Art Pepper

Art Pepper

I loved touring with Art. He did nothing but play. He didn’t have the time and energy to misbehave. For him, every concert was important.

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Pepper’s last European tour began on May 18th, 1981, and was packed with dates, eighteen in the first month alone in northern Europe. Pepper “… was focused,” recalls Laurie. “I loved touring with Art. He did nothing but play. He didn’t have the time and energy to misbehave. For him, every concert was important.”
With the arrival of summer, the tour also touched Italy. The quartet had been reworked and had taken on its definitive form with George Cables, whom Pepper dubbed ‘Mr. Beautiful’ for his piano playing, David Williams on double bass and Carl Burnett on drums.
Among the various stages scheduled, the one in Genoa included a concert as part of the Estate Jazz Festival (Summer Jazz Festival; translator’s note), now in its fourth edition. The designated venue for the quartet’s performance was the Villa Imperiale, a prestigious Renaissance residence located in the eastern part of the historic center in the San Fruttuoso district. The building, embellished by a splendid terraced garden, had in fact been inaugurated way back in 1502, hosting King Louis XII of France and his large following.
According to the testimonies of those present, on the evening of July 6th,1981 Pepper appeared tired, physically exhausted. This was the impression the saxophonist gave to those in front of him, at least until he started playing. Then everything was forgotten. From that slender figure on the stage a very strong flow of energy was released, unexpectedly. The music was animated by an extraordinary vitality and a joy capable of overshadowing the wounds inflicted by a difficult life. Through music Pepper established a very strong emotional connection with the audience. “Art Pepper’s brilliance was not in his control,” Laurie stated. “It was like a chemical combination in the laboratory; his horrible childhood and his incredible musical gift, with his desire to communicate, are things he did with great success… For Art, there was nothing better than being on stage. He lived for it. On tour he was spectacular and he always managed to convey something, no matter what it was.”
The concert in Genoa shows once more how well Pepper played in the last period of his life, perhaps better than he ever did.

Marco Giorgi