Is There a Pianist in the House?
Art started acting odd in Dayton, Ohio. Unbeknownst to me, he’d picked up
some coke along the way and, though Dayton seemed to me the deadest, dullest town
I’d ever seen, Art was uncharacteristically lively and cheerful. There was
a jewelers’ convention in the bleak hotel where we were staying, and Art gleefully
crashed it. He swiped an official badge and wrote a fake number on it in imitation
of the numbers on the other badges, and he came back from the big bazaar rooms with
some hideous cheap jewelry he’d bought for next to nothing: a ten-carat gold
pinkie ring with an little opal in it; a larger, squarish ring set with a brown,
lumpy, polished stone; and an ugly copper-wire bracelet he wore for the rest of
the tour. He’d somehow obtained an “outfit” (a syringe) and was
shooting the coke into the back of his hand and his wrist. This is something I discovered
later. The bracelet hid the marks. I just thought Art was more energetic because
he was on the road. I borrowed the badge and, for fifty bucks, bought a stunning
necklace of carved amethyst for my mother.
Gilly’s, the club in Dayton, was big and barn-like, and the house band John
obtained for us included a young pianist, who arrived at the afternoon rehearsal
in a white hearse. He was dressed in white from head to toe and entered flanked
by four or five young girls in wafting gypsy clothes. He was unwilling to rehearse
very much but said the charts looked easy, and he’d play them fine that night.
Art told him he’d better, and they traded angry looks. The guy departed with
his consort, like a ship with sails.
Art’s music wasn’t easy, and that night in performance, the fellow fucked
up the first chart. Art said something nasty, the guy stood up, said something nasty
back, his ladies started screeching, and it looked as if there’d be an onstage
fight, when a voice from way in back boomed out at this pianist, “Bill, get
outta here right now. I’m tellin’ ya, get out!” The big
bartender stomped out from behind the bar, baseball bat in hand. The kid responded
quick to this, jumped off the stage and, followed by his girlfriends shrieking oaths,
“Is there a pianist in the house?” the bartender asked. A curly,
red-haired boy jumped up. “I go to Juilliard,” he exclaimed.
This is how I remember it. Maybe he just leapt to the stage, and the Juilliard information
came later. In any case, he read music like a studio pro and played okay. Art played
great as he always did when he got mad. How was I to know he was already starting
to unravel? And what could I have done?
The Rock Island Line
Our next stop was Chicago. It was June, moving toward hot summer. It’d been
raining a lot in Dayton. Chicago was just muggy, but with a thrill in the air, and
Art seemed to sense it as we rolled in from the airport in our rental car, me driving.
Suddenly, he sat up straight, and staring out the window at the skyline, in a sort
of murmur, he fervently began to chant, “You’re gonna love this city.
You’re gonna love this city.”
I have a kind of myopia of the mind. I rarely think about what’s coming next.
It was this lack of foresight that enabled me to become a mother. There are people
who travel consciously, with forethought. They plan each trip with books and videos.
They buy tickets and imagine every detail eight, ten months before they go. They
never get exactly what they expected, but that’s not the point. They love
knowledge and the sense of control it can give. And they want the adventure to begin
Me, I look out the window and discover that I’m in an unfamiliar place, and
I’m surprised by all that means, amazed—then, and in ensuing days, by
the particulars: the smells, the colors, the different texture and scent of the
air, the style and stride of its specific people, its history, some of it maybe
buried in my brain from half-remembered books and movies, its myths, its famous
men and women, art and stories.
I realized, as Art twitched there in his seat, that Chicago had been the scene of
what he thought of as the big thing of his life, the pivotal moment. In Straight
Life the narrative turns operatic here:
In the Croydon Hotel in Chicago, in 1950, he sniffed heroin for the first time and
began his tragic (in the good, dramatic, mythic sense of the word) second career
as a poetic junkie, jailbird, standup guy. At that moment he became the Art Pepper
he and his fans have created. As an alcoholic he never would have seemed so glamorous.
It was the conflict between the sublimely good—his music—and the sensationally
evil—heroin—that gave the part he got to play in life its punch. In
the documentary Don McGlynn made about him (Notes from a Jazz Survivor),
Art says that what he thought on that occasion in Chicago, at the age of 25, was,
“If this is what the devil’s got, it’s what I want.”
We were revisiting the crossroads of Art’s history.
On this tour, the two gigs in New York and this one in Chicago were the most important.
Art was playing at a legendary club, the Jazz Showcase in the Loop. John Snyder
had gotten a room for us at a Holiday Inn or Howard Johnson’s on some bombed-out
edge of the town. From our window, we looked out on gray, grass-patched, dirt acres
showing the exposed, chewed-down foundations of old buildings and their lopped-off
concrete stoops. John had put us near the Methadone clinic where Art could get his
On the first or second day, while Art rested or, unbeknownst to me, went out in
search of drugs, I took a walk from the hotel hiking toward what seemed to be the
city. Eventually, I reached a dilapidated old building that had been a railroad
station. I climbed its splintered stairs, walked in through its opened doors, and
saw an old hand-lettered sign. It said “Rock Island Line.” Stunned and
silly and covered with goosebumps, I stood there in my backpack all alone in this
big echoing place and sang Leadbelly’s song, like a hymn to the sign.
Oh, the Rock Island Line
is a mighty good road.
Oh, the Rock Island Line
is the road to ride.
Oh, the Rock Island Line
is a mighty good road.
If you want to ride it,
got to ride it like you find it.
Get your ticket at the station
on the Rock Island Line.
I woke up and found myself in America, floored to discover I was in the “City
of the Big Shoulders,” “Hog Butcher for the World.” My surprised
eyes filled with tears.
At the Jazz Showcase every night I sold albums at the door (John had helped me persuade
Les Koenig to ship them to me for cost. They were unavailable in the record stores,
and somebody had to take care of actual business, even if it was me who can’t
add, subtract, divide, or multiply), and I cheered Art on.
The house band was excellent and cooperative, and the club’s owner, Joe Segal,
was a personage with a sense of his own importance based on his tenacity as a serious
Anyone who runs a viable jazz club for any length of time is a hero. Anyone who
deals with jazz musicians, drunken fans, the chaos that comes out at night, not
to mention liquor licenses, payoffs, hiring-and-firing, and placating cops and neighbors,
acquires a world-weary dignity I’ve never seen anywhere else in the music
business. Joe tolerated my record selling but upbraided me for my racket—the
yells of “Yeah,” and shrieks of approval with which I encouraged
Art in his solos. It was okay if the audience did it spontaneously, but when I did,
it looked fake to him, improper. I yelled out of enthusiasm and Art loved to hear
it. So I didn’t agree but contained myself because I respected Joe. He hushed
customers who talked during the music, even threatened to eject them. I’ve
never known another club-owner who’d do that.
Musically, Art was in top form. He dazzled me, and the reviewers raved. John Litweiler
in the Chicago Sun-Times called him “An architect of emotion.”
Of all the descriptions of Art I’ve ever read that one’s my favorite.
Speaking of architecture...I got into a conversation with somebody at the club about
the buildings of Chicago. I was curious. He told me there were two great things
to see—a slum, decayed and very beautiful, and then there was Oak Park, a
suburb filled with Frank Lloyd Wright private homes.
I took the car and brought my camera to the slum, and it was gorgeous. I know it
sounds stupid to say that. But it’s how James Baldwin put it. He writes that
he exited the headquarters of Elijah Muhammad and stepped out into the “vivid,
violent, so problematical streets” of black Chicago, thinking about
Allah’s vengeance on the whites and the brave, clean world of the reawakened
Muslim Negro. And he wondered, “What will happen to all that beauty, then?”
All that beauty: A Chicago ghetto with its storefront churches and the poetry of
their painted signs and the dark, aged, amputated buildings’ fragility-in-decay...I
won’t go on. I grew up with Trotskyists. I know how I sound. I won’t
dig myself a deeper hole.
And then I drove out to Oak Park. The houses were built early in Wright’s
career and were boring compared to the ones I’d seen in books or in L.A. I
liked the slum much better. I’m not talking architecture, though, and certainly
not sociology. But like Baldwin, as I tend to do, I’m talking aesthetics.
And this isn’t some dried-out cerebral thing. It’s what sustains the
soul. At least it sustains mine.
While I was perambulating about with a metaphorical lily in my hand like Oscar Wilde,
Art was exploring, too. I don’t remember how we handled it with the single
car, I guess alternate days, but Art drove around the neighborhood of the Methadone
center, through those devastated streets, until he encountered a black couple wandering
through the rubble: A tall, youngish man and his ragged, dusty girlfriend, who must
have been about 15 years old. I know this because, later, Art brought them to our
hotel room where they were monosyllabic, nervous, terrifying. Art just chattered
on at them and me—getting the money to pay them. He explained to me later
that he’d asked them if they knew where he could buy cocaine. (These adventures
predate the crack and AIDS epidemics and so lacked their foregone conclusions.)
The couple told him that they had some coke, and he gave them a ride to their pad,
a basement in an abandoned building on Chicago’s South Side. Probably one
of the very ones I’d been admiring. He described to me, with murky adjectives
and lots of detail, the place they took him to, where all three fixed cocaine using
water dripping from a rusting, leaky pipe. He’d loved the neighborhood. Like
me, he relished squalor; he just liked to get a whole lot closer to it than I did.
I told Art I never wanted him to bring people like that around again. They scared
me. Art was normally a very paranoid guy. He said these people were okay, just down
So, for me, Chicago was a kind of crossroads, too. There I began to see for the
first time what Art would be like as a working musician. And I began to see, though
not to understand, what Art had learned to do to deal with chronic paralyzing fear.
Art had realized or decided (it comes to the same thing) that this upcoming recording
session was the most important thing he’d ever had to do, and he was building
toward the level of insanity he felt he’d need to pull it off. His drug use
and his escalating madness was his armor or distraction, a protection from the terror
of the biggest challenge of his life so far. This session would confer on him, at
last, a California boy, the mantle of a world-class artist. He’d prove himself
by making an earthshaking album at the Village Vanguard in New York.
Live at the Village Vanguard
When we got back to New York, Art made friends with his Methadone counselor there
who sold him extra Methadone. I discovered this when I took $90 out of our petty
cash to pay the hotel bill, and Art told me I couldn’t have the money. After
some agitated questioning on my part and evasive arguing on his, he revealed he
needed it because he owed the counselor a couple hundred. I blew up, grabbed the
money, and he hit me. On the shoulder and not hard. The only time that ever happened.
At which point I fled. I paid the hotel and called John Snyder’s young assistant,
Jim, and took a cab to his place. He had a nice, newly gentrified apartment with
pale, pretty hardwood flooring that had been improperly installed. Its varnished
planks had buckled up like waves across the room. I paced the squeaking, uneven
floor and complained.
In spite of everything, I felt safe in New York. I had, at the moment, no money,
and the only credit card I owned was for Saks Fifth Avenue, but I felt securer than
I ever had back in L.A. We’d been in New York for a week or so, earlier in
the tour, and now, again, for a few days, and I’d met and talked with some
people, and had gotten a sense, with them, of family. I felt, in New York, that
I didn’t have to conceal anything about myself or my life, that everything
I was or did was acceptable and even sympathetically regarded.
On the first visit, I’d broken my glasses and had found, in the phone book,
ads for places that made eyeglasses in an hour. Nowadays that’s commonplace.
In 1977, in L.A., it was unheard of. Following directions, traveling by subway,
I emerged from the sidewalk practically at the swinging glass front door of one
of these express opticians on the Lower East Side, where I was surrounded by street
vendors in a city of Jews. I dropped off my broken spectacles, selected some new
frames, and went next door to a deli to wait. I couldn’t believe they were
selling kishka in there, stuffed chicken neck, one of the few foods my
grandmother made that tasted good. (Her baked noodle kugle was usually
burnt hard and sharp as glass around the edges; her mandelbrot had nut
shells in it. All her resentments came out in the kitchen.) I’d never seen
kishka on the menu at Cantors, in L.A., hadn’t imagined you could
buy it in a store. I got kishka and 7-Up (Grandma’s drink) and sat
down at a long table where I was joined by an older lady, and we talked about kishka,
grandmothers, New York Jews, cooking, and everything else. I was more comfortable
there than I have ever been in any public place.
It wasn’t just the Jewishness. It was the New Yorkness. In L.A. we put a gloss
on everything, and we insist that the gloss is reality. Everything has to be pretty
or at least amusing. In New York it’s generally acknowledged that everything
is nasty, and when they put a gloss on it, they understand it’s just a gloss
over nastiness. In New York you can be crippled, stupid, diseased, and not at all
amusing and still be a member of the human race. So I had a sense that I was home
and everything would be okay.
After I told Jim about my dilemma and borrowed a few bucks, I returned to the Century
Paramount Hotel and took another room. After a day or so, I reconciled with a very
repentant Art. I took charge of the money. Secretly, I called this goddamned counselor
and told him I’d turn him in to the police if he sold Art any more Methadone
or bugged him for repayment. Art was mortified when he found out what I’d
done. But it was Art who had the contract with the guy, not me. And I would never
have told the police.
Part of the tour, as John arranged it, included Art’s participation in the
Newport Jazz Festival. His picture was taken standing in front of the Vanguard,
and that appeared on the cover of the Newport Festival issue of the Japanese jazz
magazine, Swing Journal. (Art has been on that cover at least ten times,
even many years after his death). That was some consolation to him for not ever
seeing his face on the cover of Downbeat where it ought rightly, at some
point, to have appeared.
Les Koenig, John, and Art assembled the band: the legendary Elvin Jones on drums
and George Cables on piano. George had worked with Art and Elvin on The Trip,
but this is where Art’s great and satisfying relationship with George Cables
really began, a musical romance that was to last until the end of Art’s life.
John wasn’t familiar, yet, with George Cables’s work. Young as he was,
George had been recording for ten years with major artists including Freddie Hubbard,
Woody Shaw, and Dexter Gordon. Art named him at this session. He told the audience
then (and ever after) that George was “Mr. Beautiful.”
Art wanted to use the bass player he’d worked with in Chicago, a young guy,
passionate and swinging, so we brought him to New York. But after the show with
him on Wednesday night, Elvin shook his head. “Too green,”
he said, and Art agreed. In the club at 3 AM on Thursday—it was the morning
of the first day of recording—the Vanguard’s bartender suggested the
wondrous bassist George Mraz. John called him from the bar. Mraz agreed and showed
up that evening for rehearsal, a few hours before the session. He read everything
at sight and perfectly. He swung and he was soulful, just a marvel.
It helped that these guys were great musicians, but what made it work was that all
of them, including Art, were “professionals.” To me, that word means
they were angels on that bandstand, saintly, in the most crucial ways. Along with
their talent, they had, toward each other and the music, humility, charity, dignity,
perseverance, and patience.
Meanwhile, Art continued to seek out and buy cocaine. He said needed it so he could
stay up all night after the gig and write, for this recording session, the best
and most impressive tunes he’d ever written. What’s amazing is that
he held himself together as well as he had so far, but I could see him sinking into
craziness as he composed all night and into the morning in the bathroom of our room
in the hotel. I have a vivid memory of him under the bright bathroom light, sitting
on a white tile floor, small, white hexagonal tiles, in his white underwear, humming,
muttering, moaning, and chortling, snorting coke (the syringe didn’t work
any more) and scribbling away in black ballpoint on lined white music paper on the
askew white toilet seat lid of the Century Paramount Hotel. Aghast at what I saw
him doing to himself, to John, to Les, and to me, too, I was no help at all. I just
kept talking, criticizing, suggesting, talking, reasoning. I didn’t know what
to do. And then Art stepped to the stage on the first night of recording, and with
an archaic singer’s or storyteller’s bravado (or with a hero’s
hubris), he told the audience, “You have come to see history made.”
They recorded for three nights. What you can hear now in those recordings of Art’s
voice on the last night was not a drug-induced stupor. It was a stupor induced by
a lack of drugs: His nose had finally swollen shut. He hadn’t really slept
for about a week, hadn’t been persuaded to eat much more than an occasional
candy bar for longer than that. He could hardly stand. That evening he had passed
out in the hotel room, his face on a glass-topped bed-table which held his last
few lines of coke. I roused him and brought him to the gig. John’s assistant
helped me get him there.
The table’s edge had left a deep crease in Art’s cheek, like a thick
scar, and he was dead-eyed, yellowish, and emaciated inside these stiff, slightly
iridescent clothes he’d bought earlier on the tour at some pimp shoppe he’d
found in Dayton (of all places). In the kitchen of the Vanguard, waiting to perform,
he passed out again. Then it was time to go on. “He stumbled to the stage,
stood in front of the mike with his horn, and faced the audience,”
I wrote in the liner note for the release of the whole set years later: “And
suddenly he was alive. Alive! And yes, he was a monster. Listen to him play “Cherokee”of
all things, the tune he always said separated the real jazz players from the play
ones. Listen to him fly.”
The album was released by John Koenig after Les died the following year. The reviews
were rhapsodic and it was a hit—in the small, international way great jazz
albums sometimes are.
If there is any track on any album that sums up the beauty and power of Art’s
triumphant artist’s soul, his gift, it’s the heartbreaking “Goodbye”
he played that night and dedicated to his old friend, Hampton Hawes “Who’s
holding a place up above for all of us cats here on the stage.” For
me it’s the strongest and most passionate performance he ever gave.
I’ve heard Art tell an audience that playing jazz was like an exorcism. He
summoned up his demons to demolish them. He mined his pain, confusion, desperation,
anger, grief (also his passion, tenderness, and joy), to triumph in his music. He
used his emotional past, hectic present, and his terrible fears and wild hopes about
the future to connect with his listeners. He gave form to their feeling. He was
an artist, and he won the battle every time. He won it at the Vanguard.
All this philosophizing is very fine, now, but back then in New York, I could see
that Art’s growing fame and outrageous behavior demanded some kind of practical
and emotional reconnoitering on my part. When the student is ready the teacher appears.
I met Keiko. In the kitchen every night at the Vanguard, she harangued and instructed
When the Student Is Ready
I’d first seen Keiko Jones, wife of the famous drummer, Elvin, in the Contemporary
Studios in L.A. Elvin performed on Art’s The Trip session. Les pointed
out to me (he didn’t have to; it was quite a sight) the tiny Japanese woman setting
up and tuning Elvin’s drums. Even then, as she performed that behind-the-scenes
minor drudgery, I gathered that there was nothing servile in her. We didn’t speak
at all. Elvin and Keiko were beautifully dressed. Keiko wore diamonds. Heavy, intensely
yellow gold necklaces and bracelets lay on Elvin’s black skin. The two of them looked
and acted like royalty.
At the Vanguard, in the summer of ’77, they were just as gorgeous. Keiko tuned
Elvin’s drums onstage before each show. And in the kitchen, while the band
was playing, she explained to me that Art and Elvin were two of a kind. They were
geniuses but also madmen, addicts, who needed constant supervision and could not
under any circumstances be allowed to operate independently or to carry any money.
In her Japanese English she lectured me. She said, “You control the money.
Club-owners, promoters know. They just pay you.” She said you never
let the guy carry more than a few bucks, but you buy him presents. A nice watch.
Good clothes. You get him a little bit of coke sometimes. You treat him well. She
sighed when she told me and reminded herself that even when things were going well,
as they were for the two of them right now, you never knew when he might go nuts,
run out and fuck up. And then you had to confront the other woman and tell the sleazy
dealers to fuck off. She told me she would walk right up to them, in nightclubs,
the slime who tried to get close to Elvin by getting him high, and she’d order
them to leave. I could easily imagine it. She was little, but she could be loud.
She sneered, “I know who they are.”
She told me I had to dress better. I wore blue jeans and T-shirts almost every day
that summer. She said we had to make the world respect us, me and Art. We had to
look successful. I liked the idea. I liked her. I thought she was probably right
about everything she said.
There was no middle ground. I could let go and let everything go to hell, or I could
take charge. I saw, as Keiko did, a special circumstance, a kind of a divine task
I was uniquely positioned to undertake: the perpetuating of the genius of the artist.
She gave me what I needed, a crystallized, a verbalized assignment. It wasn’t
work that guaranteed success. Keiko made that clear. But it seemed worth the effort.
It took me some time to understand and digest her teachings, but it was undoubtedly
Keiko’s influence that made it possible for me to get so aggressive as to
give an ultimatum to the Methadone counselor. The problem was that this arrangement
required a genius who’d let his savior take him over. Keiko told me about
a disastrous auto accident which had nearly killed Elvin (and his girlfriend-on-the-side)
and had humbled him enough to accept her leadership from then on. Art was still
After we returned to L.A., Art grew increasingly weird. Every day, every night,
he raced out of the house to—he told me, when pressed hard—jam with
a group of young musicians out in Venice. He was drinking and getting high on coke
with them. When I questioned this, when he was willing or able to speak coherently,
which he usually wasn’t, he told me, whining, with the air of someone deeply
misunderstood, that he was a musician and had to play music.
I’d heard the music. He’d brought home a demo tape these guys had made.
It was tacky jazz-rock played on electronic pseudo instruments.
At home Art was jumpy, edgily humming and laughing and making little mysterious
wordplays, odd noises, and wisecracks. If I asked him a neutral question, “Would
you like some breakfast?” his response would be, for instance, a
cheery “Bmp, Bmp Bmp, Oooo-ooo, breakfast, little mommy! Bup-a, Bup-a mmmmmmm,”
bouncing around the house without looking at me. He wouldn’t look at me.
I gave up trying to keep track of him. I was fast asleep at home when the phone
rang at 5 AM, and Art’s hoarse and broken voice begged me to come get him.
He’d left his car at the Troubadour (a legendary rock and folk club during
the ’ 60s, still in business) and no one was in any condition to give him
a ride, and he had to go pick up his Methadone.
As I worked it out later, Art had gone to the Troubadour with some of his new friends
to see a jazz great who was playing there; I think it was Joe Farrell, another famous
druggie. And Doug Weston, the club’s owner, had taken everybody home with
him, so they could all get high together.
By then we had two cars, the gorgeous red Oldsmobile Art wrote a song about—“Red
Car,” and a ’65 Mustang, my car. It was dark green, with an iffy standard
transmission, the stick emerging from a gaping hole in the floor through which you
could see asphalt blurring by beneath. Old and beat-up as it was, the Mustang looked
snazzy; the design was such a winner, and I always felt impeccably accoutered in
it. Art told me he remembered when that model made its first appearance; the thing
about it was the girls. It was so low and small, you could look down into it—passing
by or at a stoplight—and see the girls’ legs. So when I pulled up in
front of Doug Weston’s house in West L.A., I felt confident because of the
car, and powerful and self-righteous because I was sober and Art sounded so wrecked.
I couldn’t help it. When I saw Art in this kind of scrape I always got a little
lofty. It was a character flaw I disguised by acting earthy and dour.
The house was deteriorating, the minuscule yard, unkempt, and there were two or
three dirty abandoned-looking old cars in the driveway. The neighborhood, a flat,
dried-out, characterless grid of one-story pastel stucco bungalows, was on the eastern
edge of Beverly Hills. The house itself was filled with teenage boys. There were
four or five at least, semi-nude in briefs or towels, muscular, with short-cropped
hair. What I gathered was that Weston picked up runaways in Hollywood, moved them
in, washed and trimmed them. And then he Rolfed them.
Weston seemed to be a serious believer in Rolfing as a cure-all for everything and,
in fact, one of the kids had attempted to Rolf Art in the course of the night. When
Art told me about it later, he described it as a physical attack which he’d
successfully thwarted. I told him they were just trying to therapize him by massaging
him in the (brutal) manner of Ida Rolf, a popular cure-all at that time.
I had to pee and asked for a toilet and discovered that the doors had been removed
from both bathrooms. I demanded privacy. After I’d snarkily insisted for a
while, one of these kids hung a blanket up over the doorway.
My Synanon education and my few years with Art had changed me, grew me up. I mean
to say they limited me, closed my mind a little and made me stronger. I no longer
believed everybody else knew more than I did and that therefore maybe it might be
good for me to pee in front of half a dozen strangers. I knew I didn’t want
to and decided not to. There are people who learn young to know what they want and
don’t and act (admirably, I think) on this knowledge. I wasn’t one of
them. So it was satisfying for me to realize that these people probably saw me as
an uptight bitch while I regarded them as inhospitable fools. (The next philosophical
step, of course, is to refrain from judgment.)
I took Art, that day, to get his Methadone and then brought him home. Every night
thereafter, while Art was out carousing, before I went to sleep in our empty house,
I’d console myself by telling God, “Okay. He’s yours.”
And I wondered how bad things were going to get.
—From ART: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman (CreateSpace, 2014);
republished here by author’s permission
was born in Los Angeles, California in 1940 but spent some of her early years in
Manhattan which still feels like home. Her mother was a dancer with Martha Graham
(and a Socialist and union organizer for the garment workers). Her father was a
writer, her uncle a musicologist; and her maternal grandfather was an essayist and
humorist and edited the newspaper The California Jewish Voice. Her cousin is the
novelist and essayist Eve Babitz.
Laurie attended U.C. Berkeley, majoring in Anthropology, Folklore, English, and
Linguistics and didn’t manage to focus on anything in particular until she
left her husband and became a photographer at the age of 27. She was staff photographer
for the L.A. Free Press during the 1960s, shooting art gallery openings,
political demonstrations, and rock & roll. While recovering from the ’60s
in Synanon—the first free residential drug treatment in California—she
re-focused her attention on Art Pepper, a fellow resident and genius jazz musician,
who captivated her with tales of his misadventures. In love with the man and his
story, she proposed she write his life. The result was marriage and Straight Life:
The Story of Art Pepper (Da Capo). She devoted the following decades to
managing Pepper’s career and recordings.
After his death in 1982, she continued to dedicate herself to his music and has a
small record company (Widow’s Taste), issuing previously unreleased performances.
At 72 she has completed a candid memoir of their “absurd, appalling, eccentric,
redemptive marriage,” ART: Why I Stuck With a Junkie Jazzman. She
has one child, a daughter, and one grandchild. She is spending her golden years
with a wonderful man she originally met in Synanon.