Art Pepper

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Art Pepper
Art Pepper.jpg
Pepper in Los Angeles, 1979
Background information
Birth name Arthur Edward Pepper, Jr.
Born (1925-09-01)September 1, 1925
Gardena, California, United States
Died June 15, 1982(1982-06-15) (aged 56)
Los Angeles, California, United States
Genres Jazz, cool jazz, West Coast jazz, bebop, mainstream jazz, hard bop, post-bop
Occupation(s) Saxophonist, clarinetist, composer
Instruments Alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, clarinet
Years active 1946-1982
Labels Fantasy Records
Associated acts Stan Kenton, Shorty Rogers, Hoagy Carmichael, Buddy Rich, Johnny Griffin, Elvin Jones, Freddie Hubbard, Zoot Sims, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones, Mel Lewis, Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb, Billy Higgins

Arthur Edward Pepper, Jr. (September 1, 1925 – June 15, 1982)[1] was an American alto saxophonist and clarinetist.

Early life[edit]

Art Pepper was born in Gardena, California, on September 1, 1925.[2] His mother was a 14-year-old runaway; his father, a merchant seaman. Both were violent alcoholics, and when Art 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 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. After the war he returned to Los Angeles and joined the Kenton Innovations Orchestra. 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 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 of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. Some of Pepper's most famous albums from the 1950s 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.

His career was repeatedly interrupted by several prison stints stemming from his addiction to heroin, but Pepper managed to have several memorable and 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 from a brain hemorrhage 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. During the mid-1970s and early 1980s he toured Europe and Japan with his own groups and recorded dozens of albums, mostly for Fantasy Records.

Personal life[edit]

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.[1] While in San Quentin he played in an ensemble with saxophonist Frank Morgan.[3] 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 albums including Living Legend, Art Pepper Today, Among Friends, and Live in Japan: Vol. 2.

His autobiography,[4] 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. Soon after the publication of this book, the director Don McGlynn released the documentary film Art Pepper: Notes from a Jazz Survivor,[5] discussing his life and featuring interviews with both Art and his wife Laurie, as well as footage from a live performance in 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.[4][6] 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]

  • 1951 Popo - w/ Shorty Rogers (Xanadu, 1980)
  • 1952 The Early Show (Xanadu, 1976; reissued as A Night at the Surf Club, Vol. 1)
  • 1952 The Late Show (Xanadu, 1980; reissued as A Night at the Surf Club, Vol. 2)
  • 1952 Surf Ride (Savoy)
  • 1952 Art Pepper: Sonny Redd (Savoy)
  • 1953 Art Pepper Quartet: Volume 1 (Time Is)
  • 1954 Art Pepper Quintet (Discovery)
  • 1956 Val's Pal (VSOP)
  • 1956 The Art Pepper Quartet (Tampa/OJC)
  • 1956 The Artistry of Pepper (Pacific Jazz)
  • 1956 Art Pepper with Warne Marsh (Victor; aka The Way it Was!, Contemporary)
  • 1956 Chet Baker & Art Pepper "Playboys" (Pacific Jazz)
  • 1957 Show Time (Japanese rel.)
  • 1957 Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section (Contemporary/OJC)
  • 1957 The Art of Pepper, Vol. 1–3 (Blue Note, VSOP)
  • 1957 Mucho Calor (Much Heat) (Andex/VSOP/TOFREC)
  • 1958 The Art Pepper: Red Norvo Sextet (Score)
  • 1959 Art Pepper + Eleven - Modern Jazz Classics (Contemporary/OJC)
  • 1959 Two Altos (Savoy)
  • 1960 Gettin' Together (Contemporary/OJC)
  • 1960 Smack Up (Contemporary/OJC)
  • 1960 Intensity (Contemporary/OJC)
  • 1962 Chet Baker & Art Pepper "Picture of Heath" (Pacific Jazz)
  • 1963 Pepper/Manne (Charlie Parker)
  • 1964 Art Pepper Quartet in San Francisco (1964) [live] (Fresh Sound)
  • 1968 Art Pepper Quintet : Live at Donte's 1968 (1968) [live] (Fresh Sound)
  • 1975 Garden State Jam Sessions [live] (Lone Hill Jazz)
  • 1975 I'll Remember April : Live at Foothill College (Storyville)
  • 1975 Living Legend (Contemporary/Original Jazz Classics)
  • 1976 The Trip (Contemporary/OJC)
  • 1977 A Night in Tunisia [live] (Storyville)
  • 1977 Tokyo Debut [live] (Galaxy)
  • 1977 No Limit (Contemporary)
  • 1977 Thursday Night at the Village Vanguard [live] (Contemporary)
  • 1977 Friday Night at the Village Vanguard [live] (Contemporary)
  • 1977 Saturday Night at the Village Vanguard [live] (Contemporary)
  • 1977 More for Les at the Village Vanguard [live] (Contemporary)
  • 1977 San Francisco Samba [live] (Contemporary)
  • 1978 Live in Japan, Vol. 1: Ophelia (Storyville)
  • 1978 Live in Japan, Vol. 2 (Storyville)
  • 1978 Among Friends (Discovery)
  • 1978 Art Pepper Today (Original Jazz Classics)
  • 1978 Birds and Ballads (Galaxy)
  • 1979 So in Love (Artists House)
  • 1979 New York Album (Original Jazz Classics)
  • 1979 Artworks (Galaxy)
  • 1979 Tokyo Encore [live] (Dreyfus)
  • 1979 Landscape [live] (Galaxy/OJC)
  • 1979 Straight Life (Galaxy/OJC)
  • 1980 Winter Moon (Galaxy/OJC)
  • 1980 One September Afternoon (Galaxy/OJC)
  • 1980 Blues for the Fisherman with Milcho Leviev Live at Ronnie Scott's London.(TAA/Mole)
  • 1981 Art Pepper with Duke Jordan in Copenhagen 1981 [live] (Galaxy)
  • 1981 Art Lives (Galaxy)
  • 1981 Roadgame [live] (Galaxy/OJC)
  • 1981 Art 'n' Zoot (WestWind)
  • 1981 Arthur's Blues (Original Jazz Classics)
  • 1982 Goin' Home (Original Jazz Classics)
  • 1982 Tête-à-Tête (Galaxy/OJC)
  • 1982 Darn That Dream (Real Time)
  • 1991 Art in L.A. (WestWind) - 2-CD set of two different sessions in 1957 and 1960.
  • 2006 Summer Knows (Absord) - Japanese release from earlier sessions
  • 2006-12 Unreleased Art, vols. 1-6. (Widow's Taste)

With Chet Baker

With Jerry Fielding

As a sideman[edit]


Published transcriptions:

  • Jazz Styles and Analysis: Alto Sax by Harry Miedema. Chicago, Fifth Printing, Feb . 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 1952–1961, including five solos by Art Pepper. Olympia Music Publishing, 1996. ISBN 0-9667047-1-1.

Transcriptions available on the Internet:


Pepper's most famous composition is probably "Straight Life". Composed long before the autobiography of the same title was published, it features the jagged lines he typically played and was typically played at a breakneck tempo. It was recorded numerous times by Pepper, both in his "early" period and his "later" years. Perhaps the most famous version was included on the 1957 Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section.[citation needed]

His other compositions include: "The Trip", "Red Car", "Gettin' Together", "Ol' Croix", "Tynan Time", "Minor Yours", "Diane", "Blues at Twilight", "Bijou the Poodle", "Pepper Pot", "Val's Pal", "Chili Pepper", "Art's Opus", "Brown Gold", "Zenobia", "Angel Wings", "Junior Cat", "Pepper Steak", "Straight Life", "Tenor Blooz", "Walkin' Out Blues", "Patricia", "Five More", "Minority", "Mambo de la Pinta", "Surf Ride", "Las Cuevas De Mario", "Our Song", "Among Friends", "That's Love", "Waltz Me Blues", "Labyrinth", "Make A List", "Pepper Returns", "True Blues", "Landscape", "Miss Who", "Mambo Koyama", "Ophelia", "Lost Life", "Dynaflow" with Stan Kenton and "Funny Blues".


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. ^ Dupuis, Robert. "Art Pepper." Contemporary Musicians: Profiles of the People in Music. Vol. 18. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1997. 164-67. Print.
  3. ^ "Frank Morgan On Piano Jazz." Interview by Marian McPartland. NPR Music. N.p., 30 May 2008. Web. 16 Jan. 2014. <>
  4. ^ 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).
  5. ^ See the New York Times review of the movie.
  6. ^ Rhythm-a-ning: jazz tradition and innovation in the '80s By Gary Giddins. Da Capo Press. p. 106

External links[edit]