ELEMENTAL MUSIC AND WIDOW’S TASTE MUSIC PRESENT
ART PEPPER LIVE AT FAT TUESDAY’S
Previously unissued, remastered CD by alto sax great Art Pepper from an April, 1981 engagement at New York’s iconic jazz club out November 20, 2015
Detailed booklet includes interviews, essays from Stepháne Ollivier, Steve Getz, Brian Priestly, John Koenig, and Laurie Pepper
Art Pepper Live at Fat Tuesday’s features five extended live performances at the famed New York jazz club from the spring of 1981, Pepper’s most fertile period since his re-emergence onto the music scene in the mid-1970s, after years in prison and rehabilitation from drug addiction. Recorded April 15, 1981, the session featured Pepper flanked by a rhythm section composed of Pepper’s long-time associate, pianist Milcho Leviev, and two all-star guests, bassist George Mraz and drummer Al Foster.
Due out November 20, 2015 on Elemental Music (distributed in the U.S. by INgrooves), the package contains a 40-page booklet that includes: noted jazz historian and author Brian Priestley’s lengthy and probing 1980 interview with Pepper; an essay by French music scholar and journalist Stéphane Ollivier; producer Zev Feldman’s interview with Pepper’s widow, Laurie Pepper, who not only was her husband’s muse and closest collaborator, but who had vivid memories of the Fat Tuesday’s dates; a personal recollection by jazz producer John Koenig; and a first-person account by Fat Tuesday’s general manager, Steve Getz, of Pepper’s engagement at the club, as well as previously unpublished photographs by Laurie Pepper. The set will be available on CD and digital download.
According to producer Zev Feldman, the release of this album is a real stroke of luck; it could easily never have seen the light of day. Feldman explains, “In January of 2015, I received a phone call from Elemental’s CFO, Carlos Augustin, who informed me that label owner Jordi Soley had located a collector’s tape of Art Pepper recorded live at New York’s iconic jazz club, Fat Tuesday’s, in April of 1981.” The discovery of a previously unheard Art Pepper recording was a thrilling prospect for Elemental’s president, Jordi Soley, and for Feldman; Art Pepper is one of their absolute favorite jazz artists. Feldman continues, “I’ve been an Art Pepper fan since my early 20s when I was just starting my career in the music business and I discovered and was awestruck by his late-’70s to early ‘80s recordings.”
When Feldman learned of the existence of the tape and Soley and his team at Elemental had negotiated with Laurie Pepper to make it an official release, he determined to build the best album package possible to celebrate Pepper’s memory.
One of Feldman’s first moves was to bring in jazz producer John Koenig, who had worked with Pepper in the ‘70s, as an executive producer to work with Feldman on the album package and to bring to the project his memories of Art as a musician and as a man. And Feldman and the Elemental team assembled an outstanding array of voices, not only to place Pepper in historical perspective, but also to try to place listeners inside Fat Tuesday’s as the recording was made.
The recordings that make up this set, presented by Elemental Music and Widow’s Taste, represent Art Pepper — in his latest period — at his artistic peak. Having the benefit of a superb and sympathetic rhythm section, and in the intimacy of the leading New York jazz club whose management prided itself on creating a comfortable atmosphere for musicians so they could be at their best, Pepper was able to reach deep and produce some of his finest performances yet to be heard on record.
As Priestley has noted, “As with all of the major jazz soloists, the power of [Art] Pepper’s music outlives the circumstances in which it was created.” Art Pepper was an artist whose music embodied both transcendent beauty and powerful swing. His recorded output is celebrated decades after his death as art of the highest order. And the 1981 live engagement at Fat Tuesday’s in New York City that is presented on this album is among his finest recordings.
Pepper’s regrets regarding his own drug abuse are underscored in a poignant passage from the Priestley interview included in this album, in which Pepper recalled a conversation he had with one of his most important musical heroes, John Coltrane:
[We] [Pepper and Coltrane] became very good friends, and he told me, “You were given a gift by God, and to just ruin it by being a junkie, it’s really a crime. It wasn’t given to you just for your own selfish reason, it was given to you so that you could give it to the other people.” He had went through all those things and stopped, and that’s why he practiced continuously. And he said, “You’re a great player,” and that was the greatest compliment I’ve ever gotten in my life, for John Coltrane to say that. Because he is an idol of mine. So now I’m trying to give it.
Pianist Milcho Leviev, from Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second-largest city, is not only a pianist, but a noted composer and arranger in both jazz and classical music. In the early 1970s, Leviev relocated to Los Angeles. He encountered Art Pepper in the Don Ellis Orchestra, where Leviev served as pianist and arranger. Leviev has also performed and recorded with John Klemmer, Roy Haynes, Dave Holland, Gerald Wilson and Jack Sheldon. In the early ‘80s, he was one of the founders of the band Free Flight.
Virtuoso Czech bassist George Mraz was a member of Oscar Peterson’s group, and has worked with Pepper Adams, Stan Getz, Michel Petrucciani, Stephane Grappelli, Tommy Flanagan, Jimmy Raney, Chet Baker and many other important jazz musicians. Mraz is featured prominently on Pepper’s legendary 1977 Village Vanguard recordings on Contemporary Records featuring Pepper, Mraz, pianist George Cables and drummer Elvin Jones.
Drummer Al Foster has been closely associated with Miles Davis, both during the 1970s and in the early ‘80s, when Davis returned to music after a hiatus of several years. Foster has also worked with a virtual Who’s Who of jazz: from Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson and Cannonball Adderley, to Freddie Hubbard, Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver and many others. This is the only recording on record of Foster with Pepper.
“Rhythm-a-ning,” by Thelonious Monk, first appeared on the 1957 Riverside album Mulligan Meets Monk. It’s an angular yet rollicking, up-tempo groove based on so-called rhythm changes, which is to say, the chord changes of George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm.” The track begins at a high energy level with several choruses of melodic solos that even hark back to Art’s earliest saxophone influence, Lester Young. The urgent instrumental tone, though, is definitely early 1980s rather than mid-1950s and, after the first three minutes of the six-minute solo, there are instances of more distorted tones, sudden flurries and isolated use of upper-register screams.
Cole Porter’s 1929 song “What Is This Thing Called Love?” has become a jazz standard. Here, Pepper takes it at a medium tempo, with avant-garde elements appearing from early on, integrated into passages that still harken back to the familiar Pepper sound heard earlier in his recorded output.
Benny Goodman used Gordon Jenkins’s 1935 composition “Goodbye” as the closing theme for his orchestra. Pepper had a great affinity for it and his approach is, as it always was when he played it, to take it as a very slow ballad full of moodiness and lyricism. This is typical of Pepper’s approach to ballads, where he was always at his finest and most expressive.
“Make a List, Make a Wish” and “Red Car” are both compositions by Pepper. “Make a List, Make a Wish” is a typical modular/angular Pepper line that falls into a gospel-ish groove reminiscent of other tunes of the ’60s and ’70s like “Compared to What” as recorded by Les McCann and Eddie Harris.
“Red Car” is a Pepper composition he first recorded on The Trip in 1976. It’s a funk-gospel-infused, medium-tempo blues variant with a groove not unlike “Make a List, Make a Wish,” and gives all of the members of the band a chance to stretch out and play freely and without inhibition.
Art Pepper Live at Fat Tuesday’s is attractively designed by Burton Yount, who has created the artwork for many major jazz album packages, including Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane Live at Carnegie Hall, Wes Montgomery’s Echoes of Indiana Avenue and Bill Evans’ Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate for Resonance records.