Art Pepper would have turned 90 on September 1 of this year. Though the great alto saxophonist passed away in 1982, aged just 56, his legacy lives on. Elemental Music has most recently celebrated Pepper’s enduring influence on jazz with the new release of Live at Fat Tuesday’s by The Art Pepper Quartet.
This new five-song set preserves the performances of Pepper (alto sax), Milcho Leviev (piano), George Mraz (bass) and Al Foster (drums) at the New York nightspot on the evening of April 15, 1981. (Omnivore Recordings’ three-volume series Neon Art also drew on Pepper’s 1981 gigs, from Seattle and abroad in Japan.) Pepper was an acknowledged veteran of the jazz scene as well as a survivor by the time of this performance. Having first risen to fame as a member of Stan Kenton’s orchestra, Pepper was recognized early on for his artistry; in 1952, the bright young man of the West Coast scene was voted second only to Charlie Parker as Best Alto Saxophonist. But Pepper’s struggles with addiction kept him from burning as bright as he might otherwise have. He repeatedly found himself in prison or in rehabilitation. Pepper candidly recounted his remarkable career and his personal struggles in his 1979 autobiography Straight Life, co-written with his wife Laurie. He also began to immerse himself once more in music after a near-total absence from records between 1961 and 1975 (excepting one studio album with the great arranger Marty Paich, and a couple of big-band efforts).
Happily, Pepper’s virtuosity was intact at the time of his “comeback.” His early, lyrical style hadn’t completely disappeared though Pepper’s tone began to showcase the influence of more avant-garde artists including the late John Coltrane. (He had even picked up the tenor saxophone for a time in the 1960s.) The band swings hard on the five tracks contained on Fat Tuesday’s, playing with more of a rock-like urgency than the cool associated with West Coast jazz, yet the style and conviction is unmistakably Pepper. The set included lengthy, extended renditions of standards by Thelonious Monk (the smoking opener “Rhythm-a-Ning”), Cole Porter (“What is This Thing Called Love?”) and songwriter-arranger-conductor Gordon Jenkins (“Goodbye”) as well as his own compositions “Make a List, Make a Wish” and “Red Car.”
Elemental’s release, housed in a digipak, includes a 40-page booklet that serves as an essential complement to the music on the disc. The booklet contains producer Zev Feldman’s introductory note and his interview with Laurie Pepper, plus Brian Priestley’s appreciation of Pepper and his illuminating 1980 interview with the late artist, and further essays reflecting on Pepper’s legacy by John Koenig, Stephane Ollivier, and Steve Getz of the late, lamented Fat Tuesday’s.
Live at Fat Tuesday’s is in an indispensable addition to one’s jazz shelf and Art Pepper collection. It’s available now at the links below!
The Art Pepper Quartet, Live at Fat Tuesday’s (Elemental Music 5990427, 2015) (Amazon U.S.)
- Rhythm-a-Ning (12:58)
- What is This Thing Called Love? (16:15)
- Goodbye (11:39)
- Make a List, Make a Wish (18:21)
- Red Car (11:30)