Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
'You know, there's honest musicians and there's dishonest musicians. Let me clarify that. An honest musician plays with his heart and soul and gives his all, all the time. And then there's the dishonest musician who plays, and gives you his all, but not all the time. It's like a racehorse. When Art plays, it's all, all the time. I never heard him lay back at any time, and that, to me, is an honest musician. And there aren't too many of them in the entire world.’
- Marty Paich, composer-arranger
Life does indeed move in mysterious fashions?
Are there no such things as coincidences; is the world really operating as chaos theory; are there parallel universes that we can side-step into if we only knew how to do it?
Maybe Rod Sterling was right and the whole thing is a “Twilight Zone?”
One day I’m remarking to a friend over coffee how I can’t relate to the late, alto saxophonist Art Pepper’s music from the closing years of his career. To my ears, Art’s music moved from being smooth, passionate and melodic to one that was abrasive and harsh – it became a cacophony of sounds; no longer music.
Soon thereafter, I’m having coffee with another friend who is into Jazz and he gives me alto saxophonist
Alan Barnes’ latest CD, The Art Trip: The Music of Art
Pepper [Woodville Records WVCD 137].
How zany is that?
The first friend urged me to stick with repeated listening of Pepper’s later recordings in order to “get them,” neither of which I’m able to do.
But thanks to the other friend’s generosity, I am now able to take solace in the fact that I am not alone in confronting the quandary posed by Art’s music, then-and-now, so to speak.
Barnes/Woodville Records, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Art Pepper first came into my life when I was around 15, through a double album entitled Art Pepper - Discoveries, recorded in the early '50s. I'd never heard of him. It had a painting of a good looking young man with an alto saxophone on the cover and lots of the titles were named after herbs and spices - Art's Oregano, Thyme Time, Cinnamon, Nutmeg - it seemed strange and exotic: I thought at the time, perhaps it was something to do with his being called Pepper
The alto sax playing sprang out of those LPs. It was so clear, virtuosic and accurate - a beautiful, fresh, full-of-life sound that danced over the time in a light and subtle, yet intensely probing way. There was a lonely, yearning quality to his playing on the ballads that really reached out to the listener. Perhaps the most beautiful moments came when Jack Montrose joined the ensemble on tenor and the two front men wove lines around each other. It was just so musical and respectful, each playing so much like themselves but with great politeness and courtesy to the other. I'd heard many of the world's greatest saxophonists on records, and still loved them, but from that moment one this was clear for me, that was how the alto saxophone should be played.
A handful of years later I saw Art Pepper at Ronnie Scott's club, playing with his quartet with Milcho Leviev on piano. The first shock was the different sound of the saxophone. It was darker and thicker in tone with a new emotional depth to it. His lines were sometimes shorter, broken and angular - he would find a set of notes and realy worry them, then break free into long darting phrases that ran effortlessly through the changes. The beautiful clarity, tuning and stunning double timing were still there, but when the music reached a certain, almost frightening, emotional intensity and there seemed nowhere else to go, he would move right out there - playing free, spitting out distorted notes with furious passion. The ballads were raw and tender. I've never seen anyone more involved or determined and it showed what's possible in a jazz performance. He looked like a man fighting for survival. It was riveting, overwhelming, honest, disturbing and quite profound.
These two different periods of the same musician's life were separated by years of drug and alcohol addiction and lengthy stays in prisons and a drug rehabilitation centre. However harrowing these experiences, however long he was off the scene, Art always played superbly well in a series of come-backs throughout his life. His final re-emergence, beginning in 1977, really gathered momentum, producing some of the finest playing of his career and gaining him the worldwide recognition that he had always sought. He continued to perform until he was stricken with a cerebral hemorrhage and died in June of 1982.
Art's career stretched from the late '40s with the bands of Stan Kenton and Benny Carter, through recognition as a 'West Coast Star’ in the '50s and on to triumphs of his later years.
Unlike many West Coast jazz musicians, he wasn't a studio player by day - he always remained resolutely a jazz performer. His life is detailed in his devastatingly honest biography, Straight Life, published in 1977.
This CD is the idea of bassist Al Swainger. As well as playing great bass on this session, he put together the band, booked the studios, picked the tunes and transcribed all the music. In deciding winch material to focus on, Al chose a selection of Art's compositions from both the early and later periods and balanced them with several standards that really showcase the individuality of the man. Making free use of transcriptions, recordings and the individual personalities of the assembled players we hope to have achieved a balance between the old and the new to create something unique for a fresh generation of listeners. It's not an attempt to sound like Art (who could?), just the four of us enjoying the playing his great music and enjoying being influenced by his great musicianship. Craig Milverton on piano has always been a very fine accompanist and trio pianist. He really shines on this recording and plays some of his finest work to date. Nick Millward on drums really worked at getting an individual feel on each track, finding his own way. I think his playing and approach really makes this album.
Art's compositions should be part of any jazz study syllabus, the up-tempo numbers are very witty, articulate and hip, often based on the chord sequences of standards. His ballads are always beautiful vehicles for expression while his Latin and groove tunes are timeless and very much bring to mind his home city of
. He really excelled at playing on simple
harmonic vamps, sometimes extending the ends of tunes to incorporate one of
these and really get into some blowing after the tune was over. Mambo Koyama
and the 5/4 Las Cuevos De Mark), for instance, were refreshingly different for
us to play on after lots of involved, harmonic pieces. Los Angeles
Personally, it's been a real pleasure to continue studying and playing the music of Art Pepper. Marty Paich, Art's friend and collaborator on many albums, seemed to sum up the essence of the man: 'You know, there's honest musicians and there's dishonest musicians. Let me clarify that. An honest musician plays with his heart and soul and gives his all, all the time. And then there's the dishonest musician who plays, and gives you his all, but not all the time. It's like a racehorse. When Art plays, it's all, all the time. I never heard him lay back at any time, and that, to me, is an honest musician. And there aren't too many of them in the entire world"
Alan Barnes • September 2011
Here’s an audio-only track from the CD with
Alan and the group performing one of Art’s
tunes from earlier in his career entitled Chili
Pepper which is based on the chord changes to Tea for Two.