Goodbye Art Pepper

Will Friedwald publsihed in the Feb. 13 edition of the The New York Sun a article on Art Pepper and his relation to the Gordon Jenkins composition "Goodbye".

In case the article won't be anymore online here it is :


Pepper says a proper goodbye :

Most people first heard "Goodbye" as Benny Goodman's theme song. The clarinetist introduced it at the start of the swing era in 1935 and it remained associated with him for the remaining 50 years of his career. In 1957, Frank Sinatra recorded "Goodbye" on his classic album "Only the Lonely," which is probably the most famous vocal version.

The great bebop alto saxophonist Art Pepper (1925-82) began playing the song, which was written by Gordon Jenkins, during his "comeback" in the late 1970s. Although Pepper never included it on a studio session, "Goodbye" was a famous part of his classic 1977 live album from the Village Vanguard. It's also the centerpiece of a new two-CD set, "Unreleased Art, Vol. 1: The Complete Abashiri Concert, November, 22, 1981" (www.straightlife. info).

Pepper's resurgence lasted from about 1975 — the year he turned 50 and rid himself of a nearly 25-year addiction to heroin — to his death in June 1982. Perhaps out of a desire to make up for lost time (some of which, including large portions of the 1960s, was spent behind bars), Pepper recorded a lifetime's worth of music in his final seven years; so far at least 30 albums of studio and live performances have been issued, mostly posthumously in the compact disc era.

I never met Pepper, but he seems to have been like most ex-junkies whom I've known: Once they get off the stuff, they can't stop talking about it. It's almost as if venting their spleen about using dope becomes a substitute for actually using it. Pepper most famously talked about it in his brilliant autobiography, "Straight Life," which was co-written by his third wife (and eventual widow), Laurie Pepper, who has devoted the last 25 years to issuing CDs of previously unreleased material, maintaining a Web site, and even independently producing a narrative feature film based on the book.

Most important, Pepper talked about his life experiences in his music. They are in every solo he played, never more than in this version of "Goodbye," recorded when the saxophonist had about six months to live. Most of his final recordings, performed in the spring of 1982, were collaborations, including two dates of pianosax duos with his longtime accompanist, the wonderful George Cables, and encounters with saxists Richie Cole, Joe Farrell, and, most important, his fellow modern jazz legend, Lee Konitz.

The meeting with Mr. Konitz (included on the five-CD box, "Art Pepper: The Hollywood All-Star Sessions," Fantasy) is especially informative: Both Mr. Konitz and Pepper skewer the tunes they play, elaborating on the melodies and the harmonies. Both players can safely be called "abstract." The difference is that, as Mr. Konitz once told me, he plays a tune in such a way that he doesn't want the listeners to recognize it. Pepper, conversely, never wanted his listeners to forget what they were listening to. No matter how he elongated the tune or darted through the chords, there is never any doubt that you are listening to "Goodbye."

When Goodman began using "Goodbye" as his ending theme on the radio in 1935, it was very clear that "Goodbye" meant "au revoir": So long until the next dance, the next date, the next broadcast. When Sinatra revived it 22 years later, he intensified the meaning of the song to mean "goodbye to love, this relationship is finished — aloha on the steel guitar!"

When Art Pepper began playing the song in 1977, he meant something even more serious: "Goodbye to life, to planet Earth, to existence." The two 1977 Vanguard performances are touching enough — particularly in the end of the second, when he throws in a quote from the military funeral theme "Taps." (Pepper did serve during World War II, but was never addressed as "Sergeant Pepper.")

But the "new" 1981 recording is all but unprecedented. (The album begins with pianist George Cables's solo already in progress and with the instruments momentarily offmic, and there are occasional audio artifacts of the whole concert having come from a cassette source; after the first minute, though, the sound is fine.) Just when you think Pepper is prepared to stretch the melody as far as it will go, he abandons the rest of the tune and slips effortlessly into an improvisation, returning to Jenkins's tune at the end of the first chorus. He inserts a Tatum-like chromatic run here, a darting phrase there (as does Mr. Cables, the only other soloist on the 11-minute track), but mostly he plays long blobby lines that don't seem to have anything to do with the tune, yet have everything to do with the idea of "Goodbye."

Pepper is continually recontextualizing himself and the song; this is his answer to Hamlet's soliloquy, the debate over the advantages of being and not being. On the album, he plays increasingly intense phrases, both soul-searing and sentimental. Like the spirits at the end of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," he is looking back and reflecting on what he will miss when he leaves the world behind: Farewell to hot dinners and hot chicks, farewell to girls with bad attitudes in tight dresses, farewell to one-night stands of both the musical and personal kind, farewell to forging checks, farewell to fixing with fellow convicts, farewell to practicing and practicing, to studying and absorbing everything he could from Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Benny Carter, to bad pianos and squeaky reeds, farewell to drug clinics and rehabs, farewell to Stan Kenton and Buddy Rich, farewell to groupies and roadies, farewell to the Los Angeles County Jail and to San Quentin.

The other 10 tracks from the 1981 concert include some wonderful boppers (Monk's "Rhythm-A-Ning"), blues, and one samba ("Besame Mucho"). There's also another killer ballad, a transcendent version of "Body and Soul" (another very rare tune in the Pepper canon), in which he also seems to be taking the title literally and contemplating the metaphysical. He describes it afterward as "one of the nicest things I think I've ever played in my life … I'm sober and happy because of music." But it's the Jenkins tune that stays with us: Here, in Abashiri, a town that few non-Japanese have ever heard of (can it be a coincidence that Abashiri is best known as the site of the Abashiri Prison?), a great musician is saying goodbye."

11:30 Gepost door Lexman in Muziek | Permalink | Commentaren (1) | Tags: art pepper |  Facebook |


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Gepost door: lycleGopeowex | 22-11-11

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