Pepper, Art(hur Edward Jr.)

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Pepper, Art(hur Edward Jr.)

Pepper, Art(hur Edward Jr.), famed and troubled jazz alto and tenor saxophonist, clarinetist; b. Gardena, Calif., Sept. 1, 1925; d. Panorama City, Calif., June 1, 1982. His father was of German origin; his mother was Italian. He played jazz clarinet and alto saxophone in school bands; he got married at 17 and was drafted into the U.S. Army. He played with Gus Arnheim’s band as a teenager, but also frequently worked with black musicians on Central Avenue in Los Angeles. He joined Stan Kenton’s band (1946–52), where he made his first recordings. He made more records, sometimes under the punning pseudonym Art Salt, with Chet Baker and others, but his highly promising career was ruined by his demonic addiction to heroin and other narcotic drugs. He squandered his earnings and, in desperate need of expensive drugs, descended into thievery and brawls. He was busted in 1952 on narcotics charges, and served time in the Los Angeles County jail; he was paroled to the U.S. Public Health Service Hospital at Fort Worth (1953–54), but got in trouble again, and was sentenced to jail in Los Angeles from 1954 to 1956. After his release, he made numerous recordings with Warne Marsh, Red Garland, and others. Unable to control his habits, Pepper was arrested as a recidivist and sent to San Quentin, where he served from 1961–64 and, after another transgression, in 1965–66. Finally freed, he played with Buddy Rich’s Big Band (1968–69). From 1970–73, he was receiving treatment at the Synanon rehabilitation center, trying to kick his drug habit. In 1975, he returned to playing, working with Don Ellis. In 1977 and 1978, he completed two highly successful tours of Japan. His wife Laurie helped him to write Straight Life (1979), a brutally honest book, disturbing because at its end he had still not sworn off of drugs. He continued to record and tour until his death in 1982.

On such recordings as “What Is This Thing Called Love?” with Bill Perkins (1956), Pepper’s bright fresh sound and improvisational clarity were truly uplifting. His later style incorporated influences from Coltrane that sat uneasily with his “cool” sound. He was the subject of the 1981 film, Notes from a Jazz Survivor. A film documentary on Pepper’s life was presented at the Berlin Film Festival in 1982.


Surf Ride (1952); Rediscoveries (1952); Late Show: A Night at the Surf (1952); Early Show: A Night at the Surf (1952); Discoveries (1952); With Sonny Clark Trio, Vol. 1 (1953); Return of Art Pepper: Complete (1956); Complete Pacific Jazz Small Group Sessions (1956); Meets the Rhythm Section (1957); Plus Eleven (1959); Modern Jazz Classics (1959); Art Pepper + Eleven: Modern Jazz Classics (1959); Smack Up (1960); Intensity (1960); Gettin’ Together (1960); Art Pepper Quartet in San Francisco (1964); Living Legend (1975); I’ll Remember April: Live (1975); Trip (1976); Complete Village Vanguard Sessions (1977); Live in Japan, Vol. 1, 2 (1978); Complete Galaxy Recordings (1978); Art Pepper Today (1978); Among Friends (1978); Straight Life (1979); So in Love (1979); N.Y. Album (1979); Landscape (1979); Artworks (1979); One September Afternoon (1980); Winter Storm (1981); Roadgame (1981); Maiden Voyage Sessions (1981); Arthur’s Blues (1981); Art and Zoot (1981); Goin’ Home (1982).


Straight Life: The Story of Art Pepper (1979).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Music Master Jazz and Blues Catalogue/Lewis Porter