1. 5 star Review from All About Jazz by Greg Simmons
2. 5 star Review from JazzWax by Marc Myers
3. 5 star review from The Listening Post by Jeff Simon
3. LINER NOTE BY LAURIE PEPPER
All About Jazz
What jumps out of Art Pepper's Blues for the Fisherman is his alto saxophone's boldness and overt expressiveness. If prior exposure has only scratched the surface of Pepper's work—perhaps with the ubiquitous Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section (Contemporary, 1957)—this live recording fairly smashes expectations of a polite, cool performance. Recorded in two nights at Ronnie Scott's London jazz club in 1980, Pepper is simply on fire, this set burying any lingering misconceptions that Pepper was just a west coast cool blower.
Blues for the Fisherman provides a rare opportunity to hear two complete uninterrupted club dates, including banter with the audience. Pepper is clearly enjoying himself, joking with the crowd, and his playing reflects that warm interaction. The synergy within the band is telepathic, obviously inspired by Pepper's buoyancy.
"Blues for Blanche," named for Pepper's cat, proffers a very contemporary melody, the saxophonist improvising to the edge of chaos without crossing the line into deconstructed mess. Pepper exhibits Charlie Parker's speed, couple with the looseness and expressiveness of later, more adventurous players like John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter, while sounding like none of them. He never dives off into free territory, but there are passages where he could, on the verge of breaking out of blues patterns before reeling back in.
On a record with a lot of great soloing, the best is found on Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-A- Ning." Rather than just riffing over the tune, Pepper captures the composition's essence by playing rubato, and slightly out of key, in seemingly random phrases— much like Monk's own piano playing—fairly exploding in some passages with clusters of hard-blown notes that verge on shouting. Pianist Milcho Leviev, follows form with hard playing that briefly becomes completely disassociated with the melody and beat. Like his leader, he pulls it all back together in a feat of musical daring. Recorded hundreds of times, making it difficult to find anything truly original in any one version, Pepper's interpretation of "Rhythm-A-Ning" is an exception, with some of the most priceless saxophone work ever laid down on this oft-played tune.
The title track drips with blues so deep that the smell of cigarette smoke wafting over the room is almost palpable. Audience members can be heard to shout encouragement as Pepper simmers and burns into a full boil. The effort and sweat going into this performance is apparent as he pours all of his breath though the reed. It's one of those perfect musical statements that could never have been captured in any studio. The immediacy and emotion of the moment are so boldly displayed that it could only have been possible through the energy of a live crowd.
Blues for the Fisherman presents two unedited evenings of performance and may be one of the most important archival jazz releases of the year. Pepper's widow, Laurie, is actively enhancing his legacy by releasing previously unheard live recordings. If there are more dates like these lurking in the vault, each one will be a cause for celebration among Art Pepper's fans.
Art Pepper: Blues for the Fisherman by Marc Myers
Today Laurie Pepper, Art Pepper's widow, has released a four-CD
set of Pepper performing in London at Ronnie's Scott's on June 27 and 28, 1980, two years before the alto saxophonist's death. It may well be the finest recording of late Pepper released on Laurie Pepper's Widow's Taste label.
There are two reasons for this: First, despite Pepper's history of frayed nerves on
stage, he was remarkably at ease in front of this British audience, which is reflected in the softness of his tone and his patient delivery. Pepper dreaded playing to half-empty houses. He often had nightmares of showing up to a gig with three people half asleep at tables. On these two nights in June, Ronnie Scott's was packed, much to Pepper's delight.
Second, the quality of the live recording is astonishingly vivid.
Professionally recorded by London's Mole Jazz Records in cooperation with Ronnie Scott's, the original analog tapes were transferred at 192 kHtz, 24 bit and remastered by Wayne Peet at Newzone Studio in Los Angeles. In plain speak, it sounds like Pepper is in the room with you.
As Laurie told me yesterday:
"This is the only professionally recorded material I've released so far. It cost me a lot more to transfer and edit at
192kHz, 24 bit, but I wanted to tell the audiophiles, truthfully, that such was the case. I have to say, that Wayne [pictured] did some remarkable work, because the piano apparently was recorded almost entirely in the right channel, while everybody else was over in the left.
"Working with two track, he moved it beautifully to the middle and brought the piano up as best he could. He also brought up the voice audio [during Pepper's stage banter] without distortion or hiss and that in spite of the room noise.
"This box has cost me five times more than any other
set I've released. Ordinarily I wouldn't have done it, but fans have been persistent, especially Art's fans in Britain.
"Now I hope they justify me by buying it. I do agree with them that it's a classic—musically and emotionally. And it does sound so good."
The Fisherman here is the late Chris Fisherman, who is referred to by Laurie in her liner notes as Pepper's best friend.
Fisherman was a businessman, a lawbreaker and something of a conman. That last persona worked in Pepper's favor. After being arrested following a traffic stop that yielded a suspect straw, Pepper was jailed and released with a court date. But his lawyer was out of town.
So Fisherman filled in by dressing the part and convincing an assistant district attorney in her office that the case was flimsy and should be thrown out. Long story short, Pepper was released.
This London appearance came in the middle of his recordings
for the Atlas label, which paired him on the West Coast with a series of marqee musicians, including Jack Sheldon, Sonny Stitt and Pete Jolly. Pepper's rhythm section at the time consisted of Milcho Leviev (p), Tony Dumas (b) and Carl Burnett (d), and they work together superbly throughout.
During the sets at Ronnie Scott's, Pepper's blowing was warm and inviting. The harsh, fearful phrasing we hear on other live
recordings of the period is absent, replaced by long, interlocking lines. Sensing audience kinship, Pepper eases into songs, giving them a lilting quality, and his giving mood is reflected in his stage remarks. The audience response is tremendous.
We also hear Pepper on clarinet here on Anthropology and In a Mellow Tone. Pepper rarely played clarinet late in his career, mostly due to his discomfort with the difficult instrument.
Of particular note on this set are the gospel-funk Red Car; Gordon Jenkins' Goodbye, which is delivered almost like Parker's Mood; and Blues for the Fisherman, a mid-tempo tribute to Pepper's close friend and "attorney."
JazzWax tracks: Art Pepper: Blues for the Fisherman
(Widow's Taste) is a four-CD box set
Jazz: "The Listening Post," Buffalo News dot com, by Jeff Simon
Art Pepper, “Blues for the Fisherman: Live from Ronnie Scott’s Club in London, June 27-28, 1980” Unreleased Art Volume VI. (Widow’s Taste, four remastered discs). Cherish the cliche: You’ve got lemons, you make lemonade. For this Art Pepper gig, the British record store Mole Jazz wanted to make its debut in jazz recording, but that meant that the great Art Pepper in London not only couldn’t record under his own name (his pianist was the pretend leader) but couldn’t play any of the accustomed favorites he’d recorded for American Galaxy Records in the previous five years. And that was a lot of Pepper favorites, even classics. A whole different repertory was needed. So this is the dynamite group of the late Art Pepper— pianist Milcho Leviev, bassist Tony Dumas and drummer Carl Burnett—in live performance doing all manner of unusual things. Listen, too, to Pepper’s announcements and his rare clarinet playing. What that translates to, then, is that this is 400-hp post-bop from a great jazz alto saxophonist who, despite a chaotic, drug-dependent life, never gave a bad recorded performance and was so often one of the all-time exemplars of bebop. You won’t exactly be in love with the piano at Ronnie Scott’s club that Leviev is playing (it has its share of upper-register clams), but some of the interplay between Leviev and Pepper on these performances could burn the club down. You can’t imagine how extraordinary it now is that this musician, whose life made long disappearances from recording so common, should now turn out to be one of his era’s greatest now presented in glorious abundance. Four stars. (J. S.)
The Twelve Bars Of The Decade
by Laurie Pepper
“The twelve bars of the decade.” Blues for the Fisherman (Disc 4, track 10) was hailed by one jazz journalist as just that when four of these tracks were released in the U.K. in 1980 by Mole Jazz. The LP remained at the top of the British jazz charts for more than a year, so Mole eventually released a second album from the same session. Fans all over the world have worn those LPs out and have been clamoring, yes, clamoring, for 30 years, to hear it all, everything that happened during those two nights at Ronnie Scott’s. I may have taken their requests too literally, but here is, finally, almost every bit of it.*
And there’s a logic to releasing everything. Art was a storyteller. Every tune was a vehicle, a way for him to express his life of pain and glory. He loved to talk about it, too. Communication, soul to soul, was what he aimed for. As we listen to these sets, we hear a narrative. In the music and between the tunes Art keeps us, the audience, informed. He lets us track the skill, persistence, anguish, and exhilaration of the process of performing, the story of an artist at work. From the stage he tells us what is and isn’t working as he sees it at the moment. He reveals how nervous he is and how grateful for a sympathetic crowd.
And he is nervous. In 1977, in New York’s Village Vanguard, he coped with the anxiety around his first live recording by approaching it in a state of delerium, massively self-medicated. He succeeded in spite of himself. In Japan in ’79 (the Landscape session), sober and afraid, he just soldiered on. At Ronnie’s in 1980, he’s terrified again but knows the Brits are on his side: He reminisces for the crowd about his days as an MP in London, a soldier in fact, in the allied forces during WWII. he recalls the riotous reception given him the previous year during brief gigs in Hammersmith and Birmingham. So this album is also the story of a relationship—a courtship and a happy marriage, Art and England.
The owners of Mole Jazz, a record store, decided to begin their own jazz label by recording Art live at Ronnie Scott’s for their first release. Peter Bould, producer, and our contact with the company, was told at first, probably by me, that Art’s contract with Galaxy Records made it impossible for Art to record as the leader of a band. So Milcho Leviev, Art’s marvelous pianist, was selected to be leader. There was another difficulty. Art’s contract also prohibited him from recording for another label any tune he’d recorded for Galaxy—for five years from release. Since Art had a number of favorites, new and old, he liked to play in performances, but which he’d recorded recently, he had to alter the sets to be recorded at Ronnie Scott’s to suit the situation. Bould gave Art a list of preferences to play, instead. I note that Landscape, Patricia, and Over the Rainbow, which had been played nightly during the previous two weeks at Ronnie’s, weren’t played on this final weekend. On the second night of recording, Art tells the crowd, at last, he’s going to play a non-playlist song “anyway”: The Trip. In the end, Mole released Make a List though it’s on Galaxy’s Straight Life album. And on Mole’s second disc, True Blues, they ignored the problem completely and released “forbidden” tunes, True Blues and Straight Life.
Chris Fisherman was Art’s best friend and he was with us on this trip. He helped work out our deal with Mole. Art talks about him to the crowd. Chris was a canny businessman and lawbreaker, and I’ve written at length about him in my Afterword to Straight Life, the autobiography Art and I wrote together. During Art’s last years, Chris was a friend, indeed, and though he couldn’t save himself from the law, on one occasion he saved Art:
One night Art got stopped for a traffic violation. The police searched the car and found something suspicious. Art was jailed, arraigned, and sent home with a court date. Our lawyer was out of town. Chris told Art to go to court, and if “things” didn’t work out, he said, “Ask for a postponement.” Chris said, “I’ll meet you there.” Art went to court and found Chris dressed in a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase. Chris got Art’s case number from the bailiff and read the paperwork.
Chris told me later,“It said something about ‘paraphernalia.’ I read further and it said, ‘a straw containing cocaine residue.’ I went to the D.A.’s office. She was a gorgeous woman¬¬—tall, blonde, with the face of an angel. I said, ‘Don’t make me make you look ridiculous.’
“She said, ‘What do you mean?’
“I asked her, ‘Have you read this thing on Pepper?’
“She said, ‘No, not really.’ She was very nice. I told her what she had was a case that was built on a straw. She laughed. She read the paperwork.
“She said, ‘There’s got to be more to it than this.’
“I said, ‘Mr. Pepper’s a famous musician. He’s got obligations. He’s got two big tours coming up. Don’t make him wait around for something this stupid.’
“She read the report again. She said, ‘You’re right. Okay. It’s off the docket.’
“I hurried back into the courtroom, grabbed Art’s arm and said, ‘Let’s go.’
“Art said, ‘What’s happening?’ I said, ‘I’ll tell you later, man. Let’s just GO!’”
Chris told me, “I never actually said I was a lawyer.”
We did have a couple of tours coming up, and Chris came along for the ride. In May of 1980, he joined us for a U.S. tour, and in June, Chris came with us on our first real European tour. We did these two weeks at Ronnie Scott’s in London where Art recorded the blues that ends the final night—and named it Blues for the Fisherman.
During this tour, the band did festivals and clubs all over the Continent. Chris had some brief criminal business to do in Florence; he was vague about it. He was either buying or selling a hot Madonna (he showed me a color slide of the painting). Otherwise, Chris’s function seemed to be to show us how much fun we could have. He managed to meet and introduce us to interesting people: Marianne Faithfull, for one (she and Chris sat up all night and wrote a song together), and he took the band out to the best restaurants.
Chris got busted three days after we got back from Europe. The charge was “conspiracy to distribute narcotics.” He was held on 1.5 million dollars bail. When the bail was reduced, he was able to get out while he fought his case, but he spent the last year of Art’s life (and seven years after that) in federal prison, just up the coast in Lompoc, where Art and I, together, and then I, alone, visited him as often as possible. He spent part of his time there making wood-framed clocks in a prison workshop, giving them away to all his friends. (Clocks while doing time!) And he continued to write briefs and study case law. He swore he was innocent, and Art never reproached him with failing to give him a taste. Chris died a few years after his release from Lompoc.
When I spoke with Milcho, recently, about Chris and this session, he asked me suddenly if Chris had left me any money. “Yes,” I said. “Me, too,” said Milcho. Chris was nearly broke after all his lawyers’ fees, but because I was his friend, and because Milcho had come with me to the prison, once, to visit him, Chris had chosen to remember us—and many others— in that way. He was a classy guy and a loyal friend.
FRIDAY NIGHT: SET 1
Milcho lives in Greece now, and I sent him unedited copies of the tapes from these two nights at Ronnie’s, so we could discuss the tracks. Again and again during that conversation, Milcho talked about the way Art “searched” for what was there inside the music. He talked about Art’s daring. He said that was one thing he loves about these tapes: the quality of exploration and Art’s “nakedness,” in the midst of it, how unrelentingly self-revealing he was, all the way through and how that came out in performance. Milcho didn’t mention Art’s perfectionism, which was a scourge to him, and you’d think, because of it, that Art would play it safe. He never did; he was, above all, brave. What comes through is the excitement of that perpetual tension between what is and what can be.
Art begins the set with what was a usual opener for him in those days, a delightful medium up-tempo blues he’d written for one of our two cats, a stray we’d picked up, Blanche DuBois. It swings, and you can hear the satisfaction in Art’s voice as he reflects on pets and people. Then he stops to say that “We’re recording.” He says, “So. You might see some nervous things happen.” He’ll continue on this theme of his nerves in his onstage talk during the next two nights.
The second tune is one of my absolute favorites, Ophelia, written as Art says, about women. It was inspired by his obsessive, suicidal second wife, Diane. In turn, the song is wistful, raging, sweet again, so sweet! and so on, and Art carries that structure through into his solo. As does Milcho. Ophelia is complex but swings. It works well here and inspires Art to share his satisfaction with the audience, thanking them for showing up—for his own sake, of course, but his worries about any gig always included worries about the club-owner or the promoter. Art felt responsible; he had to earn his keep. At Ronnie’s, he played to packed houses every night for the two weeks the band performed there.
Then comes another favorite of mine: Make a List. It’s hard for me to listen to it without dancing. Art wrote it the previous September for his Galaxy album, Straight Life. I still remember how it blew me away when I first heard it. He had written it at home, as usual, sitting on the bed with some sports broadcast in the background on TV, and he debuted it at an L.A. club where Milcho played it perfectly at sight. No other pianist ever did that. It’s a tricky chart, and the great Tommy Flanagan had a terrible time with it at the Straight Life session. Listen to the assured “I’ve got all the time in the world” attitude with which Art’s solo begins and how it intensifies and catches fire. Milcho’s does the same. Art’s comment at the end reveals both how new the tune was and how much he liked playing it.
Art rarely played Milcho’s Sad a Little Bit, a pretty, hummable melody with an unusual flavor. It stays in your head. It sounds to me like an Eastern European samba. It sounds exactly like its name. It’s sad. But just a little. (It was here, at Ronnie’s, that Art and Milcho nearly came to blows. Art felt Milcho played too many notes behind him; Milcho, sick of being told to “lay out,” challenged Art. They reconciled, but it was the beginning of the end of their relationship.)
When I wrote, above, about Art’s bravery I was thinking of the next tune of the set, the Anthropology attempt. As a child he played the clarinet. Later he played it occasionally in bands and successfully on the Art Pepper Plus Eleven album (Contemporary) in ’59. But he hadn’t played it seriously for years when he started tootling around the house in 1978. Well, now here he is in London, 1980, on the spot and under pressure—as he will keep reminding us—picking up the clarinet! Both Chris and I had tried to talk him out of it, but he wouldn’t listen. And though the acoustics in Ronnie’s weren’t conducive, and he couldn’t hear himself, and had to put it down in the middle of the song (grabbing for the alto as if for a life raft), and though he tells the audience he was crazy to try and will never play the clarinet again, he will pick it up again tomorrow night and triumph playing In a Mellow Tone. (And he played the clarinet in concerts from then on, until he died.) At this point, he shrugs off what he sees as failure by strutting into funky: his tune Red Car. In Synanon, the drug treatment program where I met him, Art was playing tenor, and he really liked playing so-called jazz rock for dancing (Art disdained categories when it came to music). Red Car is a happy echo of those days. Milcho’s solo is terrific.
And then Art plays the blues. Art played a slow, a talking blues. In this one he just starts telling us about it, all of it; his life, this night, this set. As Milcho says of it, it’s raw and amazing. He said, “This is the top!” Art stutters, gasps, he laughs and moans, he squawks, he squeeks. He lets us have it, and so ends the set.
FRIDAY NIGHT: SET 2
Only a few people paid to see every set every night, so this is a new crowd for Art to impress, and he starts out, fresh, with a lighthearted, lively uptempo original blues which has had different names. Here it’s called Untitled #34. Art copied all his originals carefully in ink, inserted them into plastic page protectors, numbered them and put them in order into folders for each band member. He had a master list, and called tunes out by number. At least that was the plan. This blues just happened to be listed as #34 before it got a title. Later, Art named it for a Japanese producer, Yasuyuki Ishihara, Y.I. Blues.
After the tune and before his usual introduction of the band, Art treats the audience to a glimpse inside his extravagant imagination, his fears and worries. There’s a humming noise coming from a speaker. He says, it might be “fatal.” He tells us he’s making a record, saying anything he plays that isn’t perfect will come back to “haunt” him. Did he use these dire predictions as a goad, subconsciously, in hopes the energy he got from his anxiety would make him better? Or else magically protect him from the dangers he imagined? As his longtime producer Ed Michel said, Art was an adrenaline junkie. Fear and adrenaline are partners, right? Anyway, this morbid frame of mind leads him to A Song for Richard, written by his friend Joe Gordon who “died in a fire.”
This lovely song was frequently the second piece Art played in an average set. Art tended to start off basic, swinging (#34), then ease into something pretty but complex, multilayered, like Ophelia or something with a different beat: The Trip (6/8), or a Latin tune or waltz. But Art often prefaced Richard by telling his audience exactly how horribly Gordon—who nodded out with a lit cigarette (as Art had done, himself, innumerable times)—died in that fire at the age of 35. After a fraught opener, Art moves into an airy, happy space and pretty much stays there where Milcho joins him, adding just a little drama. The fours are wonderful, the mood is gentle, and Art won’t break it until the very end where he lets fly.
Art then talks about how much he loves Monk, even though, he remarks, his own writing may not reflect that influence. I don’t know about his writing. I think his playing does reflect it—often—with its shards and stops and implications. Then he goes all out for Rhythm-A-Ning, and his playing here maintains the Monkish style, and how it grooves! Milcho’s solo is spectacular, as well. Spectacular. What a terrific track.
The next tune is Rita San, and I adore it. Art named it after me when we’d given me a middle name. Something that I’d never had. I chose “Rita.” Later I realized that my first name and my brand-new middle name were now both unpronounceable by the Japanese, despite the “san.” Rita San represents a type of song Art called a “shuffle,” and which I think harked back to his teenaged days on “Central,” jamming in the black nightclub district of L.A. before the war. Junior Cat (The Trip: Contemporary) and Mr. Big Falls His J.G. Hand (One September Afternoon: Galaxy) were others. (A friend told me he heard Junior Cat played behind the action in a porno flick. That seems right.) The “shuffles” knock me out, but Art gave up on them, because no “modern” band could play them quite as slow and dirty as required. Anyway, this one starts too fast, so Art stops and counts it off again. It’s still too fast, but it’s still wonderful.
Almost every set Art ever played had at least one ballad set inside it like a jewel, and I’ve never heard him play one less than beautifully. I believe him to be the best ballad player in the world, ever. At least for me. Nobody else is as soulful and lyrical at the same time. Nobody else is, as Milcho said, as naked. Art doesn’t “play” a ballad. He speaks and sings our inarticulate hearts. This What’s New? is no exception.
The closer is a killer I’ll Remember April. From Milcho’s dashing intro on, the pace is dazzling, really fast, but it stays right in the pocket during the eights and fours and to the end, it doesn’t matter, it just swings like mad. This is so great, and you’re in for another astounding April during the second set, tomorrow night. Possibly because both performances ran long (really long for an uptempo tune, showing just how much Art enjoyed them), neither of these were issued by Mole.
And so Art says goodnight as only he can say it, “See you again. I hope.”
SATURDAY NIGHT: SET 1
New night, new blues, and Art saunters confidently into True Blues, swinging, grooving, giving us a real good time. He offers, in his perfect solo, a little downward pattern—with which he finally ends it. Milcho picks right up on that and uses it to go on into a Monkish series of lines and breaks, equally perfect, a nice start for the last night at Ronnie’s, the last night of recording. Afterward Art tells the new audience that “Tonight is going to happen.” He told me he could often tell, by how the first tune felt, whether it was going to be a good night or not. He felt good enough after this one to indulge, during the band intro, in one of his fantastic stories about how Milcho left Bulgaria. This is a good one—with some elements of truth.
Art introduces Ophelia by saying that there are certain things he wants to play but can’t. I refer you back to the beginning of this note and the possible meaning of this speech. But Ophelia was a tune Art often played at this position in the set, and now Mole had two takes to chose from. Two marvelous takes. I’ve said I love this tune. I love both takes, but this one maybe just a little better. So did Mole.
On the other hand, Mole chose Make a List from the first night. I’m nuts about the other, but I like this one best. That’s me you hear screaming in the audience after Art’s solo. And Milcho’s solo starts misterioso, with such lovely lines, and it’s wonderfully complete, a composition. I could listen to this track forever.
Because some other ballads were off limits, Art chooses Stardust here, and it’s lovely, but Art declares to the audience afterward, “We’ve got three out of four, so far,” saying that’s not a bad average for a ballplayer. This kind of talk shows how stringent Art’s demands on himself were (and how intensely competitive he was, how sports-oriented he was). I asked Milcho, whether, in saying that, Art was calling Stardust a failure. Milcho said he felt that Art, and in fact the whole band, was searching for something through that song and maybe couldn’t find it. Then, Milcho-like, he stated, “That’s what’s so great about it.” So is this a “walk to first”? The audience liked Stardust, fine, and so do I.
At the beginning of this repeat of Red Car Art raises the stakes, saying that if this version is any good they’ll name the album after it. “Do or die!” he declares. Dissatisfied with how the song is going, he stops, apologizes, starts again. He opens easy and then gets so funky while maintaining, all along, those crisp bop runs. Milcho’s solo is a pure delight. When it’s all over, Art, indirectly, tells us it was good: “Look for the album: Red Car!” In fact the tune wasn’t used on either Mole release. No other pianist captured the kind of rolling sound Art wrote into the chart for the piano (it’s all about a car!) as well as Milcho did.
Critics have said about Art’s performances of his original, Straight Life, that it’s amazing how fast Art plays it while keeping it so perfectly defined, so lucid. His stunning solo here shows just exactly what they mean. The whole thing is ridiculously fast, and pristine, gorgeous. Art uses this opportunity to plug our book, Straight Life, already on sale in the U.S.—with U.K. publication coming up.
The band has one set left. Art tells the crowd, “See you soon. Next time we’ll really get it together.”
SATURDAY NIGHT: SET 2
The last set is kicked off with another version of #34. Relaxed and swinging, it’s the one Mole used on their second release, the album that they called True Blues. Then, cheerily, Art starts reminiscing, and he tells the crowd, “This is our last night, and I’m already getting homesick.” He means homesick for this stint in London, Ronnie’s, and the cozy Indian hotel we stayed in on Great Russell Street (just above the left shoulder of the T-shirt on the cover of this album) and the sweet, welcoming crowds. He takes this opportunity to introduce Chris Fisherman as his friend and fellow convict at San Quentin. After that, perhaps because of Chris, he decides to play The Trip, a tune Art wrote in prison, which, he says, is not on Mole’s preferred playlist.
In Art’s day, in prison slang, a “trip” was a story. It was an escape. To me, this hypnotic tune has always seemed, unlike Art’s usual to-the-marrow-deep, emotive compositions, a true escape. It’s a voyage, moving, mostly lightly, on dark seas or in a camel caravan across the desert. Too fanciful? Oh well, this is my note, and that’s the way I feel about The Trip. (I told Art and Les Koenig, when I first heard it, it ought to be called “A Voyage to Byzantium.” They didn’t think that was a good idea, and now the memory makes me blush at my pretentiousness.) It’s meditative with occasional moments (during the bridge) which seem to talk about a destination. And there is a destination, and Art arrives there with a victorious, delectable finale. Those high-pitched shrieks out in the audience are mine, again. I’d been too nervous (right along with Art) to “comment” as I usually did, but now (along with Art) I knew that all was well. Art said he loved my screams of encouragement. You can hear him verbally prodding Milcho, much more quietly, of course, during Milcho’s solos.
When Art next speaks, he says he’s accident prone, and he displays his bandaged hand. (He probably did this particular damage with a razor blade, cutting up cocaine.) But a certain amount of gore, with Art, at crucial moments, seemed to be inevitable. For my own peace of mind and based on my experience with him, I devised a personal superstition that ‘the accidental shedding of blood before an enterprise’ was good luck. And this backs up my comment at the top about adrenaline: The harder something was to do, the greater the perceived obstacles, the harder Art strove. Sometimes I thought he made the obstacles himself. Unconsciously. It was simply more exciting for him to play an important session with fingers cut to the bone.
And then we come to April, again. It starts out so wonderfully, so swingingly in what Art called a montuno, a repetitive vamp which perfectly resolves into the boppy standard he always played so well and with so much joy. You can hear my screams of approval and pleasure during and after his solo. Milcho is inspired and playful, and the fours carry on in that delicious mood.
Goodbye comes next. Art first played that ballad at the Village Vanguard Sessions in 1977 (Contemporary)—as a grieving send-off for his old friend, Hampton Hawes, who’d just died. At the Vanguard and here, this ballad is easily the centerpiece of the session. Art at his best. And it’s obvious even Art thought it went well. That’s why he introduces the band at the end of it; he’s grateful to them—and to the composer, too: “It’s a great song,” he says. “A great song.”
Then with trepidation Art picks up his clarinet again. After what had happened Friday, he was scared. But like I said, he’s brave. And this time he’s successful. Art’s bald comments at the end are true. “Everybody told me not to play it.” He was pleased and proud.
He’s ready for the last tune of the evening, and you can hear me yelling in the background, interrupting him with “Play the blues!”
And so he does.
When he played the blues, Art went back. All the way back—to what he heard on “Central” growing up, a blues out of the South, out of Chicago, a peroration from the great black churches. He went back to his bitter, lurid childhood, to the wartime failure of his young romance, to the deaths of friends and all his own disasters. He also played his joys and dreams and pleasures, you can hear that in the funky honks and shimmering runs. If this album is a narrative, here’s the conclusion and a summing up, both musical and verbal. He goes back into his life, where fears are routed, and he triumphs. Here it is, he says. “The Twelve Bars of the Decade.” The twelve bars of a lifetime. Every time. And then, for the first time I ever heard him say it to an audience, he tells the rowdy, gracious, gathered Brits, “I love you all.”