From ART: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman: In spite of all my airy ramblings a few pages back about art, there was also a more elemental thing at work in me. Some women go for warriors. More go for musicians. Girls, you know its true. I’ve said I didn’t care what Art did, musically, but obviously I did. Everything in me operated to treat him better, to honor him—if he was going to perform. And the funny thing was, I still hadn’t seriously listened to his music.
The music on The Way It Was was the first I really listened to of Art’s and the first I listened to with him. His work with Warne Marsh, one of the world’s greatest tenor players, had the sunny, contrapuntal, chatty sound of “West Coast Jazz” and Dixieland, and so I liked it. And it knocked me out because it swung so hard––Art Pepper’s contribution. Art came up jamming on Central Avenue in the blazing black jazz district in L.A. before the war. Art’s swing was always basic to his music; he was married to the beat.
But for me, the best thing on that album was “What’s New?” The ballad.
I once overheard Les, who never hyperbolized, tell someone that Art was the best ballad player in the world. For me that’s just the simple truth. In slow, sad songs you heard Art’s heartbeat––and your own. He gave a voice to everybody’s grief and longing. With that pretty sound he had, the most lyrical in jazz, he’d tell you all your troubles and make you see the beauty in your sorrow. He turned it into something that ennobled his emotion and gave sublimity to ours.
The Way It Was used material from four different recording sessions employing three different bands, and with each band, Art played a ballad. But jazz sidemen often balked at the tempo Art preferred when he played slowly. He’d always count it out in front: 1, 2, 3, 4. I’ve timed it. A four-beat bar could take eight seconds. But typically after the first or second chorus, a “normal” band would take the music into double time. That was the standard practice; they played a “New York Ballad.” Musicians got jittery, I think, with all that time and space to fill. But Art, he had so much he had to say and a great deal to suggest in the silences that lingered in between those languid lines. In his earlier days (which is when that music was recorded), he often bowed to his often unfamiliar sidemen’s pressures and rarely played a ballad pure. When he was comfortable with his own groups, as he mostly was in later years, he got from them the pace he wanted. One band on that album had been more sympathetic. With pianist Ronnie Ball (a Brit), and West Coast guys, Ben Tucker (bass) and Gary Frommer (drums), he played “What’s New?” Slowly. All the way through. And it’s like listening to a tear fall. Like the princess in the fairy tale, Art wept diamonds, pearls.
To find out more about Art, the music, and me go to
released May 12, 2014
ORIGINAL PHOTO (cropped here) by Ray Avery. Album Recorded November 26, 1956 with Ronnie Ball, piano, Ben Tucker, Bass, Gary Frommer, Drums.
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