Monday, March 4, 2019

Chapter Five of the Bio

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

My apologies for missing the February post. My work schedule has shifted since
December. I now work all day Friday through Sunday. I’m just too beat to write
over the weekend. Mondays will now be the new posting day.

It’s been a very productive few months of 2019. Chapter Five of the biography is
mostly done. Currently, I’m working through my last fifty or so interviews,
tweaking things here and there. The interviews will take me through the summer.
Then I can wrap up the chapter and move on to the Listener’s Guide, 1963-1977.
Hearing all of that music, and writing about Pepper’s best solos from the period,
will take the rest of the year to complete. Once done, I can move on to the final
chapter, covering the period 1956-1963. I’m expecting the finish line to be
Christmas, 2020.

Here’s an amusing excerpt from Chapter Five, spoken by the writer Albert

“At that time,” said Goldman, “I always had a 4th of July party.”

I always had a lot of jazz musicians to it, because those guys don’t go out of town on that day and they don’t
know what to do with themselves. I’d always have Zoot, and I’d always have Elvin, and I’d always have them
at my apartment. This year, I did it bigger. I took the whole restaurant. A lot of weird people came: Buddy
Rich. . . . I had this friend at the time who was a real hardcore drug criminal, a wonderful character. He said,
“Al, let me cater the drugs for the party.” I said, “O.K., man, go ahead.” So, they had all these drugs out on
bronze platters that they were passing around, the [chargers] that they put down before they serve you the
meal, then they remove it and put down the plates. They filled all those up with drugs. Some of the Indian
waiters are going around, saying, “Hashish! Hashish!” This is the atmosphere of the party in the afternoon.
The guy who ran the restaurant was a weird cat named Samsher Wadud, who claimed to be a nephew of the
Prime Minister of Bangladesh. He went over to the U.N. that day to demonstrate. He said, “I’m going to leave
you in charge of the restaurant, O.K?” I said, “Fine, don’t worry about it. These are all my people. We have no
problem. If anybody else comes, I’ll just take care of them.” In the course of the afternoon, I think only one
couple turned up who weren’t from the party. It was some big, blonde, buxom English lady and her spinster
daughter, or niece, or something, and they didn’t know what was going on. They just walked into this
restaurant for an Indian meal and people are passing these plates of drugs. I remember they reached into a pile
of marijuana and just put it in their mouths, like it was some seeds they were going to eat, like alfalfa. When
they got through, they asked for the bill. I said, “Oh, no, it’s all on the house. You’re here for the first time,
aren’t you?” And they said, “Oh, you’re so gracious! We’ll have to tell everyone in England when we get
home. . . .”
All my crazy friends were there. Drug dealers. Of course Bob [Gold] was there with his old lady at the
time, and Zoot and Elvin. I remember Zoot passed out completely. He never even got to play. Pepper played
this great musical afternoon we were going to make an album of it, actually. What it was was mostly a lot
of Duke Ellington stuff in a very icy, cool mode, like the frost on a bucket of champagne. It was so beautiful!
I would love to hear him in that mode. I told him, “Play all that cool Ellington stuff.” It’s an afternoon party.
We’re up in the penthouse there, all high as a kite. I said, “Let’s really do it. Do all those Billy Strayhorn
tunes.” It was a very cool, frosted-champagne afternoon.
That afternoon always stuck out in my mind as the kind of thing that Pepper should have been doing a lot
because he loved it. He was just functioning as a musician. He wasn’t an assertive guy. He didn’t want to be a
star. He just wanted to do his own thing, but he wanted to do it under the right auspices. He didn’t want to be
in some shithouse with a bunch of nitwits. And this was a very cool audience. I remember there was a very
hip Brazilian guy who came up with his girlfriend, who was just in from Rio. (I know a lot of people, and the
kind of audience he loved, who could really dig him.) Jack Kroll of Newsweek was there. I remember Jack just
sat there, with his drink, in front of Pepper for about an hour and dug him.
I thought to myself, “This is the kind of gig that guys should always be playing.” But nobody knew
he existed! That’s the tragedy of it. This great talent. I’m telling you, after years and years in the
jazz scene, I’ve heard all the famous, so-called “underground” stars. There’s a lot of these people.
One of them is Zoot’s brother, who played trombone for years in bands in Vegas. He’s a very good
trombone player. There are a number of people; they dropped out of the business because they had
to make a living, they had to put their kids through college, they lived in some weird town, or
something. But over the course of years, you get to hear them all, and, believe me, none of them
were in a league with Pepper. None of them. There wasn’t anybody. Pepper “walked away” from
all these people. He was the hippest, he was the coolest, he was the greatest technician, he was the
most sophisticated, the one who integrated more references.

Because my co-author, John Vana, is teaching a graduate level course this Spring at Western Illinois
about “the big three” (Bird, Trane, Pepper), it seemed like a great time to visit with his students, and
organize a few college lectures in the Midwest around the trip. Accordingly, I’ll be lecturing this coming
April at the University of Wisconsin- Lacrosse, Winona State University, Beloit College, and the
University of Northern Iowa. I’m also taking some vacation time in the Twin Cities.

The baritone saxophonist Anders Svanoe invited me to speak to his students at Beloit. Ultimately, we
decided to put on a concert of Pepper’s music in Madison, Wisconsin. His quartet will perform, and I’ll
read a few passages from Joy Road. It takes place on Wednesday, April 17 at 8pm. Here’s the