The Jazz Legacy of Jim Pepper: An American Original


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This is where I’ve put many of the articles I’ve written, either to figure out what it is about Pepper’s music that draws us in so deeply, or simply to pay him his deserved tribute in gratitude for what left for us. Putting them on the Web was also a way to make it easier for me to share what I’m doing with other people, so much quicker and easier than making copies of articles and dropping them in the mail. This way, a couple clicks on your computer and you are at the always-open door of my little “Jim Pepper Village Square”.

I had been asked by the (now defunct, alas) Belgium jazz magazine, jazz’halo, to write a small piece about my impressions of Pepper and his music for a special tribute they were publishing in his honor. That’s where “It’s Good Where We’ve Been…” comes from. Unfortunately, I can’t read Flemish, so I have no idea what most of the other people had to say about him (except in a couple cases, where I was able to get in touch with the writers). But it was exciting to see a major tribute to Pepper in such a professional and (at least in Belgium) well known publication. Too bad it couldn’t survive publishing’s hard times.

A Tale of Synchronicity” brings together what were once several unfinished pieces or “germs” of ideas, which one day suddenly fell together when I stopped thinking about it all too linearly. It’s an adventure, sort of a stream-of-consciousness journey, which reflects the many paths that Pepper’s music can lead me to.

I think the “Jazz and the Politics of Identity” owes its birth to the wonderfully talented Apache/German-Irish musician/scholar, John-Carlos Perea, with whom I’ve been corresponding and talking to about issues related to Pepper and cultural identity for several years now. John-Carlos is a brilliant musician and scholar, and I probably felt a need to put some of the ideas we talked about into more of a straightforward, analytical thesis — complete with footnotes, even! But it was also to explore something I feel very strongly about — that no matter what your talent or genius might be, it is inevitably going to be nurtured (or stymied) and colored by the times you live and grow up in. and Jim Pepper came up during one of the most culturally explosive and turbulent times in Amercan history. In fact, in the world’s history. He might have been able to do what he did in another time, but it probably would have taken a different form, had a different effect, or been snared in a cultural headlock of forces beyond his control. Let’s just say thanks that if he had to be a product of any given age, that it was the one that made him and that he helped make.

The Man Who Never Sleeps” was my first written and published piece. It is purely about my impressions of how and why Pepper’s music reached so deeply into my gut and heart. It doesn’t pretend to be anything more than that, but it convinced me that I needed to look deeper into this phenomenon, this thing called “Jim Pepper”. That was eight years ago, and I’m still at it.

In February 2005, I found out that the Portland, Oregon Jazz Festival was opening with a weekend-long tribute to Jim Pepper, including performances by former collaborators, a screening of the documentary, “Pepper’s Pow Wow”, panel discussions, and several workshops. I was honored to be invited to take part in the panel discussions, but even more than that I was given the chance to meet many of the people Pepper worked with, as well as some members of his family, including his wonderful wife, Caren Knight-Pepper, and the biggest fan of his music, mother Floy Pepper. It was an unforgettable experience, one that comes into one’s path so rarely.

I will continue to add to this section as I write more.



Written by Bill Siegel

March 8, 2008 at 2:31 am

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