Art Pepper (Arthur Edward Pepper Jr., Gardena, California, September 1, 1925 – Los Angeles, California, June 15, 1982), was an American alto saxophonist.
He began his career in the 1940s, playing with Benny Carter and Stan Kenton (1946-52). By the 1950s Pepper was recognized as one of the leading alto saxophonists in jazz, epitomized by his finishing second only to Charlie Parker as Best Alto Saxophonist in the Down Beat magazine Readers Poll of 1952. Along with Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan and Shelly Manne, and perhaps due more to geography than playing style, Pepper is often associated with the musical movement known as West Coast jazz, as contrasted with the East Coast (or "hot") jazz associated with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Pepper was a member of Buddy Rich's Big Band from 1968 to 1969, and in 1977 and 1978 made two well received tours of Japan.
Perhaps most famous for his recurring legal transgressions, stemming from his addiction to heroin, Pepper had several memorable and productive "comebacks" throughout his career. Remarkably, his substance abuse and legal travails did not affect the quality of his recordings, which maintained a high level of musicianship throughout his career until his death from a brain hemorrhage.
Examples of Pepper's most famous albums from this period are Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, Art Pepper + Eleven - Modern Jazz Classics, Gettin' Together, and Smack Up. Representative music from this time appears on The Aladdin Recordings (three volumes), The Early Show, The Late Show, The Complete Surf Ride, and The Way It Was!, which features a session recorded with Warne Marsh.
Pepper lived for many years in the hills of Echo Park, in Los Angeles. He had become a heroin addict in the 1940s, and his career was interrupted by drug-related prison sentences in 1954–56, 1960-61, 1961-64 and 1964-65; the final two sentences were served in San Quentin. In the late 1960s Pepper spent time in Synanon, a drug rehabilitation group.
After beginning methadone therapy in the mid-1970s, Art had a musical comeback and recorded a series of highly acclaimed albums. Albums from this later period include Living Legend, Art Pepper Today, Among Friends, and Live in Japan: Vol. 2.
His autobiography, Straight Life (1980) (transcribed by his third wife Laurie Pepper), is a unique exploration into the jazz music world, as well as drug and criminal subcultures of mid-20th century California. The documentary film Art Pepper: Notes from a Jazz Survivor, available on DVD, devotes much space to music from one of his late groups featuring pianist Milcho Leviev. There is also an interview with Laurie Pepper available on NPR.
Despite a remarkably colorful and difficult life, Art Pepper was quite consistent in the recording studios; virtually every recording he made is well worth getting. In the 1950s he was one of the few altoists (along with Lee Konitz and Paul Desmond) that was able to develop his own sound despite the dominant influence of Charlie Parker. During his last years, Pepper seemed to put all of his life's experiences into his music and he played with startling emotional intensity.
After a brief stint with Gus Arnheim, Pepper played with mostly black groups on Central Avenue in Los Angeles. He spent a little time in the Benny Carter and Stan Kenton orchestras before serving time in the military (1944-1946). Some ofPepper's happiest days were during his years with Stan Kenton (1947-1952), although he became a heroin addict in that period. The 1950s found the altoist recording frequently both as a leader and a sideman, resulting in at least two classics (Plays Modern Jazz Classics and Meets the Rhythm Section), but he also spent two periods in jail due to drug offenses during 1953-1956. Pepper was in top form during his Contemporary recordings of 1957-1960, but the first half of his career ended abruptly with long prison sentences that dominated the 1960s. His occasional gigs between jail terms found him adopting a harder tone influenced byJohn Coltrane that disturbed some of his longtime followers. He recorded with Buddy Rich in 1968 before getting seriously ill and rehabilitating at Synanon (1969-1971). Art Pepper began his serious comeback in 1975 and the unthinkable happened. Under the guidance and inspiration of his wife Laurie, Pepper not only recovered his former form but topped himself with intense solos that were quite unique; he also enjoyed occasionally playing clarinet. His recordings for Contemporary and Galaxy rank with the greatest work of his career. Pepper's autobiography Straight Life (written with his wife) is a brutally honest book that details his sometimes horrifying life. When Art Pepper died at the age of 56, he had attained his goal of becoming the world's great altoist.
Biography by Scott Yanow - Source: allmusic
Watch and listen the videos: The Return of Art Pepper, Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section,