French Twist: Art Pepper + 11

Like most Art Pepper fans, I love the alto saxophonist’s 1960 album Art Pepper + Eleven, featuring arrangements by Marty Paich. So imagine my surprise when I came across a video on YouTube of French jazz saxophonist Michael Cheret and his band recreating the entire album at a French club a few years ago. Give a listen to this video survey of the songs performed…

I tracked down Mike and we e-chatted about his love for Art Pepper, the + Eleven album and the club gig:

“I started out on alto saxophone and loved the music of Jackie McLean and Art Pepper. My favorite Pepper album was and probably still is Art Pepper + Eleven. After 15 years on alto, I switched to tenor sax, all but giving up on the alto. But at some point a few years ago, I returned to the alto to form an ensemble to play the + Eleven arrangements.

“I bought the only four arrangements that were available online. They were so marvelous that we didn’t touch a thing, and we tried to play them as close to the original recording as possible. Then the ensemble’s second trumpet, Vincent Stephan, who is a very good arranger, transcribed the remaining eight songs, which was really big work. We went over them for a few corrections. Sometime it’s hard to catch precisely what notes were played when listening to a recording.

“The only other change we made was making sure other members of the band would have a chance to solo rather than just me on alto. I had found the group’s excellent musicians in and around Lyon, where I live. Once assembled, we had just two rehearsals.

“Unfortunately, we were able to land just three gigs with the Art Pepper + Eleven songbook. I sent our video clip to every jazz festival in France and not one was interested. It’s sad, because I think it’s amazing music and the group is fantastic. At each of the three concerts, the audiences really loved it. [Photo above of Ivan Baldet, left, and Michael Cheret during an Al Cohn and Zoot Sims tribute concert this year]

“Anyway, hopefully we will have few concerts with this band in 2017 in France. If so, I’ll try to record more and send you the results.”

Wow, I wish someone in the States would bring this ensemble to New York or Los Angeles. I’d love to hear them at Smalls. What passion and what a glorious sound! Here’s the complete Walkin’ Shoes

JazzWax tracks: Here are albums by Michael Cheret. And here’s Art Pepper + Eleven.