Art never understood why a wonderful musician like Miles Davis would turn his back on the audience that loved him.
When we were finishing the writing of Art’s story, Straight Life, I asked him to tell his readers, his audience, what he wanted from the years he had left. He said, “I do still need to be accepted as an artist. But I want to be more than just a ’jazz player’ playing. I want to make people forget the categories and hear what’s really happening. I want to make them feel the joy or sadness. I want to make them open up and listen. That’s what I’ve always wanted.” He wanted you to let him in.
I got an email the other day from a fellow in England who, as a teen, had been blown away by Art’s music. Now about forty, he says, “I am no believer in religion or the mystics but if souls travel through people then Art has taken residence or at least is sitting on the couch in the living room of my mind. He lives with me daily in simple things like the cracking of an egg, the turning of a door handle, and the love I am lucky to share with my family.”
Like that email, this recording is proof of how important Art’s music has been to the people he’s reached. The Stuttgart concert was sent to me by a Belgian fan who has collected Art’s output (he also sent me the Croydon material). He’s supplied me with a database of a circulating Pepper collection and has asked me to thank ALL the fans who have contributed to and shared this material with him–and now, the world.
It seems Art never performed anywhere during his final comeback (1972-1982) where somebody wasn’t, either publicly or surreptitiously, recording him and then sharing the music with other fans. This wasn’t done out of avarice. Nobody (not even me with my obsessive little company, my photos, and my stories) is going to make much money these days selling real jazz music. The gathering and collecting is done out of love.
It’s All a Blur
Art toured Europe twice in 1981— first in May, then in July. Croydon (Vol. III of Unreleased Art) and this concert in Stuttgart were part of the grueling May tour. Alexander Zivkovich, the promoter, has written to tell me that over all his 40 years of promoting European tours for major jazz artists, this Art Pepper tour was the longest he’d ever booked. Stuttgart was the 14th performance in almost as many nights, and we traveled every day by plane and/or bus and/or car. You can hear Art tell the audience, here, at the end of the last tune, “We’re really tired.”
I can’t remember this particular night of the tour. I can’t remember the city. At first I thought Stuttgart might be the picturesque German town where we wandered into a giant beer & sausage bar and shared a big round table with two friendly tattooed teenage girls. They and Art compared body art. I speak a little German, and these girls’ husky accents sounded strange to me. I asked if they were German.
“Nein,” said one girl. “Romany.”
“Gypsies!” I told Art excitedly. “They’re gypsies!”
Art pointed at a name tattooed on the back of that girl’s hand. She nodded solemnly and, touching it, intoned it, deep and powerful, “Elvis Presley. King of rock and roll.”
But no. I googled Stuttgart, and it isn’t picturesque. The beer garden on the quaint old cobbled street was probably in Nürnberg in 1980 where the guys played in a cave dug by the Nazis deep beneath the city. We marched down, down, and down some more, deep into the earth, until we reached this nightclub carved out of grayish rock. Art thought the place delightfully grotesque, but I was nervous. The band went to the little stage and played, and I got claustrophobic for the only time in my life, so far. So I ran. I raced up through the tunnels to the street. I hailed a cab. I went back to the hotel with my heart just banging away. I don’t know what came over me. I’d been in caves before. I’m Jewish. Maybe that’s what came over me.
Continuously on the road during Art’s last few years of life, we visited several German cities. We were going to Japan frequently and doing U.S. and Canadian tours as well, and we spent a memorable month in Australia. So I only remember the intermittent adventures (the gypsies, etc.), beauty (Brussels, Paris, Barcelona, Nice, the roads in Italy), great food (Ancona), bad food (London, except for steaks at Ronnie Scott’s), bad quarrels (Milcho walking off the stage in a huff in Utrecht), and serious discomfort (being stranded on a country backroad by an earlier promoter). I’ve got these bright sequins, glimmery memories, hanging on frayed threads from the faded fabric of these tours. Maybe nothing memorable happened in Stuttgart but this wonderful music. Which I’d forgotten. Until I was reminded by Rocco who sent me some discs.
The End of the Comeback Band
This band was the one I call Art’s Comeback Band. But we were reaching the end of Art’s troubled relationship with our brilliant pianist, Milcho Leviev. The tour started badly when Milcho missed the plane to Europe and, thus, the first two gigs. (As I write this, I’m in receipt of an email from a Scottish fan who saw the band in Glasgow on the 9th with a pickup pianist. He remembers Art telling the crowd that Milcho “was in jail in Paris:” a typical Art Pepper fabrication.) When he finally arrived, Milcho tried to blame us for his miscalculations, and things just got worse.
Milcho has acknowledged that: 1. He loved Art; 2. He loved to torment him both offstage and, much worse, on by playing too much and too loudly behind Art’s solos.
The Utrecht walk-off was a response to Art, during a performance, finally yelling at Milcho to “lay out.” Not play. So things were tense, although you sure can’t hear it in this music. Because Milcho did know Art so well and knew the music and could match Art emotionally in a way nobody else ever did, their collaboration could often be sublime, as it is here. Sometimes Art admitted this was true. Sometimes he thought that Milcho was a showoff, and therefore dishonest. I think Milcho, with his occasional bombast and theatrics (and when he wasn’t sabotaging), was simply trying to do what Art was trying to do. Reach people. And when he was sabotaging, I think he was trying to reach Art. Like a naughty kid.
Milcho’s still a friend. He calls me up. We talk about our favorite subjects, Art, art, literature, and life. We laugh like crazy over our shared memories. He’s the only person who was there, who remembers, and that means a lot to me. At 72, he just moved back to Europe. He was a major star in Bulgaria. He had to flee the Commies . Now he’s a star again. He says he can’t make a living here, in the States. In Europe he works and tours constantly.
Bob Magnusson is an absolutely wonderful player. Art liked him a lot. (In the photo of the band onstage, note Art’s admiring expression as he listens to and watches Bob.) I loved Bob’s great big sound. It’s easier to enjoy somebody you can hear. Admit it, jazz bass solos are so often inaudible in live performance. And Bob swung so hard. He and Carl Burnett, Art’s favorite drummer, were Art’s and Milcho’s opposites. They were placid and philosophical spirits. And both were smart enough not to get embroiled in Art’s and Milcho’s escalating battles.
If there’d been melodrama on this night in Stuttgart, I might remember it, or if I had some photos, but I seem to have stopped taking pictures right after we left Belgium. We had two days off in Brussels, and Art and I were able to go for a walk and emerge from a drizzly alley into that main square and stand flabbergasted while clouds parted, and all the golden domes and gingerbread were lit by sunshine under a blue sky. And then we wandered into a café and someone said, “You guys!” and we turned and saw Bill Holman and his wife, new friends from a recent record date [Winter Moon: Galaxy]. A wonderful day and apparently the last one I remember from that tour.
Art’s health wasn’t good. He died the following year. But he gave everything he had every night, exhausting himself, giving and getting energy, completing some perfect circuit with his audiences, amplifying all their shared emotion, displaying it in all its beauty.
Before a concert, Art spent every moment he could get just lying down. And after Belgium, there was daily travel and a concert every night. We didn’t stay in the kind of hotel that has room service, so I carried a Boy Scout mess kit: little metal pans and cutlery. I’d rush out to a restaurant nearby. I’d eat fast and order another meal which I’d spoon into the kit (in Europe, at the time, there was no “take-out”). Then I’d hurry back to the hotel and give Art his meal. Art needed ice water. He didn’t WANT it. He NEEDED it, and it was a rare item in Europe. I’d run around looking for ice.
Art had a massive ventral hernia. He wore a corset when he played. He couldn’t carry luggage, and I invariably overpacked (for myself; see Art’s distressing list). So I wrangled our bags. Art hated how that made him look. I bought him canes, so people could see that he was incapacitated, but he kept losing them. Once, while I dragged our luggage from a van, Art said to me just loud enough for Bob to hear (and supposedly be ashamed of himself), “You shouldn’t be doing that!”
Bob looked up, surprised, and asked me, dryly, “Oh? Are you
enceinte?” I broke up laughing.
Not amused, right then, Art was very funny, usually, finding the darkest side of any story and then, eyes gleaming, taking it to deeper and more desperate pits of blackness. And what a love he had for language: jargon and slang! I swear, he tasted and enjoyed the words that left his mouth, so his delivery was stunning. Bob was quietly hysterical. Milcho delighted in absurdity and coupled that with a facile innocence. His accent worked with all of that; he seemed a stranger in our world. Carl was delicately ironic. In fact, it’s been my experience that most musicians are wonderful comedians—which makes the roughest road trip smoother.
And, yes, I overpacked.
On our earliest tours, in the U.S., I wore jeans and T-shirts. But Elvin Jones’s wife, Keiko, told me in the kitchen of the Village Vanguard [Art Pepper Live at the Village Vanguard: Contemporary]that Art and I ought to dress better and wear good jewelry. We ought to look successful. She indicated her own tasteful finery and the rings, bracelet, and chains on Elvin that she’d bought for him. They glowed deep yellow, like 24 karat gold against his black skin. They probably were. She said, it would assure people we weren’t spending our money on drugs. Keiko, who carried and tuned Elvin’s drums, taught me a lot that summer in New York.
But I didn’t change my style.
Then, one day, when I asked Art how I looked, he sighed.
I asked him what was wrong.
“I just wish you wouldn’t wear jeans all the time.”
“You want me to wear dresses?” Yes, he did.
I went out and found a line of dresses I could love. They looked and felt like georgette but never wrinkled. They were brightly colored and ingeniously patterned. They were expensive: $300 each in 1981.
I applied for and got a resale license saying I was a “personal shopper.” Very personal. I bought 10 of these dresses wholesale from the dealer, at half price. I could wear one on a trans-Atlantic/or Pacific flight, then, right before deplaning, scrub up in the bathroom, pull a clean one from my purse and put it on. They washed and dried in hours. Art loved them. He never grudged me clothes or jewelry. We bought him some good clothes, too, a couple of leather jackets, some suits, and a Rado watch, a diamond ring. And then, of course, I needed matching shoes, etc. So, what with all this stuff... It was a lot to carry.
I can hear the jazz fans groaning, “Now she’s telling us about her wardrobe! What about the music?”
There are no new songs, here, but everything, of course, is brand-new and unique to this specific gig. No Art Pepper performance sounded like another. Each of these songs offered Art new worlds, nightly, to explore and conquer. And truly, he saw the stage as a battlefield and himself as a bloodied soldier or something like it, set on victory or death. Victory—over the tunes, his band, the audience. And the audience could trust him. Once he captured them and opened up their hearts, he wouldn’t turn his back on them! He’d set those same hearts dancing. He was an old-fashioned hero.
So these are some of the tunes Art wrote or chose to play during the ’80s. These two sets are not exactly in the order of play that night, because I’m not sure what that was (although Cherokee seems to end the evening). I’ve put them in what Art liked as a “set order:” an up-tempo blues; an “odd” tune (6/8, 3/4) or a clarinet tune; a seriously grooving tune; and then, with the audience won over, a ballad, followed by a “flag-waver,” fast and dazzling. For an encore, he’d play a down-home blues. Tonight, no encore, but there is a down-home blues at the end of the wondrous Patricia. This particular ballad on this occasion is so remarkably beautiful. Good that it was recorded, and that the whole band was deep into it, and I got it and can pass it around.
True Blues was an Art original, a usual opener, a warm-up which starts off breezy but gets hotter and hotter. Yours Is My Heart Alone is a lovely tune I think Art discovered through Clare Fischer when we went to Japan with Cal Tjader in the ’70s. Landscape is all Art, a thriller, named for the view from a bullet train. That first long note, telling us we’re on our way! It always gets to me.
I’ve spoken of Patricia which Art wrote for his daughter. For Freddie was written for a Japanese slash-and-burn chef at the Pear Garden, near Contemporary Records in L.A. But Art got mad at Freddie-the-cook. Enter Freddie Hubbard. Art fell in love with Freddie Hubbard and gave the tune to him. Instead. Which is funny, because the chef, a jazz fan, had named himself after Freddie Hubbard, too.
Straight Life is one of Art’s earliest tunes and his fastest. (And he thought Milcho was a show-off!) The changes are from “After You’ve Gone,” but Art got annoyed when musicians referenced the original. Art thought referencing other tunes was corny until one night, on another tour, when George Cables playfully referenced every known
I Got Rhythm tune in the course of his piano solo on Rhythm-A-Ning. Art cracked up.
Art was always looking for clarinet tunes. He found a wonderful one in nostalgia-ville, where most great clarinet tunes come from. That was Avalon. Art’s Make a List (Make a Wish) ran long when it was working. It’s working, here, hypnotic, erotic, and funky at about 26 minutes.
Ever since Art played Somewhere Over the Rainbow with Shorty Rogers back in 1952, it’s been his song. During the ’80s, Art began to play a yearning a cappella lead-in to Rainbow. It always sounds to me like a preacher’s aching imprecation: The prayer before the choir begins that old, familiar hymn to longing.
If Rainbow is a classic hymn, Cherokee’s a battle cry. This was the tune, Art said, to test your chops. And so, at the very end, right before Art tells the crowd how he’s “tired,” here he is, leaping yet again into the fray. And he’s at the top of his form, his wounds forgotten, fire in his eyes, love and violence and seduction in his heart. And he prevails. Just listen to the audience!
–Laurie Pepper, L.A. March, 2010