Jazz at 100 Hour 89: The Second Acts of Art Pepper, Dexter Gordon, & Johnny Griffin (1975 – 1985)

Art Pepper

Perfectly timed to reinforce the value of acoustic mainstream jazz and provide an alternative to both fusion and free jazz, Art Pepper, Dexter Gordon and Johnny Griffin reappeared and reestablished themselves as key players at the end of the 1970s. Their excellent late career work paved the way for the resurgence of mainstream bebop and hard bop in the 1980s.

“Despite successive waves of modal jazz, free jazz, and jazz-rock that swept hard bop to the sidelines, many musicians, both young and established, swam against the then prevailing tides of fashion. As the end of the 70s approached it was clear that neither freedom nor fusion had, as was widely predicted at the time, become the mainstream style. Both seemed to have run their course.” – Stuart Nicholson

Art Pepper.
Art Pepper had been off the scene, for all intents and purposes for fifteen years, with spells in San Quentin and Synanon, when he reappeared in 1975, with the release of a new LP, Living Legend.

“During his lengthy involvement with Synanon, a drug rehabilitation program, Pepper managed to integrate [musical changes from Ornette Coleman to John Coltrane] into an amazing whole, a predatory alto attack with a soft, vulnerable underbelly. The lyricism of his 1950s work was still evident, but his playing had become much freer, his tonal palette more varied, his creativity less fettered by the chord changes. A series of exceptional albums for the Galaxy and Contemporary labels documented this transformation and enabled Pepper to mount a major comeback after more than a decade of semi-obscurity.” – Ted Gioia

From that first release Living Legend, “’Lost Life’ is one of his most gentle-harrowing ballads, a self-portrait rigorously chewed out, and the whole session seems imbued with a mixture of nerves, relief and pent-up inspiration which the other players – an inspiring team – channel as best as they can.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Two years later, he made his first appearances in New York since he was a teen ager with Stan Kenton and memorialized the residency with his first live recordings. “His engagement at the Village Vanguard, with drummer Elvin Jones in the band, found him at such a high level of inspiration that his record company eventually released all of the tapes, hours of performance at a fever pitch.” – Ted Gioia

Lost Life. Art Pepper Quartet
(Art Pepper-as, Hampton Hawes-p, Charlie Haden-b, Shelly Manne-d). From Living Legend. 8/9/1975

Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Art Pepper Solo
(Art Pepper-as). From The Complete Village Vanguard Sessions. 7/28/1977

In 1980, Pepper release a record with strings – Winter Moon – “a profoundly beautiful record which far surpasses the norm for this kind of session, and Pepper uncorks one of his greatest solos against the rhapsodic sweep of Bill Holman’s arrangement on ‘Our Song’ … Art’s tone is peerless and the group do everything they can to enhance the beauty of his playing. The strings sound part of the process, rather than added on.” – Brian Morton and Richard Cook

Our Song. Art Pepper Quintet with Strings
(Art Pepper-as, Stanley Cowell-p, Howard Roberts-g, Cecil McBee-b, Carl Burnett-d). From Winter Moon. 9/3/1980

Dexter Gordon.
One of the most remarkable events in jazz in the 1970s was the “…amazing and widespread comeback for bebop, sparked off by Dexter Gordon, the great tenor saxophonist. For many years he had led a withdrawn existence in Europe (mainly Copenhagen), but then, in late 1976, he went to New York to appear at the Village Vanguard club. What was supposed to be a short engagement led to a triumphant comeback for both Gordon (who remained in the States until his death in 1990) and bebop itself.” – Joachim-Ernst Berendt

For his band, Gordon hired trumpeter Woody Shaw, who brought his working band. Shaw was a great choice to play alongside the tenor legend, he was one of the only musicians still working in the realm of straight-ahead jazz in the 1970s, and he is often referred to as the last great innovator on the jazz trumpet.

The resulting Homecoming LP was one bookend on a successful run that culminated a decade later in Gordon’s starring role in the 1986 film Round Midnight, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his portrayal of Dale Turner, an expat jazz musician, loosely based on Bud Powell and Lester Young. He won a Grammy for the film’s soundtrack entitled The Other Side of Round Midnight in the category for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance, Soloist and Herbie Hancock won the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Score.

In Case You Haven’t Heard. Dexter Gordon Quintet
(Woody Shaw-tp/flh, Dexter Gordon-ts, Ronnie Mathews-p, Stafford James-b, Louis Hayes-d). From Homecoming: Live At The Village Vanguard. 12/11 – 12/12/1976

As Time Goes By. Herbie Hancock – Dexter Gordon Band
(Dexter Gordon-ts, Herbie Hancock-p, John McLaughlin-g, Pierre Michelot-b, Billy Higgins-d). From The Other Side Of Round Midnight. 7/1 – 7/12/1985

Johnny Griffin.
“Like Gordon, Johnny Griffin moved to the continent in 1962, returning in 1978 after Gordon regaled him with stories of his own homecoming … Griffin was an exhilarating soloist renowned for a formidable technique that allowed him fast and feisty execution much admired by musicians, but his approach became more philosophical during the 1980s with less emphasis on speed and more on expressivity. With age he became a more commanding player. Together with Gordon’s resurgence, Griffin’s late 70s and early 80s albums … helped generate interest in the return to the hard-bop mainstream” – Stuart Nicholson

In the fifteen years he was on the Continent, Griffin “… had become a favourite in Scandinavia, working steadily but recording virtually nothing under his own name. With the avant-garde in the ascendant and then fusion capturing the middle of the market, his style of playing had been at something of a discount for a time. To a new generation of fans, who’d come along towards the end of the ’60s, if they hadn’t already been programmed by rock, he might well have seemed the kind of mythological beast that graces the cover of [his comeback LP, Return of the Griffin.] But the tide was turning slowly for jazz and the Galaxy recordings … were explicitly intended to revive his fortunes, much as Dexter Gordon’s had been earlier. Griff recorded A Little New York Midtown Music with Nat Adderley in September, played with Dexter Gordon at Carnegie Hall (Great Encounters) and a few weeks later was in the Fantasy studio in Berkeley…” for the first of three sessions in three months – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

From his disc with Nat Adderley, “’Yeehaw Junction’ is a desperate moan on a lonely night. Nat takes the mute and cries up a storm with Ron Carter as company. When Griffin and company join them, you know it’s a keeper. The sax is rarin’ to go: Johnny sputters, rolls, and boils, with his strongest turn of the album. Nat is relaxed, and just as sad. He lights on a four-note pattern, gets intense, and returns to the alleyway with Carter as the night slowly fades.” – AllAbout Jazz

Yeehaw Junction. Nat Adderley Quintet
(Nat Adderley-cor, Johnny Griffin-ts, Victor Feldman-p/el-p, Ron Carter-b, Roy McCurdy-d). From A Little New York Midtown Music. 9/18 – 9/19/1978

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. Johnny Griffin Quartet
(Johnny Griffin-ts, Stanley Cowell-p, Cecil McBee-b, Roy Haynes-d). From Ballads By Four. 12/1 – 12/5/1978

The tailwind created by Pepper, Gordon and Griffin not only propelled many other veteran mainstream acoustic players into the 1980s, it set the stage for a new generation of players. Some of these musicians, like Arthur Blythe, Oliver Lake, Dewey Redman and Julius Hemphill mixed the bebop renewal with the experiences of free jazz creating a new kind of “free bop.” Others like the Marsalis brothers, Terence Blanchard and Donald Harrison, Jr. hewed closer to an orthodox hard bop approach to great acclaim.

As the 1970s came to a close, many musicians searching for alternatives to jazz-rock fusion or free jazz found a home in straight-ahead acoustic jazz. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, whose Blue Note contract was not renewed in 1964, had spent a decade in relative obscurity, when they came roaring back with a series of legendary ensembles who fueled this return to jazz classicism. The alumni of this revived band became the core of The Young Lions, as they were known – well-trained, well-behaved, well-dressed virtuoso players with a conservative approach to the jazz canon. The Jazz Messengers and its progeny, the Young Lions in the next hour of Jazz at 100.

Art Pepper. Living Legend. Contemporary S 7633
Art Pepper. Art Pepper – More For Les – At The Village Vanguard, Volume Four. Contemporary C 7650
Art Pepper. Winter Moon. Galaxy GXY 5140
Dexter Gordon. Homecoming: Live At The Village Vanguard. Columbia PG 34650
Dexter Gordon. The Other Side Of Round Midnight. Blue Note BT 85135
Nat Adderley. A Little New York Midtown Music. Galaxy GXY 5120
Art Pepper, John Klemmer, Johnny Griffin, Joe Henderson. Ballads By Four. Galaxy GXY-5133

AAJ Staff. Nat Adderley: A Little New York Midtown Music. AllAbout Jazz. 5/1/1999. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/a-little-new-york-midtown-music-nat-adderley-fantasy-jazz-review-by-aaj-staff.php
Berendt, Joachim-Ernst. The Jazz Book: From Ragtime to the 21st Century (pp. 33-34). Chicago Review Press. Kindle Edition.
The Styles of Jazz: The Seventies
Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 7. The Fragmentation of Jazz Styles
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Art Pepper. Winter Moon.
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2008. The Penguin Jazz Guide To Jazz Recordings, Ninth Edition. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Nicholson, Stuart. 1995. Jazz – The 1980s Resurgence. New York, NY. Da Capo Press, Inc.
Chapter 3. The Hard Bop Mainstream.

Annotated playlists and streaming links for all the Jazz at 100 broadcasts: Jazz at 100

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