Saxtastic: Art Pepper

April 15, 2011 • 4:38 am

Art Pepper (1925-1982) was one of the last saxophonists I learned about. A few years back a colleague loaned me Pepper’s Live at the Village Vanguard CD, and when I heard “But Beautiful”, which I now consider one of the greatest sax pieces in jazz history, I was transported. (Sadly, that song isn’t online.)

If you’re a jazz buff, you’ll know about Pepper’s tumultuous life. A heroin addict for nearly thirty years, he served several stints in jail, including time at San Quentin. In between he made some remarkable albums.  One of them is Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, with Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on the drums.

I’m including a cut from the album here, which is even more remarkable considering how my Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD describes it:

The playing on Meets the Rhythm Section beggars belief when the circumstances are considered: Pepper wasn’t even aware of the session until the morning of the date, hadn’t played in two weeks, was going through difficult times with his narcotics problem and didn’t know any of the material they played.

And from that session you’ll find this great rendition of Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To”:

And so Sax Week comes to a close, but I reserve the right to return with some Lester Young. . .

8 thoughts on “Saxtastic: Art Pepper

  1. Nice pick.
    Pepper was a natural musical genius, evidently. This sesion with Red Garland is a great one from 1957, in between his first two prison sentences.

    To his great credit, when he finally cleaned up and got back on the scene in the 1970s he had grown immensely as a player, incorporating the fiercer innovations of Coltrane and (to a lesser extent) Coleman into his formerly coolish bebop-based style.

    His autobiography Straight Life is a gripping read full of insight and great stories, and is highly recommended.

    1. +1

      Been lurking all week–too much of a philistine to comment, but learning from all the musicians/jazz buffs here as always.

  2. Dr. Coyne:

    Thank you so very much for your saxophone

    I don’t agree with you about religion, but you have excellent taste in music.

  3. I’m not a full-on jazz fan, but there are some musicians in just about any genre who can make you love what they do. I wish I’d learned about Art Pepper sooner.

    Thanks for Sax Week. It’s been fun.

    Lester Young? OK, hit me.

  4. A great pick from a great album. What a scourge heroin was, poisoning a whole generation of great jazz musicians. A true waste.

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