Art Restoration: Laurie Pepper and Widow's Taste Records

Skip Heller By

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"At a certain point, when we started touring a bit," she recalls, "Art himself suggested—he knew I was good with electronics—that we buy a tape recorder and a good microphone, and record the gigs. I bought a portable Sony TCD 9 tape recorder and a really good microphone. It had a serious microphone jack. From my own record company, nothing I recorded on that setup has been released, but back when other people wanted stuff from me... There were a few things. A version of 'Patricia,' from a concert in Atlanta that Milcho Leviev, (the first Art Pepper Quartet pianist) caused Art to whisper in my ear, 'Wow, Milcho has learned a lot from me.'"

She wound up with a formidable stack of tapes, sometimes coming from outside sources.

"I recorded a lot," she continues, "but bootleggers were recording all the time. There's this guy Rocco in Belgium who is one of the major collectors. He actually came here to Los Angeles on his own dime. He had all these bootlegs, and, going through them, he was the one who found the Stuttgart Concert [Unreleased Art, Vol 5 (Widow's Taste, 2010)], and he was one of the people who found a good copy of the Croydon Concert [Unreleased Art, Vol 3 (Widow's Taste, 2008)].

"Rocco, meanwhile, has been digitizing everything. He worked sixteen hours a day. I couldn't even drag him out of the house, and he'd never been to America before. He gave me a list in Excel that looks like a complete diary of every gig Art played. But the big thing is from the tour of Japan we did in 1981. For this tour, we were working with a promoter we'd worked with before, so I asked for—and got—the same soundman for every gig. Until then, every time we went to a new venue, there'd be a new soundman, and they were all kids, and it was just hard to get decent sound.

"But there was one guy I liked, and he would talk to me, he taught me a few words of Japanese, and he was very good. I asked the promoter if we could have him for the whole tour, and we got him and his equipment for the whole tour. And he recorded every single night of the whole tour on cassette, and they're amazing. The quality is so good. And every night of that tour was amazing. This is the stuff I'm going to release if I live long enough, which is my plan.

"Another reason I've been going over all that stuff is because Cheryl Pawelski, who has (vinyl specialty label) Omnivore Records is doing a series of Art Pepper vinyl singles called Neon Art, on neon-colored vinyl. She got that idea from a version of 'Red Car' I put up on Facebook. We have these 'orphans'—tracks that don't really exist in the context of an album that I can release with Cheryl."

The Widow's Taste series covers Pepper from his earliest period to literally weeks before his passing. The double-disc Unreleased Art, Vol 4: The Art History Project (Widow's Taste, 2009) serves as 31-year overview, and it makes for a perfect introduction to the uninitiated. The aforementioned Stuttgart and Croydon volumes are truly special, as is the deservedly beloved 1980 recording from London's Ronnie Scott's, Blues For The Fisherman: Unreleased Art Pepper, Vol 6 (Widow's Taste, 2011).

"I love Art's playing, "Laurie says, as I call to the waiter for the check, "because it's a narrative when Art plays. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. It has logic. It has melody. When people play music you can't dance to or can't weep to, I wonder what it's for. With Art, you never ever wonder."

Photo Credits

Page 1: Andy Freeberg

Page 2, Art & Laurie Pepper: Brian O'Connor

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