Art Pepper, Stanley Cowell, Cecil McBee, Carl Burnett, strings. Arrangement by Jimmy Bond.
I don’t remember how many takes they did. Plenty, too many, given the limited amount of time we had with the strings, but every effort fizzled.
Art was always the one with the sports analogies, but it seems to me, thinking back, that Art was staggering, punch-drunk, in that studio, each take almost a knockout blow, utterly demoralizing, and him barely getting to his feet at the count.
It was horrible to watch his struggles, but I grew merciless, because I knew that he could do it in spite of the soupy violins behind him. He would come into the control room, listen in despair to the playback of the latest take. He’d look at me. I’d shake my head. He’d try again. Finally, he came back wanting to throw in the towel, give it up, accept it as it was. I spat into his ear, “It stinks! It’s weak. It’s terrible. You’ve gotta give it more.” He groaned to me about the stupid, useless chart, saying that he’d done the best he could. But he went in for one last try.
A jazz soloist, especially a guy like Art, is, first of all, a listener. Ask any band he ever played with. His art is to work “in concert” with the arrangement and the other players, and to comment on and build on what the music’s saying, creating something new and individual, yet still harmonious. He must complete the piece. And good musicians, playing with him, live, would be inspired by him, by what he was creating, and rise to the occasion. But in this case, and despite the live setting, the musicians couldn’t follow him. The chart they had to play was written: set and static.
Who knows what mental trick Art used to wrench himself away from an improvising jazzman’s lifelong understanding and to rise above it? But he did it. He dragged himself out of the quicksand of that chart, ignoring it, at last, relying just on what he heard inside. It sounded as if he was ripping his own guts out in the studio. He was magnificent, and when he heard the take he knew it. He loved it. And I still love to listen to it.
A friend recently talked about good black gospel churches, how they sometimes have nurses, even ambulances there for people who, through the preaching and singing, are kayoed by the Spirit. Art could blast you just that way, and he does it for a while, if you’re at all susceptible, when he plays “The Prisoner” on Winter Moon.
This track is discussed in my memoir, and is part of a compilation which will be made available to readers of the memoir, ART: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman.
released May 17, 2014
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