James Shepherd – Cornet legend

People tell me I don’t talk enough about trumpet playing on here. I suppose I should, really, as that is what I do for a living. Actually, aside from my trumpet duties with the RLPO, I am the Principal Cornet player. The cornet is used extensively in the orchestral repertoire, perhaps notably by Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Berlioz Rimsky-Korsakov, Debussy and Stravinsky. Indeed, by many other composers too; particularly in ballet music, for some reason. These parts are often more technically demanding and often more fun than the trumpet parts.

I have wanted to write some articles about British cornet players and playing, especially of yesteryear, for some time. After a brief conversation on Facebook today, I have decided to start with a short article about the amazing James Shepherd. I will be adding to this article and writing in some detail about the other virtuosi cornet soloists. Jim came up in the conversation with Any Waddicor, earlier, who recommended a rather special film clip for all to watch.

I began playing in my village band on the cornet. I continued with various bands in the North of England for many years before taking up the trumpet. I think I served my time doing all the slow melody contests and air-varie competitions that all enthusiasts partake in. I still play the cornet, as already mentioned and try to play through one of the great solos each day, as part of my warm up. RLPO Chief Conductor, Vasily Petrenko can choose an encore such as the Danse Napolitaine from Swan Lake without any notice; rather than complain, my pride prefers it that I stay as prepared as possible. One solo always gives me a little trouble. I have performed it more than once, but I prefer to choose almost any other of the famous works in the repertoire. This piece is Pandora by E. Damare. It is slap bang in the middle of my Harry Mortimer solo book, so I always have a go at it, if that work is on today’s page. I have only heard one player perform this piece in concert, personally, and I used to have a recording of the same artist when I was a child. Thirty years later I still find things unravelling around bar 28 in the Polka!

Each of the great British cornet virtuosi seem to be remembered for one particular work, although I’m sure they played everything. Each has become associated with their own signature piece. Jack Macintosh was noted for his extraordinary Carnival of Venice (Arban version). Harry Mortimer was revered for his tone and Zelda, by Percy Code, has become associated with him. I have recordings of these two. I have heard the late, great Maurice Murphy play Hartmann’s Facilita several times and Philip McCann play the Del Staigers version Canival of Venice more than once. Derek Garside was famous for playing Cleopatra, as was my old teacher Harry Bentham. The list is endless really, but the above mentioned stick out in my mind. I have learned all the above mentioned solos over the years and am certain I can make a good account of them all, except Pandora. This piece was associated with one of the greatest English Brass Band Principal Cornettists of all time, James Shepherd. This guy had a technique honed to perfection and a sound that was as sweet as a nut. He seemed to be able to play all day too! His recorded output is astonishing in both it’s quality and volume…

Watch this video of James Shepherd performing Pandora at Uppermill Civic Centre. Not at the height of his fame in the 1970s, but as a much older man in his sixties, possibly around the year 2000. Remarkable! I have been informed that Jim would have been well into his sixties when this live video was taken!!! What an example to all the young players out there; his technique is still so efficient. Watch and learn…

The Great James Shephard<http://youtu.be/CtGja83BayI

About brendanball

Professional Trumpeter: Soloist, Orchestra Player, Chamber Music, Contemporary Music & Education.
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10 Responses to James Shepherd – Cornet legend

  1. Kevin Morgan says:

    Hi Brendan, just to correct you on the spelling here, it is Shepherd. Not Shephard .
    I am an past student of David Read, who I am sure you know of. Also ex Scots Guards Band and now residing in Australia, and teaching playng and conducting.
    No relation to the Kevin Morgan Tuba or Kevin Morgan trombone, but I did conduct a band in London once which had all three of us involved!

    • brendanball says:

      Thanks Kevin. Yes there are loads of errors all over the site, but I seem to forget them when I get any time. Which band did you conduct in London? Regent Brass? Whereabouts in Australia are you?

  2. Barry Kent says:

    I remember Jim coming and playing for us at Newbiggin Secondary Modern School around 1970 , what an honour .He also taught my friend Barbara to play cornet. She was a member of the Ashington Colliery band and with her late father they were part of the line up which recorded that well known piece from the New World Symphony for the Hovis advert .Happy days.

  3. james Sykes says:


    I congratulate you for your superb blog and other web info you do. Fantastic! I. Think I’ve seen refs to John Wilbraham too. It’s a fuuny old world isn’t it: Jim Shephard set me off on the Cornet when I was 9 yrs old at Wyke Middle School near Bradford. I didn’t know at the time what a guy Jim was. I went on. To study with Howard Snell and Jumbo. John used to talk about Jim going to ‘old man’ Phil Parker for lessons super stuff! Anyway cheers and thanks! James.

    • brendanball says:

      Hi James,
      I have also studied with Jumbo and have had just one lesson with Howard Snell. Phil Parkers still sell a mouthpiece called the Jim Shephard Special, which they manufactured.

  4. I am almost seventy and have just begun to learn this brilliant instrument ,the cornet. God how I wish I had had the opportunity when I was younger. I have listened to the great James Shepherd and his skill brings tears to my eyes. Surely the greatest player of ever. I will move heaven and earth to meet this great man at some stage. Useing the word great to describe many in our World today pales into insignificance when to listen to James. I find it hard to imagine any human being can possibly be so great at their chosen craft. Brilliant , Brilliant,Brilliant. Thanks Mr James Shephard for the joy I get listening to your recordings. Peter.

  5. It is now November 2015 and on the 8th of November I achieved my ambition, to finally meet the great Jim Shepherd. I said I would move Heaven and earth to do this but no need. I attended a Concert given by Diggle brass band near Olham. And who should be there but the great Man himself. I was in heaven as he sat and talked with me. What a Man ,so humble and easy going. He is sending me a CD and refused payment. Unbelievable for me and I am so happy to have been at the right place at the right time. Pure chance that I attended and pure chance that Jim should be there. Wow !!!!! Peter Pearce.

  6. Paul Bertenshaw says:

    I first heard Jim with Versatile Brass at Romiley Forum,Stockport and later at Stockport Town Hall and was completely hooked on his wonderful playing. That was back in circa 1970 when I quickly
    bought the LP’s he had recorded. Never thinking I would be able to meet him personally, many years later I moved to Ripon,N.Yorks and soon after found he had retired to the Knaresborough
    area and had taken over conducting Ripon City Band(albeit only for a short period of time). A friend of mine in the band invited me along to a social where I met the great man and he kindly offered to let me call round to his house to borrow some of his brass LP collection. On going there, whilst chatting to him I asked who he thought was the greatest trumpet player of all time
    and, without hesitation he replied ”Oh, Maurice Andre, it’s got to be! I played with him once,”
    he said, and with unbelievable humility he added ” I couldn’t believe I was playing on the same stage as him!” I was thrilled as MA had always been my favourite too. I also found out then that
    Jim is a very keen gardener, with a lovely garden!
    Jim is the greatest cornet player I have heard but I also love to listen to the CD ”The Golden Age Of The Cornet” featuring Ole Edvard Antonsen, the Norwegian trumpet player playing cornet in this instance. Going by this CD he is right up there with the very best! (CD available on Spotify)
    Paul Bertenshaw

  7. Jim Dalking says:

    Between 1977 & 1980 I was fortunate enough to play with Jim in the Ever Ready Band.
    It was a privilege and an honour when Jim led the band, he was a gentleman and quite simply the greatest cornet player ever in my opinion. His sound was magnificent, his technique absolutely brilliant and his reliability phenominal.
    Jim Dalking

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