Jim Pepper Tribute at the Portland Jazz Festival
Like Charles Mingus (to whom he has been compared, both as a composer and outspoken iconoclast), Pepper frequently exhorted his bandmembers to put all their energy into their playing, to commit themselves fully to what they were doing. "You must play music from your soul every time you play, he said. "It doesn't make any sense not to be yourself. What became abundantly clear from this weekend of celebration, is that Jim Pepper put so much of his own soul, so much of his energy, into his music, that it continues to thrive and inspire musicians and listeners alike, both Native American and non-Native. San Francisco bassist John-Carlos Perea says that "The music of Jim Pepper has set a precedent for me as an American Indian jazz artist that allows me to perform this music and know that I have a history I can look back upon and draw strength from when I need it. And it's not just Native American musicians who are looking to Jim Pepper for their inspiration. Drummer and former Pepper band mate Reuben Hoch has pointed out that it was Jim Pepper who encouraged him to look to his own Jewish upbringing for creative inspiration. Hoch's band, the Chassidic Jazz Project, performs jazz-infused pieces based on the Ashkenazi Jewish songs and prayers that he learned growing up in his deeply religious Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. Hoch says that "Jim was one of the causative factors for what I did.
Frustrated in his attempts to gain acceptance on his own terms in America, Pepper eventually moved to Austria, where he quickly found an enthusiastic and intensely loyal audience and where most of his own CDs were ultimately produced. Only now through events like the Portland Jazz Fest's "Remembrance weekend is he beginning to receive the acclaim he should have been getting long ago in his native land.
As part of that long-overdue recognition, the Leroy Vinnegar Jazz Institute and the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission named Jim Pepper Jazz Artist of the Year, with the presentation of the McClendon Award to his mother, Floy Pepper, between concert sets.
At one of the weekend's panel discussions, it was suggested that rather than calling events like this weekend's a "memorial , it might be more appropriate to think of it as "a tribute to the living legacy of Jim Pepper. How fitting then, to have named Friday night's tribute concert, "Remembrance for in his lyrics to that song, he tells us (and as Caren Knight-Pepper and Gordon Lee reminded us on Friday night): "You must not forget me/When I'm long gone/Because I loved you/So dearly...
Visit Jim Pepper on the web.