© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Alun Morgan’s essay Art Pepper-Marty Paich Inc., originally appeared in the November 1960 issue of the Jazz Monthly magazine and was reprinted by permission in Todd Selbert, editor, The Art Pepper Companion, Writings on a Jazz Original [New York: Cooper Square Press, 2000].
Held in the highest esteem by the British Jazz community, Alun was a gentle and genteel person with many significant accomplishments as a Jazz writer and critic during his long career. The following article reveals delightful insights about Art, Marty and the nature of their working relationship and some startlingly revelations about Art’s preferences, not the least of which was his adulation of John Coltrane’s style of playing.
In 1960, Coltrane was not the legendary figure he would become later in the decade after the formation of his classic quartet with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones. He was criticized rather than revered by the majority of Jazz fans and Jazz critics and a relatively small number in the Jazz world held the view of his playing which Art expresses in very appreciative terms.
Sadly, Jazz fans would have to wait 15 years for Coltrane’s influence to manifest itself in Art’s playing as he would spend those years in prison.
Alun certainly doesn’t pull any punches in his appraisal of Art’s playing:
“For some years I have looked on Art Pepper as the greatest solo player in jazz since Charlie Parker and … Art Pepper + Eleven, which I cannot recommend too highly, merely reinforces that opinion.”
“In the spring of 1956 Marty Paich came to London as accompanist to Dorothy Dandridge. Raymond Horricks and I were fortunate enough to spend some time with Marty and this was my first "live" contact with the currently popular West Coast jazz movement. Identifying terms are convenient but invariably misleading and a great deal of misconception has arisen through this glib method of pigeon-holing. "West Coast jazz" eventually rebounded on its creators and developed into a term of derision in certain circles although, strictly speaking, the description covered the music of such California-based jazzmen as Kid Ory, Dexter Gordon, Earl Hines, Teddy Buckner and Maxwell Davis as well as Lennie Niehaus, Shorty Rogers and Shelly Manne.
A recession in jazz interest in the area during the late fifties has led to a reduction in the amount of work for men such as Bill Perkins, Niehaus, Russ Freeman, etc., but the stigma has remained. This bias is depressingly unfair, for it means that many collectors and critics have pre-judged new records bearing the "made in Los Angeles" tag. When this method of assessing value and importance is applied to the work of musicians such as Marty Paich, Art Pepper, Bill Perkins, Alvin Stoller, Charlie Mariano and Jack Sheldon it is time to call a halt so that a few critical blinkers might be removed.
Marty Paich, as I soon discovered, is a man with an acute awareness of tradition and a love of all that is good in jazz. He spoke to me with relish of his then recent engagement with Harry Edison and Buddy Rich and revealed an extensive knowledge of the first Basie band culled direct from Edison.
"When the band left Kansas City for New York in 1936," he remarked, "the book, the entire set of parts, travelled in Harry's trumpet case." His eyes glowed with pleasure at the thought of an orchestra which achieved so much largely on the strength of its head arrangements. Our conversation turned to a big band of more recent vintage, the fine orchestra put together by Shorty Rogers for the "Cool and Crazy" album (HMV DLP1030, Victor LPM1350).
Marty played piano on the two dates for the LP and had based the broad outline of his style on the orchestral keyboard work of the Count. "We used five trumpets," he said. "Four played the opening ensemble chorus first time round with Conrad Gozzo on lead. (You know, Gozzo's one of the greatest lead men of all time.) Then when we'd given the impression that that was our full power we repeated the passage but this time we brought in Maynard Ferguson doubling the lead an octave above. It was quite a sound." Art Pepper had been one of the featured soloists on the "Cool and Crazy" LP and gradually we found ourselves talking of Pepper who, at the time of our conversation, was serving a sentence for narcotic addiction.
Pepper had long been a particular favourite of mine (the only Kenton records I ever bought have been the ones with solos by Art) and I was anxious to learn of his whereabouts. Marty spoke at length and with obvious warmth about the alto player, regretting his absence from the Los Angeles circle at a time when there was so much work for jazz musicians and bemoaning the circumstances which had ensnared this superb soloist. It became obvious that Paich's love for Pepper's music was enormous.
Some months after Marty returned home I was surprised and delighted to learn of Art Pepper's release and I guessed that Paich's reactions would be the same. Within weeks of his reappearance Art had recorded an LP with Marty (Tampa TP28, London LZ-U14040) and it seemed that the Old Firm was back in business. Since that date Paich has worked and recorded with Pepper on a number of occasions but the surprising truth of the matter is that Art has found difficulty in breaking into the circle of musicians commanding the studio jobs and jazz club engagements.
Down Beat dated April 14, 1960, carried a revealing feature on Pepper (the author was uncredited) which contained the information that at the beginning of 1959 Art was selling piano-accordions, complete with lessons on the instrument, to make a living. Less than three years before it seemed that Pepper was destined for a triumphant re-entry into the jazz world which had, in 1949, 1951, 1952, 1953 and 1954, placed him amongst the leading three or four alto saxists in referendums [polls] organised by Metronome magazine.
A relatively brief spell of recording activity during 1957 and the latter half of 1956 left him high and dry. Warding off the narcotic peddlers who thought he might be easy meat having once experienced this deadly and easy way of nullifying frustrations, hardly helped matters, and the accordion-selling job seemed the only way he could earn a living for Diane (his wife) and himself. "It's true I was pretty disinterested in music at that time," he told Down Beat, "But I began to put down the music rather than the circumstances. The guy who really made me want to play again was John Coltrane. The fact that he'd come up with an original style struck me strongly. In the past there was Pres, then Charlie Parker. Now there's Coltrane. He starts playing and just flows through the rhythm. And I like his sound. Many people object to his sound, they say it's too rough and hard. Not me. He plays an awful lot of notes but as beautifully as anyone ever played. The way he plays with a chord and with scales is really remarkable."
When his interest in music was rekindled by Coltrane, Pepper cast about for a job in which he could get back to the music he loved. Strangely enough the only offer seemed to come from a rock and roll unit playing at a club in San Fernando Valley. "This was an authentic rock and roll band," he insists. "Most of the guys were from Shreveport, Louisiana, and they didn't fool around with the music. I began to dig music again from working with them. Because they really felt it. The music swung." Pepper was not the first to discover the importance of the rhythm and blues group to the jazz musician.
Most of the leading soloists of today have come up through the ranks of r. and b. bands, bands in which the beat is important and the projection of the solo voice above a strongly riffing background leads to a tone and volume control which can never be achieved through working only with small jazz groups. By the middle of 1959 Art was anxious to get back into jazz proper and he jumped at the chance to join Bud Shank's new quartet at the Drift Inn at Malibu for week-end engagements. Soon afterwards he was signed up as a full-time member of the Lighthouse club band along with Conte Candoli, Vince Guaraldi, Bob Cooper and drummer Nick Martinis.
Yet a man of his stature should be in a position to command a higher salary and to reckon on a fairly steady supply of day jobs in radio and television studios. "The truth is," Art confessed to the Down Beat reporter, "Marty Paich is the only leader in town who has called me for record dates, and who still does whenever he records. Even if he has an arrangement, say, on a vocal album with all strings, he'll even write in an alto part for me to blow on." About Pepper, Marty replies, "There's no-one else I would rather write for because the minute he hears the background, he makes an immediate adjustment to the arrangement. Art never stops listening to what's happening in the background; in reverse, it's like a pianist working with a singer."
The finest collaborative work featuring Pepper and Paich is the album entitled "Art Pepper plus Eleven: Modern Jazz Classics" (Vogue LAC 12229, American Contemporary M3568) recorded at three sessions in March and May, 1959. Art and Marty chose twelve outstanding jazz compositions dating from the 1944-vintage 'Round about midnight to Sonny Rollins's 1954 Airegin by way of Move, Groovin' high, Opus de funk, Four brothers, Shaw 'nuff, Bernie's tune, Walkin' shoes, Anthropology, Walkin' and Donna Lee.
Paich used a modified version of 'Dek-tette'-type instrumentation to support Pepper, the 'Dek-tette' being itself a development of the famous Miles Davis band. Marty was fortunate to have the services of Bob Enevoldsen, for this versatile musician was at home either on valve-trombone or tenor sax, thus giving the arranger the choice of five brass and three saxes or four brass and four reeds. Pepper played clarinet on one number (Anthropology), alto on seven, tenor on three, and both alto and tenor on one. An excellent transcription of the original Woody Herman sound was achieved on Four Brothers when Pepper played lead tenor in a sax section completed by Enevoldsen and Richie Kamuca, also on tenors, and Med Flory on baritone.
Rarely in jazz can there have been more sympathy between arranger and soloist or a greater affinity of purpose. I must disagree wholeheartedly with the review of the record which appeared in this magazine for it contained the misleading statement, "in view of the lack of stimulating rapport between soloist and accompaniment here one feels that Art Pepper meets the rhythm section (Vogue-Contemporary LAC12066) remains this artist's best record."
This is one of those cases (by no means rare in jazz criticism) when the reverse is actually the truth. Vogue LAC12066 features Pepper with Miles Davis's rhythm section (Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones); Art had never played with the rhythm section before and there are a number of occasions on the LP when the quartet seems to be heading in two directions at once. Philly Joe, for example, is such a strong individualist that there are few groups in which he can play his part to maximum effect; his trick of doubling the tempo for no apparent reason (it seems to take control of him like a nervous twitch) appears to surprise and annoy Pepper. Chambers's habit of playing a kind of running solo also runs counter to the
ideas of the alto saxist who had previously enjoyed the superior class playing of Ben Tucker or Leroy Vinnegar in his rhythm sections.
Most jazz enthusiasts (and surely all musicians) hearing Art Pepper plus eleven will sense at once the stimulating rapport between arranger and soloist, a truth which is borne out by the statements appearing in the Down Beat article. "I feel the situation between Art and myself is similar to that between Miles Davis and Gil Evans" stated Paich. "We understand each other. I've played with him long enough to understand his feelings. Because Art's usually recorded with a quartet or similar group, I tried to write for the Eleven album in a manner that would make him feel that he was playing with a small band."
Marty expands the argument on the sleeve to the LP: "I wanted to give him a different kind of inspiration than he's been used to with just a quartet behind him. I wanted Art to feel the impact of the band, and I thought this setting would spur him to play differently than usual — though still freely within his natural style. And it did. Art and I have always thought very much alike. I couldn't have asked for a more compatible soloist." Pepper's agreement is implicit in his statement: "Seems like everything I've ever done with Marty came out good — from the first quartet we did on the Tampa label. He writes very interestingly — just listen to the latest album — and it always swings. That Eleven album is written with a lot of taste, and the voicing is excellent. Between him and me, it's a feeling . . . Like, some people make it together and some don't. We do."
Paich's writing for the Eleven album is something of a high-spot in a consistently excellent arranging career. A knowledge of, and love for, the subject matter has meant that each number is not only treated with respect but with circumspection. On Groovin' high, for example, Marty has transcribed Parker's solo from the original Musicraft record and handed it to the saxes to play as a section; Jeru makes its appearance, in part, as an ensemble figure towards the end of Walkin’ shoes while the opening half chorus of Donna Lee captures the spirit and hope inherent in the music of Parker's quintet.
The attention to detail not only in the writing but also in the playing means that Pepper has been given a series of springboards from which to launch himself into inspired solo passages, and the scoring of Groovin' high, Airegin and Anthropology in particular boosts Art up into the clouds. Always a lyrical, passionate player, Pepper is heard at his best on Groovin' high where his sense of occasion stands him in good stead. Stylistically he descends from an admixture of Parker, Lee Konitz and Benny Carter and the singing quality of his improvised lines would do credit to Carter or Lester Young.
Alto remains his most effective instrument, the one on which he seems best able to communicate his thoughts, but his tenor playing in this album indicates that he could also become a major voice on the larger saxophone. His clarinet feature, Anthropology, is a revelation, for it is the first clarinet playing in the modern idiom I have heard which is warm-toned and free-swinging. "Art Pepper is probably one of the most dedicated musicians I know," maintains Paich. "He just lives for his horn." It is certainly true that he immerses himself in his music whenever he is called upon to solo. There is never a feeling of superficiality nor insincerity but always an impression of deep-seated emotion and a desire to get at the truth.
In recent months I have read full-page advertisements in American magazines calling attention to "soul" music which, if I have read the announcements correctly, is the prerogative of the Riverside and Prestige record companies. I am not sure of the exact meaning of "soul music" in this context but it seems to comprise a crude, insincere imitation of Negro gospel diluted with a generous helping of the vastly overrated Ray Charles.
The result is more contrived than the most extreme examples of Illinois Jacquet's crowd-rousing screams. My conception of music which has heartfelt emotion or soul is the kind of jazz produced by trumpeter Joe Thomas or Art Pepper, for both these men play with a simple directness and poetic lyricism. Pepper can, and does, play the blues with more conviction than many of his so-called "soul" brothers and I would recommend in particular his Blues out from Score SLP4030, an extended performance on alto backed only by Ben Tucker's bass.
Unfortunately the hippies of this world are not likely to accept Pepper at his true value for, not to put too fine a point on it, Art, in their eyes, is not only resident on the wrong coast but is of the wrong colour. This is one of the fundamental injustices which no amount of preaching will put to rights, nevertheless my aim in writing this brief appraisal of an outstanding record is an attempt to set things in their correct perspective.
Art Pepper plus eleven is a superb album in every way. Not only does it showcase one of the really important soloists of our times but it focuses attention on one of jazz's brightest arrangers. It also indicates that Jack Sheldon, who shares the solo space with Pepper, is potentially the best of the newer jazz trumpeters resident in California and that Mel Lewis is a drummer with an enviable sense of timing and a Don Lamond-like approach to big band work. Further, it revives at least four masterpieces of a decade or so ago, tunes which are likely to retain their validity long after many of today's "originals" are forgotten. For some years I have looked on Art Pepper as the greatest solo player in jazz since Charlie Parker and this present LP, which I cannot recommend too highly, merely reinforces that opinion.”