JIM PEPPER: AN
from: "The Jazz
Legacy of Jim Pepper, An American Original"
written by: Bill Siegel
PEPPER, the son of a Creek Indian mother and Kaw father, grew up surrounded by the songs and dances of the intertribal powwow
circuit. He learned Native
peyote chants and other songs from his father, Gilbert Pepper, and grandfather, Ralph Pepper. Originally from Oklahoma, his family moved to Portland,
Oregon, where he was born – although
he spent many summers back in Oklahoma
with his grandfather’s family.
the mid-1960s, he left home to make a name for himself in New York
– which he did by exploding onto the scene with what may very well have been the first jazz-rock fusion band, Free Spirits.
That early, innovative group – with Bob Moses on drums, Larry Coryell and Columbus Baker on guitars, and Chris Hill
on vocals and bass, along with Pepper on saxophone – recorded their first album, Out of Sight and Sound, for Rudy Van
Gelder at ABC/Paramount at ABC/Out of Sight and Sound, for Rudy Van Gelder at ABC/Paramount in 1967. Following that, in the
late 1960s, after Gary Burton “lured” Coryell and Moses into his own band, Pepper and the remaining Free Spirits
formed Everything is Everything, and Pepper’s composition, “Witchi Tai To” – eventually his most well
known song – soon became the band’s signature piece. Those early bands gained a reputation in the rock-and-roll
clubs for starting their sets with 20-minute long, unaccompanied sax solos from Pepper, something rock audiences had never
heard before. “Witchi Tai To“, based on a ritual chant he learned from his grandfather, was a major crossover
hit on jazz and popular Top 40 lists around the world, and has been covered in nearly 100 recordings by countless pop and
“world music” musicians.
was encouraged by Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman to dig deeper into his Native music and incorporate it into his jazz playing
and composition (Cherry was well known for encouraging musicians around the world to look to their own indigenous music for
inspiration). Pepper’s first album under his own name, Pepper’s Pow Wow, was released in 1971 on Herbie Mann’s
Embryo label, and includes his father, Gil (or “Gib”) Pepper. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Pepper recorded
with a vast range of jazz greats, including Cherry,Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, Dewey Redman, Ed
Schuller, John Scofield, Mal Waldron, and many others. On a State Deprtment tour with Cherry, he enjoyed a particularly warm
reception from African audiences who applauded his unique blend of Native American music and jazz. According to Cherry, “The
response in Africa was tremendous when Jim would play one
of the pow wow pieces he had written… They realized that here was something truly American.” [emphasis added]
PEPPER LEGACY IN RECORDED MUSIC: A TREASURE CHEST
an article written by Jim Olding (http://
Note: Originally written by Portland jazz DJ Jim Olding as a celebration of the life and legacy of Jim Pepper, his article
is published in In Motion Magazine in tandem with an interview of filmmaker Sandra Osawa, who directed the documentary "Pepper's
so you know all the words to "Witchi Tai To"; chances are that you heard Jim Pepper perform many times at Portland clubs and concert dates. Perhaps you
even knew him personally (and what a mixed blessing that could be!) Even so, there is probably quite a bit of Pepper's music
that you've never heard.
Pepper was the most important jazz musician ever to come out of Portland, Oregon.
This may not be a shocking statement to European audiences, who loved him madly, nor to musicians familiar with his work.
But it strikes me that here in his hometown, knowledge of our celebrated Native son is a mile wide and an inch deep. He created
a unique synthesis of Native American music with the language of modern jazz, a fact of historical significance for which
he will be long remembered. In addition, as a saxophonist and composer in the jazz idiom itself, he was a major player on
the international scene.
big warm expansive sound that came from Jim Pepper's tenor was a perfect expression of the individual whose breath produced
it. And in a field dominated by individualists, he was truly unique. Pepper's parents, Gilbert and Floy, of the Kaw and Creek
nations, respectively, from the beginning instilled in Jim a pride in his Native American heritage that would ever be an inspiration
in his life and music. His talents were evidenced very early in lifefirst as a tap, then Indian dancer; as an all- star athlete
(especially in baseball) and promising actor. But from the time he picked up the saxophone, at age 15, it was music that possessed
has been written elsewhere (though not always accurately) about Pepper's musical career: his stint in New York in the mid
and late 1960s; the influence of Ornette Coleman (who encouraged Jim to integrate his Indian roots in his music); his work
throughout the 1970s in Portland, Juneau, and San Francisco; his "discovery" by Don Cherry (himself part Choctaw Indian) in
the late 1970s; tours of Europe and Africa with Cherry, Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, and the Paul Motian Quintet;
his return to New York (in 1982) and eventual move to Vienna in 1989. But nowhere, I think, has there been a comprehensive
listing of his rich and varied recorded legacy. Here is as much information as I've been able to amass, starting with Pepper's
Pow Wow".Embryo SD 731 (distributed by Atlantic Records).
a rare collector's item, this LP is perhaps the most heard-about and least heard of all of Pepper's recordings. It was produced
by Herbie Mann and released in 1971, receiving much acclaim on the strength of 'Witchi Tai To" (which had been recorded previously).
All of the compositions were based on Native themes, even though some are musically more akin to the country-western tradition
(e.g. "Drums" with Pepper's Johnny Cash-style vocal). Prominent players include Jim's dad, Gilbert and then-wife, Ravie, along
with Tom Grant, Larry Coryell and Billy Cobham, among others. Pepper was at once proud of, and unhappy about, this session
and the circumstances surrounding it; he left the New York
music scene in disillusionment in 1971, not to return for 11 years.
& Goin' "(original Europa JP 2014) Island/Antilles 7-90680-1 recorded in May, June, August 1983.
is the definitive statement of Pepper's unique "American Indian jazz" and a must-have for lovers of his music. Happily, it
is now readily available on CD. Here are nine very together renditions of songs that Jim played, often with completely different
titles and arrangements, throughout his career. Here is his only (I wonder why) recorded appearance with his longtime friend
and inspiration, Don Cherry (on "Squaw Song"). Cherry's tune "Malinyea," an adopted standard of Pepper's is also included.
Here are four different groupings of incredibly sympathetic accompanists: John Scofield and Bill Frisell, guitar; Kenny Werner,
piano; Mark Helias and Ed Schuller, bass; Hamid Drake and Danny Gottlieb, drums; Nana Vasconcelos and the late Collin Walcott,
percussion; Native American singer Jane Lind; and former Portlanders Lester McFarland and Caren Knight, on electric bass and
vocals, respectively. If you haven't heard this album, you haven't fully experienced Jim Pepper's music.
Song".Enja 5043 (CD-34) King K32Y-6225 (Japan)
recorded April 1987, with Kirk Lightsey, piano; Santi Debriano, bass; John Betsch, drums.
the title song is one of Pepper's familiar Plains Indian themes, this is essentially a straight-ahead session with Jim's working
group of the period. An Ornette Coleman composition, a blues, two standards, two of Jim's own jazz "standards," and "Dakota
Song"with an excellent rhythm section: this is representative of any of Pepper's club gigs throughout the `70s and '80's.
(It rated 4 stars in Downbeat.)
Path".Enja 5087 (CD-60) recorded March, 1988. Same personnel as "Dakota Song" with Stanton Davis, trumpet, Arto Tuncboyaci, percussion; Caren Knight, vocals.
the most fully realized of Pepper's own albums, "The Path" showcases all of his varied abilities, with the confident energy
that was his personal bounty after several successful years on the European jazz circuit. A highlight among seven strong performances
is the quietly beautiful duet arrangement of "Witchi Tai To" with Kirk Lightsey.
Tracks".Recorded 10/88 for Extraplatte.
one merits mention since it may be released to the public in the near future. I've only heard a mediocre cassette dub and
I have no clue as to the personnel, but the material is as varied and idiosyncratic as Jim Pepper's personality. It's all
herecool jazz, smoky blues, wailing R&B, Oklahoma-Indian-country ("Running Bear"!), and a funked-up rendition of his classic
"Polar Bear Stomp."
Whales in New York" with Gordon Lee.TuTu 8881 Gleeful 002 recorded December, 1982 (released 8/90) with Lee, piano; Calvin
Hill, bass; Bob Moses, drums.
probably familiar to Portland
audiences, this CD may not be widely available elsewhere. Gordon Lee, Pepper's pianist of choice on scores of occasions, is
both a fine player and composer; by no means out of his league with these world-class musicians. (Hill and Moses, of course,
both carry well-known credentials.) Gordon and Jim were close friends, and even at this early stage of their musical collaboration,
their empathy is apparent. Each contributed three originals to this date, which includes the standard "Autumn in New York."
Story of Maryam" with the Paul Motian Quintet.Soul Note 1074, recorded 7/83; "Jack of Clubs" SN1124 recorded 3/84; ' Misterioso'
SN 21164 recorded 7/86 Motian, drums; Ed Schuller, bass; Bill Frisell, guitar; Joe Lovano, tenor.
was a truly remarkable ensemble, not least of all for the interesting contrast of the two tenor sounds, as striking at times
as would be a pairing of Stan Getz and Pharoah Sanders. Joe Lovano's tone is pure and clear, his impeccable solos solidly
in the post-bop tradition; while Pepper adds the rough-edged, plaintive wails of the post-Coltrane, Albert Ayler school. If
you haven't-got an aural handle on Pepper's unique style yet, listening to any of these albums will be a master class for
you. Most of the compositions and very modern arrangements are by Motian; Frisell's distinctive guitar is outstanding, and
Ed Schuller, as always, provides a strong foundation.
with the Marty Cook Group.Enja 5033 recorded 1/87; "Red, White, Black & Blue" Enja 5067 (CD- 59) recorded 11 t87.
Cook, an American now residing in Munich,
is a trombonist deserving wider recognition, and a composer of some great vehicles for improvisation. Both of these albums
feature the powerful drumming of John Betsch. The first has former Portlander Essiet Okun Essiet on bass; on "R,W, B &
B" it's Ed Schuller. Mal Waldron joins the group for 3 of the 7 pieces on the latter, which also features Pepper's composition,
(for his friend and mentor Don Cherry.) Some hard blowing around memorable melodies on both discs.
with Claudine Francois.PAN Music (distributed by Harmonia Mundi) PMC 1106 rec. 5/89.
one may prove to be difficult to obtain locally, but it is well worth the effort. (It's one of Gilbert and Floy's favorites,
as well as mine). This is a quartet led by the Parisian Francois, a pianist with powerful chops and a considerable flair for
songwriting, of which there are eight examples here, among eleven selections. Jim's playing is so perfectly beautiful on this
one that it's obvious he was among familyto wit: longtime Pepper associate, and Gunter's son, Ed Schuller on bass; and the
expatriate American, Jim's soul brother, and Claudine's husband, John Betsch on drums.
"West End Avenue".Nabel 4633 (CD 26)
recorded 2/ 89, with Christoph Spendel, piano; Ron McClure, bass; Ruben Hoch, drums.
(I believe), this session didn't have an announced leader, as each member contributed at least one tune; Pepper's being "3/4
Gemini." The players, of whom I know very little, are adequate at the very least, but there are not major fireworks here,
unlike Jim's two other recording dates from 1989. Worth checking out, but probably a rare find for U.S. collectors.
Dance, and Soul"with Mal Waldron.TuTu 888- 002 (CD102) recorded 11/87, "Art of the Duo"TuTu 888- 006 recorded 4/88,"Quadrologue
at Utopia"Vol. 1 TuTu CD 888118 recorded 10/89.
Waldron met Pepper here in Portland in 1986 when Monique Goldstein, a personal manager for both men, arranged for them to
play together at the Hobbit. Their musical and personal rapport was deep and instantaneous. "Mal Dance and Soul" is mostly
a trio date with Ed Schuller and John Betsch, but Pepper digs deep on Waldron's "SoulMates," a duo which he dedicated to Jim.
On the CD version only, Pepper joins the group for "Solar", "Blue Monk", and Waldron's "Golden Golson."
duo set is a pure delight in musical conversation that lovers of either player will never tire of hearing. Among the ten selections
are three Pepper originals not recorded elsewhere.
second volume of "Quadrologue" is promised, and I for one can't wait to hear it. Volume one, recorded during two nights at
the club Utopia in Innsbruck,
Austria, is perhaps the strongest
example of Pepper's tenor ever committed to tape. Moreover, the interaction of all four player - Mal, and Jim, with (who else?)
Ed Schuller and John Betschis utter magic. They exude a level of spiritual energy that must have been intense within the club
settingit leaps right off the disc on each of the five long pieces (which include Pepper's "Funny Glasses and a Moustache.")
Seek this one out like the Holy Grail.
and Air" with Nana Simopoulos.Enja 5031 (CD-31 ).
is a Greek-American artist who performs on guitar, voice and the Greek string instrument, the bouzouki. She wrote all six
of the pieces (the CD includes 3 more from an earlier session) of which Pepper contributes to three. This is contemporary
music with a strong ethnic influence which might appeal to "new age" and "world beat" devotees, despite its powerful jazz
inspiration. A real rarity here is Pepper's performance on flute. Other players include Charlie Haden, bass, Jerry Granelli,
drums, and Ara Dinkjian, oud (w/ Pepper). Don Cherry, Nana Vasconcelos and Arto Tuncboyaci appear elsewhere on the album.
Free Spirits "Out of Sight and Sound"ABC/ Paramount
(ABC 593) recorded 1966 (?) Everything is Everything, featuring Chris
Hills, "Everything is Everything
Vanguard Apostolic VSD 6512. recorded 1969 (?)
are Pepper's first commercially released appearances on record, and both have become rather valuable collector's items. "Late
1960s rock" you say, blindfolded. "But hey, these guys actually know how to play their instruments! And this sax player, who
shifts from King Curtis to Albert Aylerwhoa, that's Jim Pepper!" Even in his 20's, his sound was his own, it's true. And the
other guys? The Free Spirits included guitarist/songwriter Larry Coryell and drummer Bobby Moses. In both groups were Chip
Baker on rhythm guitar and current Portland resident J r Chris Hills
on bass, drums, vocals, and guitar. Chris also wrote most of the songs for the latter LP, which also features local (closet)
genius Lee Reinoehl on organ and trumpet. (Portlander Dennis Springer replaced Pepper on their next album.) Oh, by the way,
"Everything is Every- thing" opens with the world's first recording of "Witchi Tai To" (in an under-3- minute version).
Aliens" with Cam Newton.Inner City IC 1079 recorded.
Aug., 1979. "When Elephants Dream of Music", with Bob Moses,Grammavision GR-8203 recorded April, 1982. "Ballad of the Fallen"
with Charlie HadenECM 1248, recorded Nov., 1982.
of these albums is beyond easy categorization, stacked with stellar musicians, and worthy of greater attention. All three
focus on ensemble playing, but Pepper's melodic tenor is featured prominently on Newton's lovely "The Theme", Moses' "BIack
Orchid" (for Billy Strayhorn), and Haden's timeless "La Pasionaria", as well as two uptempo Moses numbers: "Everybody Knows
You When You're Up and Inn and "Disappearing Blues". "Live at International Jazz Festival MuensterArt of the Duo"TuTu CD 888-110.
This is an anthology with four different groups (chiefly John Scofield and Albert Mangelsdorff) that features at least one
selection by the Marty Cook Group with Jim Pepper.
"Alaska Hit Singles"released 1984 by Alaska
Productions includes Pepper's "Polar Bear Stomp."
Hymasnato (Vogue) recorded Jan. '90. A French release by an English rocker with an Arnerican Indian focus, this features Pepper
on one track.
exciting studio sessions went down during the late 1960s all unreleasedwith such players as Elvin Jones, Billy Hart, Mike
Nock, Bob Moses, Keith Jarrett, Eddie Gomez, and others. Efforts are being made at this writing to track down the masters,
if they still exist, from these sessions. Pepper also appeared on various singles released in those years, including the hit,
"Spooky" by the Classics IV, and one by Everything is Everything. It is my understanding that there are also some newer recordings
"in the can" in Europe that may yet appear.
was to have recorded two new albums, "Remembrance" under his own name in January, and a second session with pianist Gordon
Lee in February. Everything was in place, including tunes, personnel, and studio time, but his illness forced cancellations
of both. However, much material of value is available to the diligent fan and hopefully more will be soon forthcoming.
on availability: Many of the older items, obviously, are out-of-print and are only obtainable used; but some can be
found. Most of the others can be ordered through local retailers. I can also provide a list of addresses that may prove useful
if you need help. Send me an SASE at 1535 SE Pine, Portland,
Jim Olding, better known to Portland's jazz community as Jacques, has been a
jazz programmer at Community Radio Station, KBOO http://www.kboo.com, since 1979, the same year that he met Jim Pepper, who
was playing a gig at the Kingston.
Many thanks to Floy Pepper, Monique Goldstein, and Laurie Sonnenfeld for their invaluable assistance in compiling this article.
published in Jazz Now Magazine, 1535 S.E. Pine, Portland,
Soul Notes archive recently reissued on CD.
Published in In Motion
Magazine October 26, 1997