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POEM: The Truth About Art Pepper

Listen to this poem using the player above.

Art Pepper is my favorite alto saxophonist and one of my favorite musicians, period. I wrote this while listening to Stuttgart May 25, 1981 – Unreleased Art Vol. V. Art’s wife, Laurie, has been on The Jazz Session twice. If you’d like to learn more about Art, please listen to her appearances in 2007 and 2009.

Photo (c) Laurie Pepper

The Truth About Art Pepper

Art’s life is Synanonymous with art, the making of
with the alto saxophone, the playing of
with Ginsberg’s angel-headed hipsters, the slaying of

Art’s sound is a soaring cry that no bird of prey can outshine
he is a misty-morning muezzin atop the minaret calling the faithful
to the temple of pure emotion, architecture without artifice

Art is the inmate released, outpouring pent-up desire
archetype of the madness that bound those bound by the 50s
survivor of the plain old lives that crashed in the purple mountains

Art for Art’s sake, one foot hokey-pokeying on the ledge
the people like ants – aren’t they always? – far below
(although Art was never one to put himself above the people)

Art could play a ballad like he had Cupid’s arrow lodged between his ribs
could play the blues like he’d been struck down on a dusty road
could blaze like the nucleus of the sun, irradiating the audience with love

Art was the original Comeback Kid, cutman in his corner dabbing
his sweaty brow with a towel, handing him a new reed soaked
in the jar of blood and guts beside the ring

Art could take a punch, roll with it, let the kinetic energy of the blow
travel from his gut to his spine, slide up to his brain
there to spark the next invention, the next flight of fancy

Art is beauty and beauty is truth and therefore Art was the truth
he was the news that stays news, the last dispatch from the battlefront
Art could make the shooting stop, could arrest breath and pause time

Art’s most magical reality was that he was purely human
not carved from marble by a holy sculptor with a careful eye
but made from the same clay as we all, gifted with the breath of music

Published in Audio Poems Jazz Music My poems Poetry


  1. What a fine poem! Quite evocative and felt, when read out loud, like a great saxophone solo. Mighty impressive (and expressive) work Jason.

  2. Thanks so much, Richard. Are you going to see Fay tonight? If so, say hi to her for me. And enjoy! (I’m jealous!)

  3. Bob Ayer Bob Ayer

    Art Pepper – truly an original in an era of the sll-out

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