Saxophonist Archie Shepp, who will perform at 8 tonight in the Grand Ballroom of the University of Maryland Student Union Building, was surrounded by controversy in the '60s because of his strident advocacy of mixing music and black power politics. Now, in the '80s, he is a tenured, full professor at the University of Massachusetts.

"I didn't have a steady job then," Shepp said recently from his home in Amherst. "But I still have the same ideas, the same commitment. It's integral to my point of view that African-American music is the basis of the Negro's cultural experience here in the United States and that there are many social, political and economic implications to this music."

As for his students, "Some are there obviously because of your reputation, and they just want to see what you look like; and some have a 'show me' attitude because they don't expect a professional Negro musician would have much to say in an academic context outside of telling jokes. Others are quite sincere and take a serious interest in the music."

Shepp will appear as soloist with the University of Maryland Jazz Ensemble performing compositions by John Coltrane and Don Sebesky and a new work, "Birdmen," by George Ross, the ensemble's director. For information call 454-4546.