Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

PEPPER, Art

(b 1 Sep. 1925, Gardena CA; d 15 June 1982) Alto sax; also tenor and clarinet, composer. He played as a teenager with Gus Arnheim, then with black groups on Central Avenue in Los Angeles including Lee Young (Lester's brother, an unrecorded but highly praised band), then Stan Kenton; served in US Army, rejoined Kenton, freelanced in L.A. but was off the scene intermittently because of narcotics. He played with Buddy Rich '68-9.

Always highly regarded, he had incorporated the melodic side of Lester Young, elements of Zoot Sims and Benny Carter as well as Charlie Parker into his own unique style; later he was influenced by John Coltrane during an unrecorded period, which left additional toughness rather than a direct stylistic resemblance. He recorded with Shelly Manne, Shorty Rogers, Mel Tormé, Carl Perkins, Chet Baker (Playboys on Boplicity), others; among his own albums are some of the era's most beautiful: mostly quartet sessions began with Popo '51 (with Rogers), The Late Show and The Early Show '52 with Hampton Hawes, all on Xanadu; more tracks with Hawes '52, others '52-4 on Discoveries, alternate takes on Rediscoveries, all on Savoy; others with pianists Sonny Clark, Russ Freeman, Marty Paich on Straight Ahead Jazz, Jazz West, Tampa '53-6; quintet The Way It Was '56 with Warne Marsh, then Meets the Rhythm Section '57 on Contemporary: he often rose to the challenge no matter what condition he was in; he later wrote that for the date with Miles Davis's rhythm section (Red Garland, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones) he was completely unprepared, yet the album was a success and his best-known work, though some critics feel that he and Garland weren't particularly well matched. Pacific Jazz tracks '57 were released in that label's most slapdash way; tracks with Perkins '58 on Liberty/Blue Note (Omega Alpha) and for Apollo (later issued on Onyx, Japanese Trio); then Modern Jazz Classics: Art Pepper Plus Eleven '59, arranged by Paich, highly praised by Robert Gordon in his Jazz West Coast '86. Paich said that when word got out he was besieged with calls from musicians who wanted to play on a Pepper session. Gettin' Together '60 used a new Davis rhythm section, this time Chambers, Jimmy Cobb and Wynton Kelly, with Conte Candoli on some tracks; quartets Smack Up and Intensity both had Frank Butler on drums; these were all on Contemporary.

There were no more Pepper albums until '73. Repeatedly arrested for narcotics violations, he finally entered the Synanon Foundation '69-71, played with groups there, and began a slow comeback with a big-band LP on the Japanese Atco label with Mike Vax (trumpet, leader); by the time he died he had been welcomed back by fans old and new around the world and made many more fine LPs, quartet sessions except where noted: aptly titled Living Legend with Hawes, Manne, Charlie Haden was followed by The Trip, No Limit and Live At The Village Vanguard with pianist George Cables, his most frequent latterday collaborator, also Elvin Jones, others, all '75-7 on Contemporary. Four volumes of The Art Pepper Memorial Sessions '75-8 on Trio were made in California and Japan; Among Friends '78 on Interplay had Butler, Freeman, bassist Bob Magnusson. Landscape -- Live In Tokyo and Besame Mucho '79 were on JVC; Darn That Dream '82 on Real Time added Joe Farrell on tenor; The Gauntlet '77 on WB is the soundtrack of a Clint Eastwood movie ('Buried under a ton of sound effects is a glorious music score by Jerry Fielding ... with more than a nod towards Sketches Of Spain'--David Meeker). San Francisco Samba '77 was a superb live quartet gig with Cables, released '97 on Contemporary. The rest of his later albums were on Galaxy: Art Pepper Today '78, So In Love (with Hank Jones, Ron Carter, drummer Frank Foster); Artworks, New York Album, Straight Life, all '79; One September Afternoon, Art Lives, Road Games '80-1, Winter Moon '80 with strings, In Copenhagen 1981 With Duke Jordan. A superb concert for Public Radio '81 in L.A. with Zoot Sims, Victor Feldman, Ray Brown and Billy Higgins was available on West Wind, then as Art 'N' Zoot on Pablo.

His last albums were duets with Cables, Tete-A-Tete and Goin' Home '82: he must be playing in heaven, because he'd already been to hell and back, documented in Straight Life '79, written with his wife Laurie, among the hardest-hitting of music autobiographies; he was also the subject of a film, Notes From A Jazz Survivor '81 (directed by Don McGlynn). There was talk '96 about a biopic to be directed by Australian Michael Rymer (Angel Baby), Johnny Depp said to be ready to play Pepper, but it never happened.

Laurie formed a label 2006 called Widow's Taste Records, issuing live concerts; the latest in 2012 was a two-CD set recorded in Japan with Cables.