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The Art Pepper Companion: Writings on a Jazz Original by Todd Selbert

Todd Selbert, the editor of a valuable new collection of 30 short pieces about Art Pepper, suggests in his introduction that the best written companion to Pepper’s music is Straight Life: The Story of Art Pepper. That’s the late, great altoist’s searingly truthful autobiography (co-written with his wife, Laurie), which documents the bebopper’s life in drugs, sex, violence and crime-as well as music. In short, a life in which one of the few things “straight”-in the legal, not sexual, sense-was Pepper’s unblinking honesty. To those with a newfound love for Pepper, that should be the first book to read.

This book, The Art Pepper Companion, includes pieces by some of the best jazz critics: Whitney Balliett, Ted Gioia, Bob Blumenthal and Dan Morgenstern. But the strongest work on Pepper is by Gary Giddens, who combines unparalleled knowledge of his subject with great clarity and incisiveness as a writer. Selbert saw fit to include four of Giddens’ sharply drawn essays on Pepper, more than any other writer. And Giddens finds Pepper to be a prime case history for the mysteries of jazz. He was a musician who shattered as many stereotypes as he created. “Our fascination with the great white bebopper-of whom there is none greater than Art Pepper-is part envy and part admiration because he got close to the secret world of black culture-that world of genius and fire and bared emotion that promised salvation,” Giddins writes.

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