had seen the New York bass violin choir, with Ron Carter, Bill Lee, Richard Davis, Sam Jones, Lyle Atkinson and Milt Hinton at Bowker Auditorium, UMass and I was blown away. I wanted to get my hands on a double bass. Dr. Tillis probably had something to do with bringing them there. I spoke to Dr. Tillis about my interest in music and bass, he told me of his class on Improvisation and Jazz Theory, he also told me about the great bassist Reggie Workman who was teaching at UMass. I went to see Reggie at his office in New Africa House and told him I wanted to study bass and could I begin lessons with him in the fall of my sophomore year. I also began taking Dr. Tillis’ Jazz course. I was fascinated by his teaching and it was even more important that I saw how he, as an African American, navigated his way through a predominately white music establishment. His intellectual prowess and social and personal skills were amazing to me and had a profound affect on me as an African American. He immediately became a mentor to me. I got my first experience of playing in a big band that he directed. I continued to be impressed by his skills and was knocked out when I learned that he was also a skilled composer. I wanted to acquire the skills that he had and wanted to be multi-dimensional, as he was. He was always thoughtful and kind, he listened to me and helped me solve educational and personal problems. It is amazing when one person can have a profound affect on how you view music and the world; I can never repay him for all his great work and the eternal influence he has had on me and the world at large. The measure of a real man, and his legacy, is his ability to leave the world in a much better place than it was before his birth.
I will miss this bright light.