Art Pepper: The Hollywood All-Star Sessions
Let’s face it, when historians and other purveyors of the jazz legacy consider the scene during the 1970s, a bleak outlook is usually the upshot. Jazz had become commercialized, fusionized, rock infested, and raped. Even the modest amount of mainstream fare that was being released to little public notice seemed to pale in comparison with the great body of work delivered during the golden age of the ‘50s and ‘60s. When it came to the life of Art Pepper, this era certainly had more than its share of tribulations for a man whose body had been ravaged by drug addiction and personal demons. His greatest work had already been documented several years earlier for Lester Koenig’s Contemporary label and only his final set of live recordings from the Village Vanguard would meet or exceed standards set forth by earlier artifacts.
Despite the state of affairs described above, there were moments when Pepper was able to transcend his conditions. In the fall of 1978, Pepper had signed a contract with the Galaxy label, with his untimely death coming a mere four years later. Meanwhile, Japanese producers engaged Pepper’s services for a series of all-star dates to feature West Coast players cutting standards under the nominal leadership of Bill Watrous, Jack Sheldon, Pete Jolly, Sonny Stitt, Shelly Manne, and Lee Konitz. These recordings were issued in Japan on the Atlas label, but never before released in this country until now. The Hollywood All-Star Sessions is a five disc set that gives us some memorable, if not downright essential material from Pepper’s later years.
Aside from one session that has Pepper working with just a trio, the rest of the dates included here find Pepper paired with other front line partners, most notably trumpeter Jack Sheldon and trombonist Bill Watrous. There are also meetings with two of Pepper’s contemporaries, namely Sonny Stitt and Lee Konitz. While the former gentleman is not at the top of his game and Pepper seems intimidated at his presence, the matching of Konitz and Pepper is imminently logical, the former being as reserved as the latter is outgoing. Throughout these six sessions spanning the years 1979 to 1982, a spate of West Coast luminaries is on hand including Lou Levy, Pete Jolly, Shelly Manne, Bob Cooper and Russ Freeman.
Completing this package is a 36-page booklet with insightful commentary provided by Laurie Pepper and a collection of period photographs. Sound quality is unusually strong considering the radical changes in recording techniques prevalent at the time. While not largely considered an innovator, Pepper was arguably one of the most lyrical alto saxophonists jazz has ever seen and he’s heard to good advantage here, making this an easy recommendation.
Track Listing: 52 tracks on five discs, including two unissued alternates
Personnel: Art Pepper (alto saxophone) with Monty Budwig, Carl Burnett, Bob Cooper, Chuck Domanico, John Dentz, Tony Dumas, Russ Freeman, John Heard, Pete Jolly, Lee Konitz, Mike Lang, Milcho Leviev, Lou Levy, Bob Magnusson, Shelly Manne, Roy McCurdy, Jack Sheldon, Sonny Stitt, and Bill Watrous