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The State of Jazz Reissues 2009: Miles Davis and Art Pepper

C. Michael Bailey By

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Jazz is a Romance language. It relies as much, if not more, on music already played and pondered over than that being performed right now, much less germinating in a musician's mind for the future. How does a classic become a classic if not through the passage of time and repeated listenings?

The beauty of recorded music is that it exists to be repackaged, reconsidered and re-appreciated. Trumpeter Miles Davis and tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins' The Classic Prestige Sessions 1951-1956 and alto saxophonist Art Pepper's The Art History Project: Unreleased Art IV offer a bright contrast in the nature of re-issues by demonstrating how music is collected from various sources and then assembled for release or re-release.

Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins's

The Classic Prestige Sessions 1951-1956

Concord Music Group


Concord Music Group has at their command the largest library of jazz held anywhere. This library contains some of the most important jazz performances recorded. Because of the completeness of the archive, CMG easily assembled all of the sides recorded for its daughter label Prestige by Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins in one neat 2-CD package. CMG has successfully done this previously with pianist Thelonious Monk and saxophonist John Coltrane's The Complete 1957 Riverside Recordings.

The two collections are comparable in that they represent seminal developmental periods in the two saxophonists' respective careers. Coltrane was on hiatus from Miles Davis' quintet having been fired for his heroin addiction. His famous stint with Monk at the New York City Five Spot Cafe solidified his "wall of sound" approach before sending him back to Davis in 1958 and Milestones (Columbia) and Kind of Blue (Columbia) a year later.

Davis and Rollins recorded for Prestige at five different recording sessions between January 1951 and March 1956. This period is most notable for being Davis' first fallow period following the famous 1949 Birth Of The Cool (Capitol) nonet sessions. Davis suffered his famous heroin addiction between 1950 and 1954 and the recordings made during this period reflect his impairment. Re-emerging in 1955 at the Newport Jazz Festival with his first great quintet, Davis proved ready to change jazz. His subsequent recordings with Rollins tied up loose ends before the two would part and do their respective things.

These recordings are historical documents and are thus valuable. This is not the best Miles Davis, reflecting as it does his fragile state during the recordings. Davis' composing remained robust but his playing lacked the tartness he would develop during this first great quintet years and beyond. Rollins too is evolving. He is still several years away from his landmark A Night At The Village Vanguard (Blue Note, 1957). The sides including Charlie Parker playing tenor saxophone ("Compulsion," "The Serpent's Tooth" and "'Round Midnight") make for a pleasant artifact.

Visit Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins on the web.

Art Pepper

The Art History Project: Unreleased Art IV

Widow's Taste


Where The Classic Prestige Sessions 1951-1956 resulted from the library largesse of the Concord Music Group, The Art History Project: Unreleased Art IV resulted primarily from the tenacity of the saxophonist's widow and friends, though with the cooperation of CMG. Laurie Pepper has single-handedly added the most significant, previously unreleased contributions to Art Pepper's discography since the release of The Art Pepper Hollywood All-Star Sessions (2001, Galaxy Music Group).

The Art History Project: Unreleased Art IV is a bit misleading. The previous three recordings in the series were entirely comprised of previously unreleased performances—Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Volume 1, The Complete Abashiri Concert, November 22, 1981, followed by Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Volume 2, The Last Concert, May 30, 1982 Kool Jazz Festival Kennedy Center, Washington D.C. and then Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Volume 3, The Croydon Concert, May 14, 1981.

The Art History Project: Unreleased Art IV also contains unreleased treasures but, as the last release in Laurie Pepper's personal series, attempts a career overview of the altoist than presenting only newly discovered material. The first disc ("Pure Art") is Pepper's pre-prison material recorded for Savoy, Contemporary, and Blue Note. This is the frosty, dry-ice, morphine cool Pepper, hipster par excellence. These characteristics are amply evident on "Besame Mucho" and "Begin The Beguine." Pepper's more biographical early recording include his two most famous originals, "Patricia" and "Straight Life," both present on disc one.

Intensely interesting in this collection are the pieces included on the second disc ("Hard Art"). Pepper endured several lengthy jails stays in the 1960s. During the period after his release from prison in 1964, he assembled a band to perform locally. His Contemporary producer, Lester Koenig, while uninterested in Pepper's current musical direction, allowed the band to practice in the Contemporary studios. These "practice" performances were captured on tape, marked for erasure by Koenig. By our good fortune, they survived to provide that connecting bridge between Pepper's early cool playing and his later Gotterdammerung.

While in prison, Pepper came under the considerable spell of John Coltrane. This influence is richly evident in "That Crazy Blues" and "Chelsea Bridge." This is not the best Art Pepper, but it does shine a light on what was to come for the saxophonist creatively after his 1972 comeback, music from which is included on the third disc, ("Consummate Art"). Some of this material has been previously released on small labels, but in fall 2009 are out of print. "Caravan," recorded in Yamagata Japan is a searing example of Pepper's mature performance style, full of urgency and apocalypse. Included as a coda are two unreleased performances ("Landscape" and "Mambo Koyama") recorded at New York City's Fat Tuesday two months prior to Pepper's death.

It was this show and this Art Pepper that Village Voice critic Gary Giddins paid homage to in his June 1982 obituary for the saxophonist, who had died of a cerebral hemorrhage that month. Wrote Giddins, "[Pepper] was living on borrowed time, and he knew it. You could hear it in every note he played...it was part of [his] art that he didn't let you take anything for granted. His solos were a series of small victories. You paid for them, couldn't turn your heard from them."

Laurie Pepper has generously provided us with an ear to the whiteness of the wail, the Consummate Art.

Visit Art Pepper on the web.

Tracks and Personnel

The Classic Prestige Sessions 1951-1956

Tracks: CD1: Morpheus; Down; The Blue RoomThe Blue Room; Whispering; Know; Conception; Out Of The Blue; Denial; Bluing; Dig; My Old Flame; It's Only A Paper Moon. CD2 Compulsion; The Serpent's Tooth; [Take 1]; The Serpent's Tooth; [Take 2] 'Round Midnight; Airegin; Oleo; But Not For Me; [Take 1]; But Not For Me; [Take 2] Doxy In Your Own Sweet Way; No Line; Vierd Blues.

Personnel: Miles Davis: trumpet (except CD1 #6); Sonny Rollins: tenor saxophone (except CD1 #4). CD1 #1-5: Bennie Green: trombone; John Lewis: piano; Percy Heath: bass; Roy Haynes: drums. CD1 #6: Miles Davis: piano; Percy Heath: bass; Roy Haynes: drums. CD1 #7-13: Jackie McLean: alto saxophone; Walter Bishop, Jr.: piano; Tommy Potter: bass; art Blakey: drums. CD2 #1-4: Charlie Parker: tenor saxophone; Walter Bishop, Jr.: piano; Percy Heath: bass; Philly Joe Jones: drums. CD2 #5-9: Horace Silver: piano; Percy Heath: bass; Kenny Clarke: drums. CD2 #10-12: Tommy Flanagan: piano; Paul Chambers: bass; Art Taylor: Drums.

The Art History Project: Unreleased Art IV

Tracks: CD1 (Pure Art 1951-1960): Art Pepper; Fascinatin' Rhythm; Patricia; Tickle Toe; Pepper Returns; Mambo de la Pinta; These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You); Cool Bunny; Besame Mucho; Art's Oregano; Diane; I Can't Believe That You Are In Love With Me; Straight Life; Everything Happens to Me; Nutmeg; What's New; Begin the Beguine. CD2 (Hard Art 1960-1968): Rehearsal; So In Love; Talk; That Crazy Blues; D Section; Chelsea Bridge. CD3 (Consummate Art 1975-1982): Caravan; Lost Life; Landscape; Angel Wings; Historiade un Amor; Mambo Koyama; That's Love.

Personnel: CD1: Track 1: Stan Kenton Innovations Orchestra; Carl Perkins: piano; Ben Tucker: bass; Chuck Flores: drums. Tracks 3, 5, 6: Jack Sheldon: trumpet; Russ Freeman: piano; Leroy Vinnegar: bass; Shelley Mann: drums. Track 7: Hampton Hawes: piano; Joe Mondragon: bass; Larry Bunker: drums. Track 8: Russ Freeman: piano; Ben Tucker: bass; Chuck Flores: drums. Tracks 9, 11: Russ Freeman: piano; Ben Tucker: bass; Gary Frommer: drums. Tracks 12 and 16: Warne Marsh: tenor saxophone; Ronnie Ball: piano; Ben Tucker: bass; Gary Frommer: drums. Tracks 10, 13, 15: Jack Montrose: tenor saxophone; Claude Williamson: piano; Monty Budwig: bass; Larry Bunker: drums. CD2: Tracks 1-6: Frank Strazzeri: piano; Hersh Hammel: bass; Bill Goodwim: drums. Buddy Rich Big Band: Charles Owens: alto saxophone, flute, clarinet; Don Menza: tenor saxophone, flute; Pat LaBarbara: tenor saxophone, flute; John Laws: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Al Porcino, Bill Prince, Ken Faulk, Dave Culp: trumpets; Jim Trimble, Rick Stepton, Peter Graves: trombones; Joe Azarello: piano; Gary Walters: bass; Buddy Rich: drums. CD3: Milcho Levy: piano; Bob Magnusson: bass; Carl Burnett: drums. Track 2: Smith Dobson: piano; Jim Nichols: bass; Brad Bilhorn; drums. Tracks 3, 6: Stanley Cowell: piano; George Mraz: bass; Ben Riley: drums. Tracks 4, 5: Jack Sheldon: trumpet; Russ Freeman: piano; Bob Magnusson: bass; Carl Burnett: drums.


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