Laurie Pepper Extends Saxophone Icon Art Pepper’s Legacy

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Laurie (left) and Art Pepper

(Photo: Phil Bray/lauriepepper.net)

If you’re a fan of legendary saxophonist Art Pepper, perhaps you wonder from time to time about his widow, Laurie.

For anyone who read the no-holds-barred books Straight Life: The Story of Art Pepper or the more recent ART: Why I Stuck With a Junkie Jazzman, there would be plenty of reason to be concerned about Laurie, who struggled with drug addiction and spent time in rehab and in prison.

In fact, she met Art in rehab. They collaborated on Straight Life (which was published in 1979 and continues to sell) and remained together until Art died in 1982 at 56.

That same year, DownBeat readers voted Art into the Hall of Fame. “About time,” Laurie quipped in a recent conversation, meaning, of course, that it should have happened long before his death.

Worry not, Pepper fans, about Laurie, who is based in Los Angeles and recently celebrated her 76th birthday with a new Facebook profile photo.

As a youngster, Laurie attended the University of California at Berkeley, then a hotbed of protest, and served a photographer for the firebrand L.A. Free Press in the tumultuous 1960s. Later, as her brief bio puts it, she “went astray and wound up in rehab where she met Art Pepper.”

Laurie went on to manage his career, produce albums, write liner notes, and more.

While her life is less dramatic these days, it’s anything but serene. Her work nowadays is devoted to Art and his music. She puts in hours daily like a factory worker producing and promoting Art’s music.

Ironically, she’s not an avid jazz fan, but she is an Art Pepper fan.

“Ten years ago, I formed Widow’s Taste Records, and I have put out eight previously unreleased albums,” Laurie said. “The ninth one is due in November, and it will be an unreleased, unheard 3-CD set of Art and [tenor saxophonist] Warne Marsh. It was recorded live in 1974 in Donte’s in L.A.”

She raved over the mastering techniques and overall quality of the work of Wayne Peet, her partner in all things Pepper.

Laurie said she feels tremendous joy and gratitude every time she releases an album of Art’s music.

“It’s all for Art,” she said. “I do feel a sense of obligation to put out as many recordings as I can. It was very important for him to record and release as much music as was possible. And I believe he would be really happy with what I’m doing. I also feel a responsibility to the fans.”

Laurie has set up multiple websites to promote her books and Art’s recordings. She routinely posts clips of his music. Though the fan base is not huge, the websites allow people from all the world to enjoy Art’s music. “And I do mean all over the world,” Laurie asserted.



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