As someone who in his teenage years was allowed to play Jazz clubs on the condition that he would spend the breaks between sets outside the club, I had very little first-hand information of the drug scene that plagued some of the music’s greatest stars, including the plight of Art Pepper, the subject of the next chapter in
Bob Gordon’s book.
I mean, when the disreputable part of one’s world consists of a beer and a pizza on Friday nights, it is difficult to relate to the horrendous nightmare that drugs created for Art Pepper’s life, both professionally and personally.
It was only later as I “grew into my majority” that I came to understand what the great alto saxophonist Phil Woods meant by his declarative statement: “A lot of people have died for this music.”
I never saw Art Pepper perform in person, but I was quite taken by the albums he made that kept coming my way in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s and
Bob Gordon delves into all of these recordings in greater detail in the next chapter from his wonderful book.
© -Robert Gordon, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
When I first met Art he was the greatest saxophone player that I had heard. Far above anybody else. I couldn't believe how beautifully he played. And at that time there was the battle going on: a lot of writers were writing about East Coast jazz and West Coast jazz. Art to me was the sound of West Coast jazz, that melodic style he played, rather than the hard-driving
style that a lot of players were playing. I just fell in love with him the first time I heard him. And then eventually we worked together. [Art and Laurie Pepper, Straight Life: The Story of Art Pepper, New York : Schirmer, 1979, p. 218] New York
The speaker here is not some star-struck kid but Marty Paich, a highly respected musician in his own right, and his tribute pretty much sums up the way many musicians felt about alto saxophonist Art Pepper. Many of the white musicians mentioned in this book were (and are) primarily studio musicians, who also played jazz; Art Pepper was first and always a jazz musician, as serious about his art as the most dedicated black musicians. He had his problems: he was a heroin addict most of his adult life and spent many of what could have been his most productive years in various jails and prisons, as he makes clear in his powerful and painfully honest autobiography Straight Life. Nevertheless, he managed to make a series of albums that offered some of the finest jazz to be recorded in the 1950s.
Art Pepper was born
1 September 1925 in , a southern suburb of Gardena , and although he moved often during his childhood, it was always within the southern Los Angeles area. He started on clarinet at the age of nine and took up alto sax at thirteen, playing in the school bands at Fremont and San Pedro high schools. His first professional job was with the Gus Arnheim. band, and while still in his teens he was hired by Lee Young for the house band at the Club Alabam on California Central Avenue. A short time later he joined Benny Carter's big band.
When I went with Benny Carter I played all my jazz by ear. I was good at reading, but I didn't know about chord structure, harmony, composition. Also, I had never played much lead alto, so with Benny I played second alto ... and sometimes, if there wasn't a large audience, Benny would just get off the stand and let me play his parts. I'd get all his solos. I learned that way how to play lead in a four-man saxophone section. And I learned a lot following Benny, listening to his solos, what he played against the background. The guys in the band were all great musicians - Gerald Wilson, Freddie Webster, a legendary trumpet player, and J.J. Johnson, a jazz superstar. We played all over LA. We did well. I was making fifty dollars a week, which was big money in those days. [Ibid., pp. 48-49].
This was during the war years, and the personnel in all of the big bands turned over rapidly as musicians were drafted. When Art heard about an opening in the Stan
Kenton band, he auditioned and landed the job. The year was 1943 and he was seventeen years old.
Shortly thereafter Pepper was himself drafted and spent several years in the army, mostly in
. When he was discharged in 1946, Art moved back to LA and began freelancing, but soon he was called again by Stan England Kenton. From 1946 to 1951 Art was a mainstay of the Kenton band. During this period he began friendships with Shorty Rogers, Shelly Manne and others who would form the nucleus of the West Coast school of the 1950s; he also acquired the narcotics habit that would plague him the rest of his life. The seminal recordings that Art made in the opening years of the decade - 'Art Pepper' with the Kenton orchestra and 'Over the Rainbow' with Shorty Rogers have already been mentioned. When Art Pepper left Kenton at the end of 1951 he had already established his credentials as a major jazzman.
For the next year or so Art freelanced around LA. He formed a quartet composed of himself, Hampton Hawes, bassist Joe Mondragon and drummer Larry Bunker. The band landed a steady gig at the Surf Club, a bar in downtown LA, and began to tract a following. On
4 March 1952, the quartet recorded four numbers for the Discovery label; these were the first records to issued under Art's name. All four of the tunes are simple launching-pads for the soloists. 'Brown Gold' is based on 'I Got Rhythm' changes; both the up-tempo 'Surf Ride' and the medium 'Holiday Flight' are B flat blues. 'These Foolish Things' is Art's ballad vehicle. In October Art recorded four more tunes for Discovery using a different rhythm section: pianist Russ Freeman, bassist Bob Whitlock and drummer Bobby White. The mix of tunes remained much the same, however. 'Chili Pepper' and 'Suzy the Poodle' are Art's originals, Lester Young's Tickle Toe' gets an exciting up tempo run-down, and 'Everything Happens to Me' serves as the requisite ballad.
During this same period Art often joined the Lighthouse All-Stars for the marathon Sunday sessions; he also appeared as a sideman on the Shorty
Rogers Giants and Cool and Crazy recordings, as well as the first Shelly Manne Contemporary recordings. But in 1953 he was busted for the first time and thereafter spent an increasing amount of time in various lock-ups. In August, 1954 - temporarily at liberty - he recorded a final time for Discovery, this time with a quintet. Tenor saxophonist Jack Montrose was the other horn, and the rhythm section was composed of pianist Claude Williamson, bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Larry Bunker. Eight tunes were recorded, enough for a ten-inch LP. Several of the tunes were named after various spices: 'Nutmeg', 'Cinnamon', 'Thyme Time', 'Art's Oregano'. This adds a nice homey touch to the album, unless you are aware that nutmeg can be used to achieve a cheap 'high' in the absence of any more potent, but illegal, drugs. The high point of the album is the performance of 'Straight Life' (ironic title!), an extremely rapid flag-waver of Art's based on 'After You've Gone'. A few months after this session, however, Art once again fell foul of the law, and was off the scene until 1956.
The years 1956 to 1960 saw Art Pepper both at the apex of his profession and at the nadir of his personal life. His description of these years in the autobiography Straight Life makes painful reading. Most of his recording sessions from these years - the ones which produced such beautiful and lasting performances -are mentioned only in passing, as backdrops to his constant obsession with drugs. Nevertheless he did manage somehow to record prolifically during this period, so much so that we'll be able to examine only the highlights of his recording activity.
Pepper's first session following his release, as sideman on the Shorty
Rogers big-band date that produced 'Blues Express', has already been mentioned. Later the same month, on 26 July 1956, he recorded for the first time for the Pacific jazz label. The group was a collaborative affair - the Chet Baker-Art Pepper Sextet with tenor saxophonist Richie Kamuca and a driving rhythm section composed of Pete Jolly, Leroy Vinnegar and Stan Levey. Johnny Mandel shared arranging credits with Art. Unfortunately, given all the talent that appeared on the session, the results are something of a let-down. The basic problem is that the arrangements tend to overshadow the soloists. Art Pepper's arrangements of his own tunes 'Tynan Time' (for John Tynan, West Coast editor for Down Beat) and 'Minor Yours' both feature contrapuntal arrangements, and Johnny Mandel's scoring on 'Sonny Boy' and 'Little Girl' hews very closely to the 'West Coast sound'. By far the best sextet performance comes on a basic blues, 'The Route', which is obviously a head arrangement. 'The Route' opens with a walking chorus by Leroy and Stan, adds Pete Jolly's piano for another couple of choruses, and then the horns solo in turn, with Jolly laying out for the first chorus or two in each case. Freed from the constraints of written scores, all of the soloists dig deeply into the blues. It is the date's one fully satisfying performance.
Three additional tunes were cut by Art Pepper with rhythm accompaniment. 'Old Croix' (marvelous pun) is a ride through the 'Cherokee' changes by the quartet at an easy lope. On the two remaining numbers, Art dispenses with the piano as well. His performances on 'I Can't Give You Anything but Love' and 'The Great Lie', backed solely by bass and drums, are fascinating. Art Pepper had always been a strongly rhythmic player, but here with only the most basic support - he probes deeply into the subtleties of jazz rhythms. At times he overreaches and find himself cornered, but he simply backs away and tries a new approach. In his own way, Art was exploring the area that Sonny Rollins would be working on the following year in Way Out West. The unorthodox use of space and subdivided rhythms that Art was tentatively exploring here would add greatly to the strength of his playing in the years to follow.
The results of the session must have been disappointing to Dick Bock; only a few of the titles were issued, and those - often sharply edited - on various anthologies. This couldn't have bothered Pepper, however, for he was much in demand and spent the next half year in a hectic round of recording activity. On 6 August he recorded under his own name for the Jazz West label. This session was a much looser affair and Art seems much more comfortable. His sidemen for the date were Jack Sheldon on trumpet and the rhythm section of Russ Freeman, Leroy Vinnegar and Shelly Manne. Since this was Shelly's working rhythm section, the three were very tight. This was Jack Sheldon's first recording with Pepper and the two proved very compatible; they would collaborate often in the years ahead. The Jazz West date was a blowing session, pure and simple, and everybody was cooking. Several of the tunes were Art's originals, but his method of composition fell right in with the jam-session atmosphere of this and similar recordings of the time:
I'd just wait until the night before the date, and then sit down and write however many tunes were needed. I didn't have a piano, and I wasn't writing on the alto, so I'd just compose them in my head and write them down. They were very loose, just arrangements to play from ... but some of them were pretty good, I think. I liked 'Straight Life', of course. And 'Pepper Returns' and 'Angel Wings' both have two-part counterpoint lines for Jack Sheldon and me that came off very well. And 'Patricia', which I wrote for my daughter, is a good tune. And 'Mambo de la. Pinta', which I wrote for guys in different jails I'd been in - 'la pinta' is 'the joint'.' [Notes to Blue Note BN-LA591-H2]
With the exception of 'Straight Life', all of the tunes mentioned above are on the Jazz West album. 'Pepper Returns' is a very rapid trip through 'Lover Come Back to Me' changes, and the counterpoint between Pepper and Sheldon sounds more like that of Bird and Miles Davis on records like 'Chasin' the Bird' and 'Ah-Leu-Cha' than the studied contrapuntal lines of the West Coast school. Much the same goes for 'Angel Wings', an 'I Got Rhythm' clone. Three of the album's tunes are blues: 'Five More', 'Funny Blues' and 'Walkin' Out Blues'. 'Funny Blues' does indeed prod Pepper, Sheldon and Freeman into quirky solos (Sheldon gets off a double-time cavalry charge), while 'Walkin' Out', as the name implies, begins and ends with Pepper supported solely by Leroy Vinnegar's muscular bass. On the album's two ballads, 'Patricia' and 'You Go to My Head', Sheldon lays out to provide Art more solo room. Art's work here proves once again that he is one of the premier ballad interpreters in jazz.
We can skip lightly over Art Pepper's next few recording sessions. In August 1956 there were two quartet dates for the
label, the first with Russ Freeman, Ben Tucker and Gary Frommer, the second with Marty Paich, Buddy Clark and Frank Capp. Both have their moments; neither adds significantly to Art's accomplishments. In September he played lead alto (and had a couple of solos) in a big band backing Hoagy Carmichael for a Pacific Jazz date. The following month he took part in a Chet Baker big-band date for the same label. And on 31 October there was another sextet session with Chet Baker, also for Pacific jazz. Tampa
The sextet this time consisted of Chet, Art, Phil Urso, Carl Perkins, Curtis Counce and Lawrence Marable, and the guest arranger for this date was Jimmy Heath. Jimmy contributed charts on five of his own tunes, 'Picture of Heath', 'For Miles and Miles', 'CTA', 'For Minors Only', and 'Resonant Emotions'. Art brought back his arrangement of 'Tynan Time' and 'Minor Yours'. The Heath arrangements are spare and straightforward, excellent launching-pads for soloists, and the musicians play with a fire that seems missing in the earlier sextet date. Chet Baker in particular seems liberated by the circumstances and responds with some driving, extroverted solos. (Less than a week later he would play with similar heat on the Russ Freeman-Chet Baker Quartet session.) Phil Urso, like Richie Kamuca, favors the Four Brothers tenor sound, but he is closer to the extrovert Al Cohn-Zoot Sims end of the spectrum. It is instructive to compare the performances on the two Art Pepper charts; 'Tynan Time' is taken at a slightly faster tempo the second time around, but both it and 'Minor Yours' are played with more verve at the second session. The rhythm section had much to do with the flavor of the October date, of course. Lawrence Marable is especially impressive in trading eights with the horns on both 'Picture of Heath' and 'CTA', and Carl Perkins plays with his usual joy and swing. In any case, there was no doubt in Richard Bock's mind; the seven tunes were almost immediately released on a Pacific jazz LP.
Interestingly enough, Art Pepper's next Pacific jazz session returned to a conservative West Coast format. This date was under the leadership of Bill Perkins and only four tunes were recorded - half an LP's worth. The album's remaining performances came from a session featuring Bill Perkins and Richie Kamuca. Perkins and Kamuca were both in the direct lineage of the Lester Young-Four Brothers tenor-sax style (both were in fact alumni of the Woody Herman band), and their work on this album (just Friends) is intriguingly similar, with just enough subtle differences to keep interest from flagging. Backed by the swinging and tight-knit rhythm section of Hampton Hawes, Red Mitchell and Mel Lewis, Perkins and Kamuca breeze through performances of 'Just Friends', 'All of Me' and 'Limehouse Blues'. On two numbers, 'Sweet and Lovely' and 'Solid DeSylva', Perkins switches to bass clarinet, which he plays with a lovely dark-burnished sound. The bass clarinet is particularly effective on 'Solid DeSylva', a blues line honoring disc jockey Walt DeSylva of radio station KBIG. All of the arrangements, as well as the original blues, were written by Bill Perkins.
The Perkins-Art Pepper session, with a completely new rhythm section of Jimmy Rowles, Ben Tucker and Mel Lewis, was recorded
11 December 1956. As is so often true of Pacific jazz recordings of the time, the arrangements are given at least as much weight as the blowing. The Bill Perkins arrangement of 'A Foggy Day' features some complex rhythmic suspensions, but the solos which follow are unexceptional. Art Pepper's arranging is much more conservative than his playing, and his charts on two originals - 'Diane-A-Flow' and 'Zenobia' - as well as an arrangement of 'What is this Thing Called Love', are all pretty much in the West Coast bag. The high point of the date comes with his solo on 'What is this Thing Called Love', which pumps some needed emotion into an otherwise staid session.
Shortly after the Bill Perkins session Art Pepper recorded for the Intro label, both with a quartet (Pepper, Russ Freeman, Ben Tucker, Chuck Flores) and a quintet (Pepper, Red Norvo, pianist Gerald Wiggins, Ben Tucker and drummer Joe Morello). As had been the case with the earlier
recordings, the blowing was - for the most part - competent but unexceptional. Russ Freeman contributes some typically hard-driving piano work to the quartet sessions, but the most interesting tracks from the quartet dates are two duets featuring Art and bassist Ben Tucker, 'Blues In' and 'Blues Out'. Similarly, the most fascinating track on the quintet session comes when Art switches to tenor sax on a cut entitled 'Tenor Blooz'. Red Norvo's vibes add much to the proceedings on this date, although he does lay out during a searing run-down of 'Straight Life'. Tampa
Less than a week after the final Intro session, Art recorded for Contemporary, in what was to be the first of many great albums for that label. These Contemporary albums mark the apogee of Art's playing in the fifties, and it is all the greater wonder that they were recorded during a time when Art's personal life was floundering ever deeper into a self-imposed abyss. As a matter of fact, Art's first recording for Contemporary came as a complete surprise to the altoist himself, according to a possibly romanticized account in his autobiography. By January 1957 Art Pepper was once more deeply ensnared by narcotics and was letting his musical life slide. Art's second wife, Diane, got together with Les Koenig to arrange for a recording session, the two figuring that Art's pride as a musician would force him to make the date.
The Miles Davis Quintet was in town and Koenig made arrangements to borrow the trumpeter's rhythm section, one of the most powerful and respected in jazz: Red Garland, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; and Philly Joe Jones, drums. Art says that Diane sprung the news on him the morning of the session; he was completely unprepared, his horn was messed up, and he was in awe of the musicians he would be playing with. After struggling to get his horn in shape (the cork which held the mouthpiece had come loose) he drove to the recording studios, where he met a sheepish Les Koenig.
So here he is at the door, and I walk in, and I'm afraid to meet these guys because they've been playing with Miles and they're at the pinnacle of success in the jazz world. They're masters, practicing masters. But here I am and here they are, and I have to act like everything's cool - 'Hi' and 'What's doin'? 'Hi, Red, what's going on?'
When the amenities are over and Les gets everything set up, the balance on the horn and all the microphones, then it's time to start making the album. Red Garland is looking at me, and my mind is a total blank. That's always been one of my faults - memory. I have a poor memory, and I can't think of anything to play. Red says, 'Well, I know a nice tune. Do you know this?' He starts playing a tune I've heard before. I say, 'What's the name of it?' He says, "'You'd be So Nice to Come Home to".' 'What key?' 'D Minor.'
It came out beautiful. My sound was great. The rhythm was great. And I remember in the reviews, by people like Leonard Feather, Martin Williams, they said, 'The way Art plays the melody is wonderful. He's so creative. He makes it sound even better than the actual tune.' Well, what I'm doing, I don't know the melody so I'm playing as close to it as I can get, and that's the creativity part. It does sound good because I play it with a jazz feeling, and it's like a jazz solo, but I'm really trying to play what I recollect of the song. [Pepper, op cit., p. 194]
Whatever the difficulties surrounding the session, the resulting album, Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, sounds warm and relaxed. 'You'd be So Nice to Come Home to', taken at a relaxed pace, is indeed a classic performance, as is that on the ballad 'Imagination'. 'Star Eyes' had been a favorite vehicle for jazz musicians since Charlie Parker had cut a classic version of the number earlier in the decade. There are also three jazz standards, 'Tin Tin Deo', 'Birk's Works' and a somewhat surprising pick, 'Jazz Me Blues'. Two tunes were obviously improvised on the spot, 'Waltz Me Blues' (attributed to Art Pepper and Paul Chambers) and Red Garland's 'Red Pepper Blues'. Art, always at home in the blues, is especially impressive in the latter number. Finally there is a smoking rendition of 'Straight Life', where an explosively propulsive Philly Joe Jones boots Art into a superlative performance.
Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section is a completely satisfying album, the first where Art lived fully up to his artistic promise. Certainly the support of this rhythm section, 'practising masters' as Art calls them, is central to this achievement. John Koenig, the present head of Contemporary records, remembers the part Les Koenig played in the gestation of the album and in trying to steady Art Pepper's career during this period.
My father always told me Art was the best alto player in town. He responded to Art early ... He thought Art wasn't getting a chance to play with people that were up to him, which was why he wanted to make those records like Meets the Rhythm Section and Gettin' Together. But, unfortunately, Art started getting into trouble, and that effectively took him off the scene. He would come back for a brief stay and try to get something together. Les was genuinely disturbed but he couldn't prevail upon Art to stop.
I'd say the first thing Les liked about Art was that he didn't play like anybody else. He wasn't anybody's man but his own. Art was the best player around then ... There were a couple other good alto players in the country at the time: there was Cannonball, and there was Jackie McLean, Phil Woods. It's hard to think of anybody else that you could identify as a powerful individual force. And Art was here. Les responded to Art basically because Art was something special. [Ibid, p. 196]
With the release of Meets the Rhythm Section, Art Pepper won critical acclaim and should have gained the rewards that were his due as one at the forefront of his profession, but unfortunately his life was becoming increasingly schizophrenic due to his personal problems. In the recording studios he was recognized as a master, and was a welcome addition to any session. In the shrinking LA jazz-club scene, he played some of the smaller and sleazier clubs, working with available pick-up groups - usually just a rhythm section. And as the decade drew to a close, even these few jobs fell through; for a time he was reduced to selling accordions door to door to keep his head above water!
Although he was much in demand as a sideman for recording dates at the time, the only other session which featured Art as leader in 1957 came in August for Pacific Jazz. It was a reunion of sorts between Art and Shorty
Rogers, with Art and a nine-piece band reworking some of the Rogers charts that had been so important to their careers earlier in the decade: 'Popo', Bunny', 'Powder Puff, 'Didi' and 'Diablo's Dance'. The instrumentation was that of the RCA Giants album, except that he French horn had been replaced by a baritone sax. The musicians were Don Fagerquist, trumpet; Stu Williamson, valve trombone; Red Callender, tuba; Pepper, Bill Holman and Bud ;hank on alto, tenor and baritone saxes; and the rhythm section of Russ Freeman, Monty Budwig and Shelly Manne.
If the premise underlying this session - that is, rehashing past success - sounds less than promising, the results are more than satisfactory. The Shorty
Rogers charts are still full of verve and energy, and the musicians blow with an invigorating gusto. Art's one is fuller and he exhibits much more emotion than he had on he original recordings. The growing tendency towards asymmetrical lines in his solos is perhaps exaggerated here because the harts are so familiar, but his blowing seems much more interesting than on the earlier sides. This is especially true of his solo on 'Diablo's Dance', though it is true to some degree on each tune.
With the exception of 'Popo', the other musicians don't have much solo space; this is Art's session start to finish. This seems a shame, for some of the other musicians had been growing also. Bud Shank, whose alto work had originally been highly influenced by Art, shows signs here of what would become an increasingly original voice on baritone sax. Unfortunately, his only extended solo is on an alternate take of 'Popo', which has been unearthed only recently. This is also true of Don Fagerquist, a much underrated soloist. No doubt Fagerquist was largely ignored at the time because he labored so often in the commercial vineyards of the
Octet. His solo on the alternate take of 'Popo' and his fours on the version that was released showcase his fluid and imaginative trumpet work. Bill Holman and Stu Williamson solo on both versions of the tune. Russ Freeman contributes some typically swinging and thoughtful solos on 'Popo' and 'Didi', as well as some rock-solid support in the rhythm section throughout. In fact the rhythm section is especially tight, since the three men worked together nightly in Shelly Manne's regular quintet - Monty Budwig having replaced Leroy Vinnegar earlier in the year. Dave Pell
Unfortunately, as was so often the case in those years, the tunes recorded on the date were issued only piecemeal by Pacific Jazz, so the full impact of the session was not felt at the time. In any case, the performances failed to help Art Pepper's deteriorating situation. He appeared as a sideman on a couple of other sessions in 1957, but in 1958 he recorded only twice. The firs was a quartet date of his own in January for the Aladdin label Even here Art's bad luck held, for Aladdin folded before the records could be released. (The performances were later issue on two Omegatape albums, but the reel-to-reel tape format worked against extended sales.) This quartet date feature pianist Carl Perkins (in one of his last performances), bassist Be Tucker and drummer Chuck Flores, and a couple of the tunes 'Holiday Flight' and 'Surf Ride' - are re-workings of numbers h had done on his first Discovery date. Carl Perkins and Art work well together, but the session as a whole suffers from the obviously impromptu nature of the date. On his one other recording session of 1958, Art was buried in a big band led by John Graas.
Things began to pick up once more in 1959. In February Art played on a Marty Paich session with a mid-sized group. This seems to have led directly to one of his most memorable albums, Art Pepper Plus Eleven. Once again, the album was Les Koenig's idea - to back Art with a big band composed of the best musicians available. Marty Paich, who had been growing continuously as an arranger, got the call to write the charts. Marty still has good feelings about the album.
I was with Shorty
Rogers at the time, and Art used to come and sit in an awful lot, and I was starting to write a lot of arrangements ... Art liked certain things I did, and that's when he asked me to [do] the Art Pepper Plus Eleven. We collaborated on that album ... When the word got around that we were going to do Art Pepper Plus Eleven, I had innumerable calls from practically everybody in town, top players, wanting to be on the session because they had the feeling that ... it was just electrifying all the time Art was around.[Ibid, pp. 218-219]
The album is subtitled Modern Jazz Classics, and all of the tunes are indeed jazz standards of the forties and fifties. And, as advertised, the sidemen are all heavyweights.
The album's twelve tunes were cut at three different sessions. On the first date, 14 March 1959, the musicians were Pete Candoli and Jack Sheldon, trumpets; Dick Nash and Bob Enevoldson, trombone and valve trombone; Vince DeRosa, horn; Art Pepper and Herb Geller, altos; Bill Perkins, tenor; Med Flory, baritone sax; and Russ Freeman, Joe Mondragon and Mel Lewis, rhythm. The tunes recorded were 'Opus de Funk', 'Round ', 'Walkin' Shoes' and 'Airegin'. As is so often the case, Pepper's strongest performance comes on the ballad, in this instance Thelonious Monk's haunting masterpiece. Art expresses some deeply felt emotion on the tune. Horace Silver's 'Opus de Funk' and Gerry Mulligan's 'Walkin' Shoes' are both taken at loping middle tempos, although 'Opus' is slightly faster. Marty Paich's arrangements are gems of control and restraint; they boot the musicians along without unduly distracting attention from the soloists. Sonny Rollins's 'Airegin' really moves out; Art's lead alto work here shares equal honors with his solo. Jack Sheldon contributes some typically wry solos on 'Walkin' Shoes' and 'Airegin'.
The second session, held 28 March, featured four numbers from the bebop era, 'Groovin' High', 'Shaw Nuff , 'Donna Lee' and 'Anthropology'. On this date, Al Porcino took over lead trumpet from Pete Candoli and Bud Shank replaced Herb Geller on alto. Jack Sheldon's and Art Pepper's flying unison lines on the heads of 'Shaw Nuff and 'Donna Lee' recall the original impressive work-outs of Diz; and Bird and Miles Davis and Parker, respectively. 'Groovin' High', on the other hand, is taken at a more relaxed pace than the original. The outstanding performance from this second session, though, is 'Anthropology', which features Art's grooving clarinet. Art has never been given his due as one of the finest modern jazz clarinetists, possibly because he recorded on the instrument so infrequently, but he shows here in three skillfully constructed and swinging choruses that he is a master of the often neglected horn.
The final session, held on 12 May, featured Art's tenor sax. The tunes were 'Bernie's Tune', 'Four Brothers', 'Move' and 'Walkin". Art does play alto on 'Bernie's Tune', but switches to the bigger horn for the other numbers. For this Charlie
Kennedy replaced Bud Shank and Richie Kamuca replaced Bill Perkins. 'Four Brothers' hews closely to the traditional Jimmy Giuffre arrangement, with Art on lead tenor. (Bob Enevoldsen and Charlie Kennedy switch to tenor to achieve the requisite sound.) The Denzil Best classic 'Move' does indeed move out, with solos by Pepper, Sheldon and Bob Enevoldsen (back on valve trombone). Richard Carpenter's 'Walkin", taken at a very relaxed pace, has a fine big-toned solo by Pepper. As Nat Hentoff remarks in the album's liner notes, 'this would make an interesting Blindfold Test for a musician who claimed to be able to identify an "East Coast" from a "West Coast" player'. [Notes to Contemporary 7568]
With the release of Art Pepper Plus Eleven, Art's fortunes improved. He was once again much in demand for record dates and landed a steady gig with the Lighthouse All-Stars. For a while, he even managed to stay clear of narcotics. He recorded with Marty Paich, backing singers as disparate as Joanne Sommers and Jesse Belvin. In November he recorded at MGM for the soundtrack of the movie The Subterraneans, both in a jazz combo (with Art Farmer, Gerry Mulligan and others) and a soloist backed by a large string orchestra. And in February 19 he cut his second album for Contemporary with a Miles Davis rhythm section.
By this time the personnel in the Miles Davis band ha changed: Wynton Kelly had replaced Red Garland as pianist and Jmmy Cobb had taken over the drum chair. Bassist Paul Chambers still anchored the section, however. Art's co-worker in he Lighthouse band, Conte Candoli, was brought along as an added starter, although he plays on only three tunes. Two of these were arrangements Art and Conte had been playing nightly at the Lighthouse, Thelonious Monk's 'Rhythm-a-ning' and Art's 'Bijou the Poodle'. 'Rhythm-a-ning' blasts out of the starting-gate and never lets up. Art had by now perfected his own version of thematic improvisation; he states a motif, then explores its various permutations, siblings and offspring. It's a technique that Thelonious himself favored (although Monk was reportedly not pleased by the pick-up note that had been added o his melody). For that matter, 'Bijou the Poodle' has a very Monkish-sounding line and contains some unconventional chord changes. On 'Bijou', Art switches to tenor sax. The third tune on which Conte Candoli plays is 'Whims of Chambers', a blues written by the bassist.
The remaining tunes from the session were all done as a quartet. 'Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise' is a happy choice; Art's interpretation seems especially congenial to this rhythm section. Wynton Kelly's solo is fluid and swinging, as always, and Paul Chambers gets off one of his patented arco solos. There are two ballad performances. 'Why are We Afraid' is an Andre Previn tune from the score of The Subterraneans, and Wynton Kelly provides an especially sensitive accompaniment to Art's plaintive solo. 'Diane' is Art's own tune, and he demonstrates an ability to project emotion without sentimentality in both his writing and his playing on this number. The album's final tune, 'Gettin' Together', has Art once again switching to tenor sax for an extended examination of the blues.
Gettin' Together was as well received as the earlier Meets the Rhythm Section, and Art Pepper was once again at the very door of success. And once again, some perverse demon in Art's personality turned him deliberately away. He returned to drugs, missed a couple of recording sessions, lost his job at the Lighthouse, and was back on the streets. His frank descriptions of this period in his autobiography are at first fascinating, then terrifying, and finally sickening. With little money coming in from recording (Les Koenig or Marty Paich would call him as a sideman when they could) and none at all from club dates, he was reduced to burglarizing to support his habit. He was simply waiting the inevitable bust, and as a three-time loser, he knew
that meant many years in prison. And yet somehow, right in the middle of this nightmare, he was able to record what is probably his best album of the entire decade.
The album is Smack Up!, and it was recorded 24 and
25 October 1960. Once again Les Koenig had come through and set up a date with musicians who matched Art's standards. The rhythm section was one of the strongest available in LA at the time: pianist Pete jolly, bassist Jimmy Bond and drummer Frank Butler. joining Art in the front line was Jack Sheldon, whose trumpet work was so compatible with the altoist's. The album's six tunes were all compositions by saxophonists, and all (with the exception of an original Art introduced at the session) had been recorded for Contemporary by the composers. The title tune was perhaps a bit too apt - 'smack up' being a slang expression for shooting heroin. The tune had originally been recorded by Harold Land on his Grooveyard album; Art's version is faster and hence more boppish in feeling. Art's own tune, 'Las Cuevas de Mario', is next. The title refers to the family of Mario Cuevas, friends of Art's from East LA. The tune is a 5/4 blues with a recurring vamp. (It must be remembered that in 1960 even a piece in 3/4 time was a rare addition to a jazz musician's repertoire.) The players are totally comfortable in the unaccustomed setting and swing as if it were the most natural thing in the world. (Which of course it should be.) Buddy Collette's 'A Bit of Basie', a more conventional blues, is taken at a bright tempo, sparked by the propulsive drumming of Frank Butler. A tune written by Art's old boss is next: Benny Carter's 'How Can You Lose'. The minor-to-major theme elicits some funky blowing by all hands. 'Maybe Next Year', a strikingly original composition by Duane Tatro, serves as the album's ballad. The chord sequence is quite unorthodox, and Art later admitted having some difficulties with it to Leonard Feather. 'It's really a strange tune. It wasn't easy to play. But the more you hear it, the more logical and inevitable the chord structure sounds.' [Notes to Contemporary 7602] Despite the initial reservations, Art turns out a beautiful and very natural-sounding solo; it seems strange this tune hasn't found its way into more musicians' repertoires.
The final tune on the album is another blues, but this one is also quite unorthodox. The tune is 'Tears Inside', and the composer is Ornette Coleman, whom Les Koenig had recorded earlier. Art Pepper was always a superior blues player, and Ornette's tune somehow sparks Art into one of his finest recorded performances. Pete Jolly quite suitably lays out on the head, and his entrance - halfway through Jack Sheldon's solo - is all the more welcome because it releases tension built by the delay. Jolly's solo, which comes next, has an infectious swing (backed by Frank Butler's potent brush work) and serves as an admirable launching-pad for Art. Art begins casually enough (wryly including a quote from 'Silver Threads among the Gold') but then turns serious. He begins working on seemingly random phrases, probing and then discarding them one by one. It's as if the solo mirrors his tortured search for a meaning in life. The solo builds in intensity to an almost unbearable level; even the most casual listener must finally be moved by the stark emotions revealed in Art Pepper's solo on 'Tears Inside'.
Given Art's intuitive feel for the dramatic, it must have seemed almost fitting that the denouement he had building towards throughout the decade came hard on the heels of one of his finest recording efforts. The very next day he was arrested for narcotics possession for the third and final time. He was held in the LA County jail while awaiting trial and Les Koenig and a few of his friends made his bail. Les also hastily arranged for a final album so Art could cover some court costs. It was a simple affair: Art and a rhythm section playing a set of standards. Jimmy Bond and Frank Butler, who contributed so heavily to the success of the Smack Up! album returned for this one also. The only newcomer was pianist Dolo Coker. Coker was born in
, Philadelphia 16 November 1927. He had originally wanted to be a doctor, but later found the piano to be his true calling. Dolo had been playing professionally since the late forties, and had made jazz time (and paid some R & B dues) with musicians as diverse as Ben Webster, Erskine Hawkins, Clyde McPhatter, Ruth Brown, Sonny Rollins and Kenny Dorham. He had also worked with Dexter Gordon in the LA stage production of Jack Gelber's The Connection.
The setting for the recording - Art backed only by a rhythm section, playing seven well-known standards - whether by design or no, placed Art's powers as an improviser in stark relief. There was no place to hide. And, as he usually did in such instances, Art more than met the challenge. The first side of the album especially shows the range of emotions that can be wrung from four basically similar tunes. Art charges out on 'I Can't Believe that You're in Love with Me' accompanied only by Jimmy Bond's powerful bass, then the rest of the rhythm section joins in and backs the altoist on a deeply felt yet swinging flight. Cole Porter's 'I Love You' starts out in a relaxed two, then breaks into four for thoughtful solos by Art and Dolo Coker. 'Come Rain or Come Shine' is the only tune played strictly as a ballad. 'Long Ago and Far Away', on the other hand, is taken at a blistering pace that finds Art completely at ease yet furiously swinging.
There is less variety on the album's second side. The three tunes, 'Gone with the Wind', 'I Wished on the Moon' and 'Too Close for Comfort', are all taken at a relaxed middle tempo, and although Art's inspiration never fails, the similarity of the approach causes the listener's interest to flag. Nevertheless, the album's title, Intensity, is quite apt; Art Pepper plays throughout with an intensity of emotions that can be palpably felt. If Intensity feels somewhat anti-climatic after Smack Up 11 it is none the less a major statement by a major artist.
Unfortunately, by the time the two albums were released Smack Up! in 1961 and Intensity in 1963 - Art was serving time in San Quentin. When he was finally released in 1966, his career and life were in a shambles and a new revolution in jazz had passed him by. But his was, finally, a happy ending. With the help of the Synanon program and, more importantly, his fourth wife Laurie, Art was eventually able to straighten out his life. Beginning in 1975 he recorded a series of critically acclaimed albums that returned him to the front ranks of jazz soloists. (The first of these albums was, naturally enough, a recording for Les Koenig entitled Living Legend.) In Art's final years - he died in 1982 - he was secure in the knowledge that his stature as a major jazz voice was recognized throughout the world.