Art Pepper

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Art Pepper
Pepper in Los Angeles, 1979
Pepper in Los Angeles, 1979
Background information
Birth nameArthur Edward Pepper Jr.
Born(1925-09-01)September 1, 1925
Gardena, California, U.S.
DiedJune 15, 1982(1982-06-15) (aged 56)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
  • Saxophone
  • clarinet
Years active1946–1982

Arthur Edward Pepper Jr. (September 1, 1925 – June 15, 1982)[1] was an American alto saxophonist and very occasional tenor saxophonist and clarinetist. Active in West Coast jazz, Pepper came to prominence in Stan Kenton's big band. He was known for his emotionally charged performances and several stylistic shifts throughout his career, and was described by critic Scott Yanow as having "attained his goal of becoming the world's great altoist" at the time of his death.[2]

Early life[edit]

Art Pepper was born in Gardena, California, United States.[3] His mother was a 14-year-old runaway; his father, a merchant seaman. Both were violent alcoholics, and when Pepper was still quite young, he was sent to live with his paternal grandmother. He expressed early musical interest and talent, and he was given lessons. He began playing clarinet at nine, switched to alto saxophone at 13,[4] and immediately began jamming on Central Avenue, the black nightclub district of Los Angeles.


At the age of 17, he began playing professionally with Benny Carter and then became part of the Stan Kenton orchestra, touring with that band until he was drafted in 1943.[4] After the war, he returned to Los Angeles, and joined the Kenton Innovations Orchestra.[4] By the 1950s, Pepper was recognized as one of the leading alto saxophonists in jazz, finishing second only to Charlie Parker as Best Alto Saxophonist in the DownBeat 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 of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. Some of Pepper's best known albums from the 1950s are Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, Art Pepper + Eleven – Modern Jazz Classics, Gettin' Together, and Smack Up.[4] Other recordings from this time appear on The Aladdin Recordings (three volumes), The Early Show, The Late Show, Surf Ride, and Art Pepper with Warne Marsh (also issued as The Way It Was!), which features a session recorded with Warne Marsh.

His career was repeatedly interrupted by several prison stints stemming from his addiction to heroin,[4] but Pepper managed to have several productive "comebacks". 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 in 1982.

His last comeback saw Pepper, who had started his career in Stan Kenton's big band, becoming a member of Buddy Rich's Big Band from 1968 to 1969. After beginning methadone therapy in the mid-1970s, he toured Europe and Japan with his own groups and recorded many albums, mostly for Galaxy Records, a subsidiary of Fantasy Records., Pepper's later albums include Living Legend, Art Pepper Today, Among Friends, and Live in Japan.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Pepper lived for many years in the hills of Echo Park, in Los Angeles. He became 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.[1] While in San Quentin, he played in an ensemble with saxophonist Frank Morgan.[5] In the late 1960s, Pepper spent time in Synanon, a rehabilitation program that turned out to be a cult.

His autobiography,[6] Straight Life (1980, co-written with his third wife Laurie Pepper), discusses the jazz music world, as well as drug and criminal subcultures of mid-20th century California. Among the many anecdotes shared from his life, Pepper boasts of raping a woman while stationed in London during the Second World War (deserved, in his view, because he had shared whiskey and walked several miles with her).[7] Soon after the publication of this book, director Don McGlynn released the documentary film Art Pepper: Notes from a Jazz Survivor,[8] discussing his life and featuring interviews with both Art and his wife Laurie, as well as footage from a live performance in a Malibu jazz club. Laurie Pepper also released an interview to NPR.

Pepper died of a stroke in Los Angeles on June 15, 1982, aged 56.[6][9] He is interred in the Abbey of the Psalms Mausoleum in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood.


Stan Kenton, Eddie Safranski, Shelly Manne, Chico Alvarez, Ray Wetzel, Harry Betts, Bob Cooper, and Art Pepper (second from right), 1947 or 1948

As leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]


Published transcriptions:

  • Jazz Styles and Analysis: Alto Sax by Harry Miedema. Chicago, Fifth Printing, February 1979. Includes Broadway.
  • Straight Life: the Story of Art Pepper by Art Pepper and Laurie Pepper. New York and London, 1979. ISBN 0-02-871820-8. Includes the head of Straight Life.
  • Jazz 2: Sax Alto. Transcribed by John Robert Brown. International Music Publications, Woodford Green, Essex, 1986. ISBN 0-86359-408-5. Includes 'Round Midnight.
  • The Genius of Art Pepper. Foreword by Laurie Pepper. North Sydney, Warner/Chappell Music, 1987. ISBN 1-86362-012-5. Includes: Arthur's Blues; Blues for Blanche; Funny Blues; Landscape; Make a List Make a Wish; Mambo de la Pinta; Mambo Koyama; Mr Big Falls his J.G. Hand; Our Song; Road Game; September Song; Tete a Tete. All transcriptions include parts for Alto and Rhythm; Funny Blues also has a part for Trumpet.
  • Masters of the Alto Saxophone Play The Blues. Jazz Alto Solos. Transcribed by Trent Kynaston and Jonathan Ball. Corybant Productions, 1990. Includes True Blues.
  • The Art Pepper Collection. Foreword by Jeff Sultanof. Milwaukee, Hal Leonard, 1995. ISBN 0-7935-4007-0. Includes: Art's Oregano; Diane; Landscape; Las Cuevas de Mario; Make a List (Make a Wish); Mr. Big Falls his J.G. Hand; Ophelia; Pepper Returns; Sometime; Straight Life; Surf Ride(I); Surf Ride(II); That's Love; The Trip; Waltz Me Blues.
  • West Coast Jazz Saxophone Solos transcribed and edited by Robert A. Luckey, Ph.D. Features 15 recorded solos from 1952 to 1961, including five solos by Art Pepper. Olympia Music Publishing, 1996. ISBN 0-9667047-1-1.

Transcriptions available on the Internet:


A more extensive bibliography is issued by the Jazzinstitut Darmstadt

  • 1956 Art Pepper... Tells the Tragic Role Narcotics Played in Blighting His Career and Life by John Tynan. Downbeat, September 19, 1956, p. 16.
  • 1957 Art Pepper Quartet by John Tynan. Downbeat, May 16, 1957, p. 34.
  • 1960 Art Pepper: Profile of a Comeback by J. McKinney. Metronome, lxxvii, September 1960, p. 26.
  • 1960 The Return of Art Pepper by John Tynan. Downbeat, xxvii/8, 1960, p. 17.
  • 1960 End of the Road by John Tynan. Downbeat, xxvii/25, 1960, p. 13.
  • 1964 Art Pepper's not the Same by John Tynan. Downbeat, xxxi/22, 1964, p. 18.
  • 1965 "Jazz Discographies Unlimited" Presents "Art Pepper". A Complete Discography Compiled by Ernie Edwards, Jr. Ernie Edwards Jr. et al. Jazz Discographies Unlimited, Spotlight Series, Vol. 4. Oct . 1965. 22pp.
  • 1973 Art Pepper: 'I'm Here to Stay!' by C. Marra. Downbeat, xl/4, 1973, p. 16.
  • 1975 Pepper's Painful Road to Pure Art by L. Underwood. Downbeat, xlii/11, 1975, p. 16.
  • 1979 Straight Life: the Story of Art Pepper by Art Pepper and Laurie Pepper. New York and London, 1979. ISBN 0-02-871820-8. Includes a discography.
  • 1979 Art Pepper: Rewards of the Straight Life by P. Welding. Downbeat, xlvi/18, 1979, p. 16.
  • 1979 The Contemporary Art of Pepper by Chris Sheridan. Jazz Journal International, Vol. 32, No. 9, September 1979, p. 9.
  • 1979 The evolution of an individualist; Interview with Les Tomkins.
  • 1980 Art Pepper. Swing Journal, xxxiv/1, 1980, p. 162.
  • 1980 At Ronnie's; Interview with Les Tomkins.
  • 1980 A rich past, and a bright future; Interview with Les Tomkins.
  • 1981 New Fields Still to Conquer; Interview with Les Tomkins.
  • 1981 The Whiteness of the Wail by Gary Giddins, in Riding on a Blue Note. New York, O.U.P., 1981, pp. 252–257. (An article originally published in July 1977.)
  • 1986 Art Pepper: I Want to Play so Bad by David Nicholson Pepperell. Wire Magazine, Issue 28, June 1986, pp. 26–31.
  • 1986 Art Pepper, 1926-1982 by Gary Giddins, in Rhythm-a-ning: Jazz Tradition and Innovation in the 80s. New York, O.U.P., 1986, pp. 106–108. (An article originally published in June 1982.)
  • 1992 Straight Life by Ted Gioia, in West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960. New York and Oxford, O.U.P., 1992, pp. 283–307 (Chapter Fourteen). ISBN 0-19-508916-2.
  • 2000 The Art Pepper Companion: Writings on a Jazz Original by Todd Selbert. Cooper Square Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-8154-1067-6.
  • 2014* ART: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman" by Laurie Pepper. Arthur Pepper Music Corporation ISBN 978-1494297572
  • 2014* The Tale of the Tape by Lili Anolik. Harper's Magazine


  1. ^ a b Slonimsky, Nicolas; Theodore Baker (1992). Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Eighth Edition. New York, New York: Schirmer Books.
  2. ^ Yanow, Scott. "Art Pepper Biography". AllMusic. Archived from the original on August 22, 2016.
  3. ^ Dupuis, Robert. "Art Pepper." Contemporary Musicians: Profiles of the People in Music. Vol. 18. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1997. 164-67. Print.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Who's Who of Jazz (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 318. ISBN 0-85112-580-8.
  5. ^ "Frank Morgan On Piano Jazz". Retrieved July 30, 2017.
  6. ^ a b Straight Life: The Story Of Art Pepper by Art Pepper and Laurie Pepper, Da Capo Press (reprint of original 1979 book published by Schirmer Books, a division of MacMillan Publishing).
  7. ^ English, T. J. "Why Art Pepper's Straight Life Is Still the Most Harrowing Jazz Memoir Ever". JazzTimes. Retrieved April 11, 2022.
  8. ^ "Movie Review : Tales of Jazz Saxophonists". Retrieved July 30, 2017.
  9. ^ Giddins, Gary (October 19, 2000). Rhythm-a-ning: Jazz Tradition And Innovation. Da Capo Press. ISBN 9780306809873. Retrieved July 30, 2017 – via Google Books.

External links[edit]