Laurie Pepper with Art wrote ‘Straight Life’ the searing account of Art’s life. Long acknowledged as one of the most important books about the jazz life, the book details the depths and the renaissance of one of the greatest saxophone players after Charlie Parker.
Laurie shares some thoughts about the Maiden Voyage recordings
You have wanted for some time for the complete Maiden Voyage records to be issued. Why are they so important?
I believe these sessions feature Art at the absolute peak of his later career. He’s playing his own charts with a band that he’s completely happy with (as you pointed out, especially with George). And it’s a band who KNEW the charts and had played. Them so often they were almost psychic — how they communicated within them. And it’s a live recording. He was always at his best live.
You have been fierce in your love of Art’s music. What is the wellspring of that love?
Damn! It’s profoundly emotional, beautiful, exciting music. For me more so than anybody else’s (except maybe. Lester Young’s).
What continues to drive you?
Do you ever feel that you have sacrificed yourself in your quest to promote Art’s work?
Au contraire mon vieux! Art was the person who gave me the opportunity to do what I was driven to do all my life. Straight Life was what I was prepared by all my reading and living to do. I was able to appreciate it completely and to make Art’s stories into that book.
In your notes to the Maiden Voyage collection, you describe instances of black musicians denigrating Art. Was there, or is there, a black/white issue in jazz?
At some point in the future a writer will attempt to write a definitive biography of Art. What advice would you give to that writer?
I think Art did that job already. What more would anybody else say? Maybe a musically technically historically detailed biography?
When you chose musicians to work with Art, what criteria did you use?
How much Art liked them, how much I did. And whether they were available. We were lucky.
Describe a musical occasion with Art that you remember with particular pleasure.
I describe that in Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman. It was the day in Nice when Art and I danced (behind the bandstand) to Bob Crosby’s Bobcats, and he told me about the drummer’s contribution to jazz.
Was Art conscious of limited time, how did it affect his playing?
He was desperate to make up for the lost years, and recognition was important. He knew how good he was. He wanted everybody else to know it.
What do you consider is Art’s unique gift to jazz?
Emotional depth. Beauty. And, always, swing and funk.
For more information visit Laurie’s website.
To read our review of The Complete Maiden Voyage Recordings click here