Building A Jazz Library Part 3

Pepper’s best-known records were recorded during the extended period of his heroin addiction, some in the short intervals between prison terms. He was a super star by the early 1950s and in 1957 started recording his classic albums for Contemporary Records—Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section, Plus Eleven, Gettin Together, Intensity and Smack Up. Those classic recordings on Contemporary, prior to his time with Synanon, are highly collectable and have been reissued by most of the usual suspects on LP and CD. Mosaic released a set, Mobile Fidelity, DCC and Analogue Productions each have several entries, all of which are now collectable and expensive. Craft Recordings (a subsidiary of Concord Records which in turn owns the catalogs of Pepper’s labels Contemporary, Fantasy and Galaxy) have recently issued Plus Eleven and Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section in their Acoustic Sounds Series. These are well done reissues and a great starting point for building an Art Pepper collection. They are also well-known and well-documented, so need no introduction from me. It’s Pepper’s later years that are the focus of this article.

Although Pepper performed live after being released from his final prison term in 1965, including a stint with the Buddy Rich band, he stayed out of the recording studio for ten years, not returning until August of 1975. For years after leaving Synanon, he was too fragile to jump start his recording career, opting instead to take gigs as they presented themselves, and building confidence as he went.

Those “lost” years are documented in a handful of bootleg issues, but the really interesting material is the studio recordings that came later, made between 1975 and his early death from a stroke (at the age of 56) in 1982. During that 7-year final run, Pepper released about 15 albums on the Contemporary and Galaxy labels, not including albums issued by both record companies after his death. When he finally gained enough confidence and returned to the recording studio, it was with Contemporary Records. He stayed with Contemporary until its founder Les Koenig died in November of 1977, and then switched to Galaxy Records, a division of Fantasy Records in Berkeley California. While both labels continued to issue material after Pepper’s death, this article will focus on the “authorized” releases during those last seven years, records that were issued while Pepper was alive to approve them.

The hallmarks of the Contemporary label during its heyday in the late 1950s and early 1960s, were thick vinyl, gorgeous yellow, mono labels and sound to die for, courtesy of recording engineer Roy DuNann. Although the record label had gone into decline during Pepper’s lost years it revived briefly during the middle seventies, in large part because of Pepper’s presence. However, except for his return LP Living Legend, Roy DuNann was no longer involved, and production duties were subsequently shared by Les Koenig and his son John. Like the rest of the record industry’s output, the later period Contemporary discs were lighter and more flexible. The famous yellow mono labels had migrated to a goldish color used for the (then) stereo only releases, and the record covers became thin and flimsy.

The Return To Contemporary

As already noted, first up on Pepper’s return to the studio was Living Legend (Contemporary S7633), recorded at Contemporary Studios on August 8, 1975, by Roy DuNann. Featuring Hampton Hawes, Charlie Haden and Shelly Manne, this trio of old friends doubtless created a supportive atmosphere and Pepper’s responds with some excellent performances, despite his struggles over the previous 15 years. He acknowledged the heavy influence by John Coltrane during this time, and it shows in his playing of the five originals and one standard. This is the last time DuNann recorded Pepper and the sound is outstanding, despite the thinner 1970’s vinyl.