ANYONE WHO’S BEEN MARRIED FOR LONGER THAN A HONEYMOON COME TO TERMS WITH THE REALITY OF ‘WHO DOES WHAT AND WHY.’ LAURE PEPPER, WIDOW OF THE ICONIC ALTO SAX PLAYER ART PEPPER, HAS SHOWN THE VALUE OF THE ‘COMPLEMENTARY’ ROLE OF A WIFE, IN WHICH HER STRENGTHS FILL IN FOR HER HUSBAND’S WEAKNESSES, AND VICE VERSA. SHE HELPED HER HUSBAND WRITE THE CLASSIC BOOK ‘STRAIGHT LIFE,’ AND A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO ALSO WROTE THE DEEPLY PERSONAL ‘ART: WHY I STUCK WITH A JUNKIE JAZZMAN.’
- PEPPER HAS ALSO BEEN VERY ACTIVE IN KEEPING HER HUSBAND’S MUSICAL LEGACY ALIVE. SHE HAS BEEN REGULARLY BEEN RELEASING PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED SESSIONS, ON THE ‘WIDOW’S TASTE’ SERIES, WITH A RECENT BOXED SET FEATURING PEPPER’S SUMMIT REUNION WITH WARNE MARSH. SHE’S ALSO BEEN INVOLVED WITH BRINGING TO THE US ALBUMS FROM ART PEPPER’S HALCYON DAYS THAT WERE ONLY AVAILABLE IN JAPAN, THE MOST RECENT BEING A SMOKING SESSION WITH LEE KONITZ.
WE HAD A CHANCE TO CHAT WITH MS. PEPPER, WHO GAVE US MUCH INSIGHT TO PEPPER’S LIFE AND CAREER.
YOU SEEM TO BE QUITE SUCCESSFUL WITH GETTING ALL OF THE EXCITING PREVIOUSLY UNHEARD MUSIC FROM THE WIDOW’S TASTE SERIES
It’s a labor of love, of course.
HOW CONNECTED ARE YOU TO THE JAZZ COMMUNITY THESE DAYS?
The only connection I have to today’s jazz community is with my Facebook Friends. That’s it. No connection; I occasionally have a conversation with (pianist) George Cables when he’s in town, and send emails to (pianist) Milcho Leviev and (bassist) Bob Magnussen. People who were in his bands. But even when we were touring and at the height of everything, there was very little connection between Art, me and the jazz community.
SINCE YOU WEREN’T ATTRACTED TO HIS MUSIC, WHAT INITIALLY ATTRACTED YOU TO ART TO THE POINT THAT YOU WANTED TO HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM?
I knew exactly who Art Pepper was, but at that initial time I was totally resistant to him because he was a newcomer, and was also a “hope to die” dope fiend. I was being this “goody two shoes” and didn’t want a relationship with him.
What attracted me to him was his persistence and his “talk.” The way he talked. The conversations, the stories that he told me, his unbelievable honesty at all times. That’s what attracted me.
He wasn’t even my type. He was a slightly husky dark-haired man, like Clark Gable. He was attractive in that way; I like more the Leslie Howard type.
VERY GOOD, SCARLETTE
(laughs) So, he wasn’t my type, but on the other hand, he WAS Art Pepper, so that engaged my interests. He pursued me like he would die if he couldn’t have me. That was extremely flattering. He also amused he h*ll out of me; nobody talked like Art. He was just amazing.
I can be talked into romance very easily; that’s how I’ve always gotten involved with people.
BUT AS YOU KNOW, THERE’S A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ROMANCE AND MARRIAGE, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES TO ARTISTS. WHY DID YOU MARRY HIM, AND NOT SIMPLY, AS THEY USED TO SAY, “SHACK UP”?
He demanded it. He insisted upon it; he was of that generation. He thought that marriage would make me stick by him. He was always worried that I would leave him, because of the drugs and whatever. He figured that if we were married I would be more likely to stick with him. He needed total commitment from me.
Our entire life together was him demanding stuff that I was not ready to give.
BUT THAT IS MARRIAGE FOR EVERYBODY
That’s true! I never thought of that before!
ONE OF MY FAVORITE STORIES IS WHEN SOME LADY CAME UP TO MY MOTHER AT CHURCH AND TOLD HER, “I NEED YOUR ADVICE. I HAVE A PROBLEM; I’VE MARRIED THE WRONG MAN.” MY MOM ANSWERED “JOIN THE CLUB; NOW, WHAT’S YOUR PROLEM?”
That’s right, “Oh well”!
DID THE FACT THAT YOU WERE MARRIED MAKE YOU MORE COMMITED TO HIM?
Yes, it probably did. I had to stand there and say “I am here.” But the thing that really committed me to him was working on the book Straight Life. My ambition to complete that book was overwhelming. It was so important to us.
WHAT MADE THE BOOK SO IMPORTANT?
For me, it was a calling of what I wanted to do more than anything in the world. When he told me his stories…it wasn’t because I loved him that I wanted to do the book. It was because I wanted to write a book.
I had always been looking for a path within myself. Unlike Art, I wasn’t born with immediate talent that sends you down the chute. All of my life I had been looking for a way to express myself. I had written poetry, done little stories and a little art work.
I had read The Children of Sanchez (By Oscar Lewis), and the importance of that book to me cannot be over stressed. Through it, I saw a way that a book could be done by me and using Art’s life and language.
So, it was purely out of ambition that I stuck with him initially, because there were times when I was so disgusted with him that I could not believe it. Especially early in our relationship.
After we had been together for awhile and I got to really know him deeply, I became totally committed to him as a human being. But initially I was just thinking about the book and kept insisting that I wanted to do it. That was my reason at first for being with him.
He of course enjoyed talking about himself. At times he resisted the entire process and I had to bribe him with candy bars and things like that. But I realized later that a lot of his resistance did not come out of laziness (as I had originally thought), but out of his personality, because he was an artist.
What he gave me, what he said, had to be good; he couldn’t just talk. But I didn’t realize that at the time. In the long run we got it done.
THAT REMINDS ME OF A LINE I READ IN A BOOK, WHICH BASICALLY SAID, “IF YOU HAVE A SIMPLE SPOUSE, YOU HAVE A HAPPY LIFE; IF YOU HAVE A DIFFICULT SPOUSE, YOU ARE A PHILOSOPHER”.
There you go!
BUT YOU ALSO DID SOMETHING SMART IN YOUR MARRIAGE. IN A BOOK BY TIM KELLER TITLED “THE MEANING OF MARRIAGE” THE AUTHOR SAYS THAT THE KEY TO A HAPPY MARRIAGE IS TO “EMBRACE THE OTHER.” IN OTHER WORDS, DON’T FIND THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN EACH OTHER, BUT SEE THEM AS A WAY OF MAKING YOU A BETTER PERSON.
Let me tell you: at one point there was a time where I was utterly frustrated with his behavior. I didn’t have to do with drugs but with something else he had done. I said to him, “Art, anybody else would have…” and he stopped me. He said, “I’m not ‘anybody else.’”
I thought, “He’s not!” It was a great revelation to me. Nobody is anyone else.
So I embraced his “otherness.” That’s what I did. When you see some good marriages, you generally see this one real sweet, kind and outgoing person with a curmudgeon. The curmudgeon usually expresses the “curmudgeoness” of the outgoing person, and vice versa.
What I’m saying is that the other person is expressing what you have inside yourself, but you do not express.
IN THE LINER NOTES OF THE LATEST ALBUM YOU’VE RELEASED OF ART PEPPER’S MUSIC, YOU SAID HE WAS A GENIUS. WHAT MAKES SOMEONE A GENIUS?
What made Art Pepper a genius was not even under his control. It was like a chemical combining in a laboratory; his horrible childhood, and his incredible musical gift with his desire to communicate, which he did so successfully.
THAT’S WHAT IS SO ENJOYABLE AND REVEALING ABOUT YOUR “WIDOW’S TASTE” ALBUMS. THEY CAPTURE PEPPER IN A WIDE RANGE OF MOODS.
Absolutely. But whatever he played, he played what was going on inside of himself at the moment. In the liner note of the new album with Warne Marsh (Volume IX) from 1974, one of the people who talked to me about Art and what they thought was his thing said that something that Art felt an hour ago you would hear on the bandstand when he played. He was completely responsive to whatever was going on around him.
THIS LATEST RELEASE HAS THE FAMED TENOR SAXIST WARNE MARSH IN A 1974 REUNION WITH ART AT THE ICONIC JAZZ CLUB DONTE’S. WHAT AFFECT DID MARSH HAVE ON PEPPER?
I don’t know if Warne had a good effect on Art. I think Art had a good effect on Warne, because they were so different.
Art was in the middle of his transition from his out and out “Coltrane” phase to combining everything together at the end, consolidating all of his influences.
Art was in a transitional phase, which he may have really been in all of his life as an artist. He was influenced not only by his own emotional state and life experiences, but he was also influenced by what was going on around him in the music world. He loved rock and roll.
Warne, on the other hand, was doing what he always did, and that’s not a bad thing. What Warne was doing was always brilliant beyond belief. Both of them had a certain kind of inflexibility, and that’s why during the moments when they connect on that album, those moments are just deliriously great.
THEY ARE SWIRLING AROUND EACH OTHER
Those moments make it all worthwhile.
AGAIN, JUST LIKE IN A MARRIAGE!
DURING THAT TIME PERIOD IN THE 70s, YOU HAD A THRIVING JAZZ SCENE IN LA WITH DONTE’S, CARMELLOS, THE LIGHTHOUSE AND CONCERTS BY THE SEA. HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE IT TO TODAY’S JAZZ SCENE?
Ha! Is there an LA jazz scene now? I think it died of loneliness.
But, you know, jazz goes in and out. I really think that it will evolve back in some way. Improvised music has to evolve in some direction, and it probably will.
I grew up basically listening to blues and Dixieland. That’s one of the reasons I live the kind of “Dixieland effect” that Art and Warne got when they swirled around each other.
YOU NOW HAVE NINE VOLUMES OF ART PEPPER. YOU STARTED IN 2007 WITH A 1981 CONCERT IN ABASHIRI, JAPAN WITH GEORGE CABLES, DAVID WILLIAMS AND CARL BURNETT. WHY DID YOU START WITH THIS STAGE OF HIS CAREER?
It was completely accidental. I had been talking about releasing albums for awhile. My thoughts were that I would do as I had done in the past and license them to RCA Victor in Japan or something like that. But nobody wanted to license them.
This was long after Art’s death, so the enthusiasm that had been when he had just died wasn’t there anymore, so licensing wasn’t an option. Fantasy Records was gone; they got out before the whole digital revolution, or right at the beginning of it.
One day, I got a phone call from a guy who I guess was pitching a story to the magazine Travel & Leisure. He was writing about Abashiri, in Japan. He said “I just wanted to track down this rumor that Art Pepper actually played in Abashiri.”
I said that he certainly did. I remembered it; it was that good. I then said, with absolutely nothing to back it up, “I’m going to be releasing a recording of that performance in Abashiri. You might want to mention that in your piece.” This was just on-the-spot free advertising.
So I realized that maybe I should go ahead and now do it!
He asked me “When are going to release it?” and I answered “When is the article coming out?” (laughs)
The article never came out, but it got me mentally and emotionally committed to doing it.
YOU ARE A LADY OF COMMITMENT. YOU SAID YOU’D STAY BY ART FOR BETTER OR WORSE, AND YOU DID IT. THEN, YOU PUT THE TWO BOOKS OUT AS WELL AS THIS ALBUM SERIES. YOU KEEP TO YOUR WORD. SOMEONE TAUGHT YOU WELL!
Maybe my mom.
THE NEXT VOLUME WAS HIS LAST CONCERT, 1982 AT THE KENNEDY CENTER WITH ROGER KELLAWAY, DAVID WILLIAMS AND CARL BURNETT. WHAT ARE YOUR RECOLLECTIONS AND THOUGHTS ON THAT ONE?
I think it’s a beautiful album. I don’t hear that many problems in it. I was not aware that he was ill, nor was he.
He had stopped smoking so his breathing was actually better.
One of the things that happened at that last concert: We were in a hotel that was across from The Watergate in DC. In my book, I mentioned that he went through a period of aphasia. He didn’t know words, and he was confused where he didn’t know whether it was day or night.
He had been hospitalized and it had finally gone away and everything, nobody ever knew what it was that caused it. I always suspected that it was the result of an automobile accident where he nearly went through the windshield, even though it had occurred maybe a year earlier.
I thought that he might have had a little stroke or a little bleed when we were on the road. If he was hospitalized, it went away and he was performing again.
But, when we were in that hotel in DC, he had a brief moment when I could tell that he was confused and having a hard time with language. It passed; it was like about an hour’s worth of horrible memory. He was then again perfectly fine.
But then about two weeks afterwards was when he went away.
DID HE HAVE A FAVORITE BAND TO PLAY WITH, OR DID IT NOT MATTER TO HIM?
Oh, it mattered so much. Here’s the reason: it mattered who is band was because he wanted to play his own charts. He didn’t want to play standards. He would play bebop standards for the fun of it and because he enjoyed it and the crowd loved it.
But when he played ballads he needed a really sensitive band who knew what he wanted to do.
I think his last band was his favorite, with George Cables, David Williams and Carl Burnett.
He got along with Roger Kellaway, of course. He’s a great player, sort of along the lines of Milcho Leviev. Art sometimes felt that Kellaway a bit played too much behind his solos. He wanted something a little more delicate, which George Cables gave him. George Cables gave him room for his silence. It was very hard to get that from Milcho or Kellaway.
The great thing about Milcho was that he was incredibly competitive, as was Art. So, if Art had an accompanist in Milcho, he also had a competitor. A fellow soloist who was always stepping on Art’s toes.
Sometimes what that did was that it challenged Art so intensely that he played better than he ever had. I really think that Milcho brought out the best in Art, when Art could stand it.
AGAIN, WE’RE TALKING ABOUT THE GIVE AND TAKE IN MARRIAGE!
WHAT DID ART LIKE TO LISTEN TO?
He didn’t listen to anything. Occasionally, if we were driving and I turned on the radio on the way home from a gig it would be classical music.
IS THERE ANYTHING ABOUT ART THAT PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT THAT SHOULD BE BROUGHT TO LIGHT?
There is nothing that people don’t know about him that I want them to know. (laughs)
ONCE AGAIN, THAT’S THE SIGN OF A GOOD WIFE
JUST AS EVE WAS CALLED ‘BONE OF MY BONES AND FLESH OF MY FLESH’ AND WAS A ‘HELPMEET’ TO HER ADAM, LAURIE PEPPER STILL REMAINS A FAITHFUL WIFE, KEEPING HIS MEMORY ALIVE FOR US NOT FORTUNATE ENOUGH TO HAVE SEEN HIM, LET ALONE LIVE WITH HIM. IT IS PARTNERS LIKE THIS THAT SHOW HOW MARRIAGE, THOUGH ALWAYS SEEMINGLY UNDER ATTACK, IS STILL THE GREATEST VEHICLE FOR RELATIONSHIPS TO BLOSSOM AND BEAR FRUIT.