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The Art Pepper Companion: Writings on a Jazz Original

C. Michael Bailey By

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He Wasn't L.A. cool, white bop, '50s or '80s, but an impassioned musician with an alto sax and a rhythm section that never completely satisfied him.
The Art Pepper Companion: Writings on a Jazz Original The Art Pepper Companion
Todd Selbert
Cooper Square Press
ISBN: 0-08154-1967-0

The Art Pepper Companion: Writings on a Jazz Original is the most significant print media on the greatest alto saxophonist of the post Parker era published since Pepper's autobiography Straight Life was updated and published in 1994. It was assembled and edited by Todd Selbert, the keeper of the Art Pepper discographical information (also included in the autobiography). Selbert draws together periodical writing on Pepper from the length of his career, beginning in the 1950s and continuing posthumously. That it was released around the same time of The Hollywood All-Star Sessions (Galaxy 4431, 2001) is a pleasant coincidence.

Selbert includes a little bit of everything from, Pepper's career. It is divided between Pepper's two creative periods, before and after San Quentin. The set begins with Martin Williams' Liner Notes for Pepper's Contemporary release Getting' Together, his second encounter with the Miles Davis' working band. This is the ground zero of the famous Williams definition of Swing— "A handy explanation of 'swing' might be 'any two successive notes played by Paul Chambers.'" It proceeds through the hard musicology of Terry Martin's Jazz Monthly submission. "Art Pepper: Towards a New White Jazz" and Gary Giddins' Village Voice tome "The Whiteness of the Wail" to empathetic reflection of Robert Blumenthal's "Baring a White Man's Burdens" and Grover Lewis' "Of Dope and Death: The Saga of Art Pepper".

This latter article, written by Lewis for the Rolling Stone in 1972, before Pepper initiated his Herculean comeback (1975 to 1982), is perhaps the most historically informative piece in the collection. It details the life of Pepper, recently out of Synanon and working at a health food bakery. Lewis fills the reader in on the daily life of Pepper following ten years in jail and three in rehab. By modern standards, Pepper is hardly clean and sober and his stream-of-conscious interview reveals just how hard it is. Pepper expounds on music, John Coltrane, jail, and the ends he went to in supporting his heroin habit. The piece concludes with perhaps the best example of the plight of the heroin dependent:

"Laurie, who has never used drugs, peers at Pepper closely. "You know, I've only seen you loaded once," she muses. "I remember you looked so...happy"

Closing his eyes, clasping his hands together between his legs, Pepper rocks forward and backward, forward and backward, "I was," he sighs. "I was."

Pepper's late period is well documented with the exhaustive notes from the Galaxy Box Set, The Complete Galaxy Recordings (Galaxy 1016). Entitled "Endgame", Gary Giddins details the chess match that was Art Pepper's creative life, particularly that part where his life was in check and in danger of checkmate and Pepper summoned all of the muses to produce a flood of music unlike any of his career. Whitney Balliet's "Addict" was published in the New Yorker, is that critic's review of Pepper's autobiography, Straight Life, concludes that Pepper was, "an eloquent and gifted man."

Selbert offers Gary Giddins' obituary for Pepper, who died in 1982 as the collection closer. Published in Giddins' collection, Rhythm-a-ning, "Art Pepper: 1925 - 1982" concludes with:

"You couldn't file him in a category. He Wasn't L.A. cool, white bop, '50s or '80s, but an impassioned musician with an alto sax and a rhythm section that never completely satisfied him. Despite the facile cliches of the music he mastered, he made you know that, facility and cliches notwithstanding, no one else could ever play like that."

Indeed.


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