Archive for April 2nd, 2015

Part 3 in a series of blog posts by guest editor Mr. Ewy, in which he shares with us some of his favorite things.

Art Pepper was a sexual deviant. A convict. A cult member. A junkie. And those are his good traits. But man, that cat could blow!  He was born in 1925 in California.  His mother was a 14 year old runaway, his father a merchant marine.  Perhaps to escape his lot in life, he began playing saxophone at the ripe age of 13 and was soon gigging in the black nightclub district of Los Angeles.

He is often lumped in with the “Cool Jazz” scene of California, but really, his sound owes more to the Kansas City via New York sound of such virtuosos as Lester “Prez” Young and Charlie Parker. He had an incredible improvisational bent and a tone that is still one of the best.  In between bouts of rehab and jail, he produced one of the my favorite jazz records of all time, “Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section.”

Origin stories differ around this classic album.  Reportedly he played on a broken saxophone with reeds that weren’t his own. In Straight Life, Pepper purports that he hadn’t played in six months. The album liner notes say it was two, and other recordings he made around the same time, probably place it at five days. Regardless, it should be enjoyed on its own merits as an album with nary a note gone astray.

One thing that we do know as fact is that the rhythm section in question was Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones.  Heard of them before? Probably because they were the rhythm section for the Miles Davis (another junkie) Quintet… and they showed up to play on that day. Some of the improv fills by the rhythm section are just as good as the improvs by Pepper himself. Listen to the interplay between Pepper’s sax and the brushes of Philly Joe Jones if you want to hear a tight rhythm section in action.

My favorite track is his rendition of Cole Porter’s “You’d be So Nice To Come Home To” (for another great rendition, check Chet Baker’s – one more junkie). One reason I love it so is because even though I had a tin ear and no rhythm, I once wanted to be a jazz saxophonist. My amazing teacher Kevin Burner had me transcribe the entire solo, note by note. I have an appreciation of the song beyond the ordinary and still find myself fingering along when I listen to it.

But back to Art. His was a fascinating life, even though tragic. His book Straight Life is another masterpiece and one that I have read several times. His account of being a musician, junkie, convict, cult member, and ultimately caring husband, is unrelenting and, often time shocking. I read it every couple of years as a reminder of the thin line between genius and madness.

Another thing about Art. Man, that cat could dress! Look at his get up on the cover of “Meets the Rhythm Section”. That color combo tho… the pink shirt, the tan patterned sportcoat combined with the brass of his sax is just stunning especially in relationship to the background. He must have liked that outfit as it is also the one on the original printing of his book. Look at other pictures of him and you can see that his style wasn’t just limited to music.


Don’t trust me?  Just listen to the album on Spotify.  Better yet, buy it on vinyl, place the needle on the record, have a scotch and experience a singular work of art for the first time.

Ben Ewy is a gentleman of fortune and bon vivant living and working in Ann Arbor, MI. Follow more of his exploits on Instagram @benewy


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