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ART: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman Paperback – May 8, 2014

4.8 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

REVIEW BY C. MICHAEL BAILEY in ALL ABOUT JAZZ

About two-thirds the way through her memoir, ART: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman Laurie Pepper plants her spear in the dirt and declares the obvious:
"A question I ask myself is if Art hadn't had me there constantly assessing his mood, taking his aesthetic temperature, would he then have had to push his vision by himself? I think somebody else, another friend or lover, might have done it...But what matters here, to me in my story, is that I played an important part in projects of undoubted value and knew it at the time and was thrilled and am proud now."
And it is about time.
Thirty-five years after the original publication of Straight Life: The Story of Art Pepper (Da Capo, 1994, revised edition) Laurie Pepper has finally put a fine point on a hard truth. What she enabled was a behaviorally-difficult, emotionally stunted genius to take root and flower late, producing art of enduring beauty and significance. This book has Art Pepper mentioned in it, but it is not about him. It is about Laurie Pepper and what she has to teach us about life on its own terms and that one does not merely wish to endure, but ultimately prevail.
Is Laurie Pepper's book about music?
Yes.
Music...and life.
During her cathartic coda, Laurie Pepper becomes nakedly candid about her feelings and motivations. She shares both an incredibly painful and stark life episode juxtaposed against a youthful, innocent and sensual experience, finally equating the two experiences in a summation of her troubled and brilliant husband:
"At his best, Art found beauty in everything, even in harshness, pain, and violence. And in his music, if you pay attention, you can hear the promise. The promise is the moment of a held breath when you know, you know it is all beauty and you are reconciled with your existence in this world."
It is all beauty and you are reconciled with your existence in this world.”
Indeed.

Review by Lance Liddle in BEBOP SPOKEN HERE

One of the pivotal moments of my life was hearing Art Pepper in concert at, what was then, Newcastle's University Theatre. I was stunned! I'd never heard alto playing like it, nor had I witnessed a person visibly being destroyed by demons and being so able to rise above it. This was akin to the second coming of Christ (Charlie Parker) and I left in a state of shock. The following day, which would be May 11, 1981, I bought every Art Pepper album I could lay my hands on. This wasn't difficult as I worked in a Newcastle music store.

Another pivotal moment was the autobiographical tome Straight Life written by Laurie Pepper from taped conversations with Art. This was a harrowing, unputdownable read that caused my friend, the late Brian Fisher, to say it made Anita O'Day seem like a nun! After reading ART: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman, I'm tempted to say that Laurie makes the Art of Straight Life seem like a monk and I don't mean Thelonious!

It's a remarkable book written, this time, from her perspective rather than her husband's and it is as equally compelling as the first book. The two are inseparable. If you've read Straight Life then you must read this. If you read this one first then seek out Straight Life.

In passing, yes it's jazz history, but it's also a very powerful love story. A strange and unconventional love story but these are strange and unconventional people. One an artist capable of overcoming a mountain of setbacks to produce some of the greatest modern jazz ever heard. The other a writer inspired by - and able to inspire - a genius. The title, laid on Laurie by an Australian journalist long before the book's conception, was recalled and proved a flawless choice in describing two far from flawless people! Together they have plumbed the depths and reached the heights. It is the latter position Laurie Pepper has achieved with this book (and Straight Life).

About the Author

Laurie Pepper was born in 1940 in Los Angeles to a family of radicals and artists. She grew up in New York and Los Angeles, attended U.C. Berkeley, and was photographer for the legendary L.A. Free Press during the 1960s but went astray and wound up in rehab where she met Art Pepper. Since Art’s death in 1982, she has continued to produce and promote his music. Her very small label, Widow’s Taste, has released a new album of previously unreleased Art Pepper performances every year since 2006.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 382 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (May 8, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1494297574
  • ISBN-13: 978-1494297572
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #647,620 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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I knew Art Pepper. He played with my big band. I knew him when he was in Synanon and I was donating my time to them to help musicians in trouble. I was in awe when I first met him and I am still in awe of his talent all these years later. Laurie was the best thing that ever happened to him. This book tells it like it was and is a story of true love and devotion. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves jazz music or who wants to find out more about what makes jazz musicians "tick." Art had a hard life and his addictions only made things worse, but with Laurie's help he lived longer than he might have and was able to create even more great music.
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I was first turned on to Art Pepper 7 or 8 years after his death when a hi-fi salesman asked me if I was hip to Art, and had I read Straight Life? Not long after, a sampler arrived in the mail, a selection of Contemporary Records tracks, Art's label's catalog, purchased by Fantasy Records. The lead track was "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" from AP Meets the Rhythm Section. So I picked up Straight Life, read it in a few days and days later began my collection of 50-100+ Art CD's. By the time I snared a copy of the complete Galaxy Records box set, I was even more amazed. As cool as Art looked in the 50s, and as hip as his early stuff was, his final work was frantically far superior. As for the book, Straight Life, what I loved about it, and what Laurie Pepper cops to in this new book, is that it wasn't really about music, per say. As hard as she tried to get Art to talk music, he had loftier subjects to broach. And that's what gave it its shine and edge. I've since used the book in my work, as a measuring stick (alongside George Plimpton's Edie) on how to use multiple points of view, even multiple voices, which is extremely difficult to write. Okay, so buy Straight Life, and then order a whole bunch of Art's music. Going out on a limb, I'd recommend the recent live ones on Laurie's Widow's Taste label. What they may lack in fidelity, they more than make up for in fury and genius, a word I never use, ever. But Art was a genius, granted a tortured one. Also, Art was white and West Coast. He had to be better, the best, and he was. As for the new book, Art: WISWAJJ...as the late Paul Harvey used to say...and now, here's the rest of the story. Art has a deeper dimension than SL. Way more detailed.Read more ›
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Yes, yes, yes - read it. You won't be able to stop. Whether your main interest is Jazz and its history, or memoir by women, Laurie Pepper takes you on an extraordinary journey, her life with jazz artist Art Pepper, the great, the good, the bad and the awful of it. Most of us, love or no, would not, could not have stuck it out with someone as sly and cunning and talented as Art Pepper. Most of us wouldn't have had the patience to see and appreciate his humor and his music and work hard to protect them. But we can be glad that Pepper did, otherwise we'd never have been able to share her experience safely. We, well at least most of us, would probably have run, screaming to some safe haven and a cup of tea.

Art Pepper was a musical genius. He was, like many geniuses, especially musical geniuses, charming, amusing, and difficult. Laurie's two main tasks in their relationship seemed to be getting and keeping him straight (off drugs) and getting him and his group to the stage on time. She gives us the nitty gritty on what it took to do this.

"Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman" opens to us a love affair, a marriage, as well as the 'jazz scene' of the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's and Art and Laurie's travels in Europe and Asia. Art played. Laurie saw the insides of airports, hotels, clubs, eateries, hotels and airports - not a Cook's Tour.

She doesn't spare us, herself, or Art. The title says it all: Art: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman. But do read the whole story. Fascinating. Ms. Pepper's truth comes shining through humor, affection, love, and loss, but most of all love.
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Anyone who read "Straight Life" (autobiography of alto jazz legend Art Pepper) saw it was co-authored by Laurie Pepper, his wife. Now we learn more about both their lives, separately and together. One very great read; couldn't put it down. This era in jazz is so crucial to it's understanding, and pretty much every jass hero can be found in this work. Extremely well written by Ms. Pepper.
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I loved a lot of things about this book that are distinctly personal, as well as of general historical interest. While I don't know Ms. Pepper personally, and was more aware of parts of the West Coast jazz scene than Art Pepper's work, she and I are both close in age, and do share overlaps in our histories as Californians deeply involved with jazz and much of the culture there more broadly (I also read her Straight Life when it first came out). Thus, having lived in Hollywood and Venice in the `60s and `70s, many of my own vivid memories of places, times, and musical trends then blazed back to life as I read her account (two special such sweet spots were her family connection to the Stravinsky of that time and place, a composer of great personal import to my father and me, and one we would see out and about in public now and then; and the glimpses of the great Shelley Manne and his club in LA). Some less savory memories of my own brushes with drugs, druggies, drug culture and (reading about) Synanon also matched the substance and particulars of hers. Most of all, I unpacked plenty of my own baggage in roles similar to hers--not being married to a major artist, but having plenty of experiences writing about a few (as a working journalist-cum-scholar), working with them closely on the business sides of their music, sometimes playing with them (as a trombonist)...and, short of the love thing, being quite close friends at some points with some.

Along with that already informed and solid simpatico was a real meeting of the minds, as reader/fellow writer to her writer.
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