Winter Moon, a closet classic and the subject of an upcoming tribute concert by the HSO Jazz and Strings series, is baby-making music, pure and simple, smooth jazz before the genre existed.
But life was no picnic for Art Pepper. The child of abusive parents, he spent much of his career in and out of heroin haunts and prisons.
Pepper turned things around in the late 1960s after taking up residence in Synanon, a controversial drug rehabilitation program in Santa Monica, Calif., and later got completely clean after taking a methadone cure. His career rebounded in the late 1970s with the release of several excellent recordings, including Winter Moon in 1980, and a tour in Japan with vibraphonist Cal Tjader and pianist Clare Fisher. Pepper died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1982 at age 56.
“I still think that of all the Galaxy recordings that Art did, Winter Moon is probably my favorite,” Laurie Pepper, his widow and the co-author of Pepper’s autobiography Straight Life , says.
Art, Laurie explains by telephone from L.A., had always wanted to make an album with strings. His record company agreed, and the Peppers spent days choosing ballads for the album at the Cambria, Calif., home of producer Ed Michel. Laurie chose the title track, “Winter Moon,” one Pepper had played on when it was originally recorded in 1956 by composer Hoagy Carmichael. She also suggested “Here’s That Rainy Day,” a ballad Pepper perfected in Japan on tour with Tjader and Fisher in 1977. (Pick up Pepper’s Tokyo Debut , a 1995 Concord release for a taste of what that sounded like.)
Michel hired arrangers Bill Holman and Jimmy Bond. But before the first date, Michel informed Art that the strings would be overdubbed once he was done recording his parts. It was easier to schedule and edit that way, he said.
Pepper was furious.
“I could see that Art really hated that idea,” Laurie remembers. “He wanted to be in the same room with the string section … he’s a jazz musician, and jazz has to do with responding to what’s actually being done in the moment. He just hated the idea of overdubbing.”
Art prevailed and got to share studio space with the strings, but he missed his first cue. “That was so beautiful that I forgot to play,” he said, according to Laurie.
Gene Bozzi, artistic director of the HSO Jazz and Strings series, knows how jazzers feel about playing with strings. It’s why he founded the series.
“In general most jazz players don’t get to play with strings, you know?” Bozzi says. “And it’s too bad. It’s a very unfortunate trend … I think it’s a thrill for them, because of the sound. You can have a synthesizer doing string parts, but it’s just not the same, and I think they know that.”
Bozzi hired Walter Gwardyak, Music Director for the New Enland Jazz Orchestra, to handle the charts. The elderly Holman was unavailable.
The HSO series is going on its second full year. Each soloist Bozzi has approached — Joel Frahm, Kris Allen and now Sue Terry — has been thrilled to partake. Terry, Bozzi says, is a natural choice to play Pepper. “She’s a Jackie McLean student, and Jackie was a protégé of Charlie Parker, as was Art Pepper. So it’s all kind of coming from Charlie Parker on the alto sax.”
Terry recently released her own live CD, The Art of the Duo , as well as an e-book, Greatest Hits of the Blog That Ate Brooklyn , about hanging out with a jazz musician — “that would be me,” she laughs — and riding shotgun on gigs.
The HSO series, she says, is a great way to teach jazz lineages and traditions, and she’s quick to compare jazz to Tai Chi Ch’uan, a martial art she’s practiced for 20 years.
“We have a lineage that we follow in martial arts as well,” Terry says. “[It] dates back to a certain teacher who created a style of whatever discipline it is that you do, and then what you do is to try to be true to the lineage but still discover the creativity that you have inside yourself to make the lineage be something that’s alive and not just something that you are imitating.”