In 2003, the Jim Pepper Trio’s Polar Bear Stomp album, featuring Pepper on saxophone, vocals, and percussion, Wayne Darling on bass, and Bill Elgart on drums, was released on Austria’s EmArcy imprint, part of the Universal Music label.
The seven tracks on the live album include a trio of classic compositions by Jim Pepper: the title cut, “Lakota Song,” and the closer, “Witchi Tai To.” He also does a pair of well known pieces by his father, Gilbert Pepper, who was also a saxophonist: “Ya Na Ho” and “Squaw Song.” The remaining tracks are the Trio’s take on the English traditional composition “Greensleeves” and “Ticket to M.S.,” a piece by one of Jim Pepper’s key collaborators, pianist Mal Waldron. Pepper did all the arrangements on the album.
The Polar Bear Stomp album was recorded live 3 May 1991 at the Miles Smiles Jazz Café in Vienna, Austria, produced by the cafe and Wayne Darling.
An organissimo.org thread dedicated to Jim Pepper includes one of the most detailed overviews of the album by an Anchorage, Alaska-based reviewer:
Polar Bear Stomp is a romp! It opens with Jim’s voice saying to the crowd, (feigning thanks in German) “donkey, donkey, donkey … feeling big donkeys!”, then launches into the title track. This song was written when Jim lived in Juneau, Alaska, I believe. It’s a medium tempo blues-based composition with some amusing lyrics…
This live album is a treat for lovers of Jim Pepper on several levels. It’s sparse instrumentation, consisting of Jim, bassist Wayne Darling, and drummer Bill Elgart; so each player really has some space to explore and interact. He’s rarely been heard without piano or guitar supporting him, or doing so much singing and talking. Jim is really engaged with his audience, even losing his temper at one point near the end of the album, admonishing listeners to show him some respect.
A video for the opening track “Polar Bear Stomp,” composed by Jim Pepper and performed by the Jim Pepper Trio, featuring saxophonist-vocalist Pepper, bassist Wayne Darling, and drummer Bill Elgart, is on YouTube:
The liner notes that accompany the Polar Bear Stomp CD provide a brief introduction to Jim Pepper:
A man and his music – a special musician with a very strong, unique personality. With deep roots in his ancestry (Father member of the Kaw Indian Nation, “the wind people”, Mother member of the Creek Indian Nation, “the people of the waters”), it is quite natural that he developed his own style combining traditional Indian music with Jazz/Rock music. Natural, flowing, intuitive, spontaneous, strong, uncompromising are just a few ways to describe his path.
The Polar Bear Stomp album was recorded live in May 1991 on a tour of the Jim Pepper Trio. This was to be the only opportunity for Jim Pepper, Wayne Darling, and Bill Elgart to play together as a group.
Several reviewers have written glowingly of the Jim Pepper Trio’s rendition of “Greensleeves,” a jazz composition that began as a traditional English folk tune. Author Bill Siegel expounded on his love of the composition, including the live version of “Greensleeves” by the Jim Pepper Trio in a piece dated 23 July 2006. An extended excerpt is here:
[John] Coltrane called it “one of the most beautiful folk melodies I’ve heard.” On [his 1961 album] Africa/Brass, Reggie Workman’s ground-shaking bass opens with an almost singable rhythm, sounding at times like he’s harmonizing with himself; then Coltrane swings in with what he called a straight playing of the folk structure. McCoy Tyner’s cleanly crafted, lyrical solo embodies the ageless “Greensleeves.” And of course, there are Elvin Jones’ unrelenting drums powering through it all…
Which brings us to Pepper’s Polar Bear Stomp… The set’s version of “Greensleeves” is clearly Pepper’s way of giving a nod to Coltrane. This is the dark twin to Coltrane’s “beautiful folk melody”. It opens almost self-effacingly, with bassist Wayne Darling taking his time to draw us in. The audience is talking and laughing, as if they think Darling is just noodling, waiting for Pepper and drummer Bill Elgart. You can hear Pepper wise-cracking in the background.
After about a minute and a half, the mask is torn away and the bass line suddenly mirrors Workman’s intro from the Africa/Brass session. You can actually sense the shift in the atmosphere when the audience realize what’s happening. It’s a grainy mirror, though, with cracks and sharp edges. There’s no McCoy Tyner, in fact no piano at all, to lull us. After Darling’s earthy opening, Elgart bursts right in, as if with a vengeance, and definitely with no apology.
And then wham!—Pepper leaps in, landing with a crash and a joyfully erupting soprano. He brings us, like Coltrane before him, right to the primal source. It’s a different song, and it’s the same song. It’s quintessential Jim “Take No Prisoners” Pepper, and at the same time it’s the song Coltrane described as “adventurous and lyrical.”
Bill Siegel’s full review, “Jim Pepper: Polar Bear Stomp,” is located at allaboutjazz.com.
“Greensleeves,” the second track on Polar Bear Stomp, features Pepper on saxophone and percussion, Wayne Darling on bass, and Bill Elgart on drums:
Bill Elgart recently answered a few questions about how the album came about:
Blue Note: Who came up with the idea to make the Polar Bear Stomp album?
Bill Elgart: Wayne Darling put it together. Jim Pepper was living in Vienna and Wayne was living nearby, just outside of the city.
BN: Had you met Jim Pepper before?
BE: I bumped into him in Munich a few times.
BN: Did you ever cross paths when you were living in America [each member of the Jim Pepper Trio was born and raised in the United States]?
BE: I knew him from New York [in the mid-1960s]. We lived in the same house on Houston Street. We never gigged together, not until we met again in Europe.
Mal Waldron’s “Ticket to M.S.,” the fifth cut on the album, again features some exceptional instrumental workouts from each member of the trio.
Ron Thorne’s comments:
Ticket To M.S. opens with a tasteful drum solo from Bill Elgart, which he develops for almost two full minutes before being joined by the fast-paced bass work of Wayne Darling. Jim quickly climbs aboard on tenor for a long musical journey of 14:24.
Bill Elgart shifts the rhythmic feel about five minutes to a pseudo-Latin flavor, before giving way to a stirring solo from bassist Darling. Elgart solos again before Pepper re-enters to take it out with a remarkably restrained ending. Strong performances all the way around.
Ron Thorne’s full review of the Jim Pepper Trio’s Polar Bear Stomp, including a breakdown of each track, is located HERE.
A video for “Ticket to M.S.,” composed by Mal Waldron, features Jim Pepper on saxophone and percussion, Wayne Darling on bass, and Bill Elgart on drums:
Out of print and never released in digital format, copies of the original CD are often difficult to find. This correspondent recommends checking eBay–or comparable auction sites–and Discogs, one of the world’s biggest music marketplaces.
Another option is streaming sites such as Spotify and Apple Music, both which currently have Jim Pepper Trio’s Polar Bear Stomp on offer.
Additionally, music fans in certain markets–excluding the United States, can listen to five tracks from the album on SoundCloud:
Born in Salem, Oregon, in 1941, Jim Pepper grew up in Portland. Like his father Gilbert Pepper, Jim’s main instrument was the tenor saxophone, although he also played the flute and soprano sax. After moving to New York, Jim Pepper formed The Free Spirits in 1965, a jazz group that is generally acknowledged as the first to add elements of rock–led by guitarist Larry Coryell.
Jim Pepper’s own projects include thirteen albums between The Free Spirits’ Out of Sight and Sound in 1967 and Afro Indian Blues, cut in 1991 and released in 2006. Musicians on these recordings include Don Cherry, Anthony Cox, Hamid Drake, Ron McClure, Amina Claudine Myers, Ed Schuller, and Mal Waldron, among others. Pepper has also appeared as a sideman on scores of albums, by players like Marty Cook, Larry Coryell, Charlie Haden, Tony Hymas, Bob Moses, Cam Newton, Nana Simopoulos, and Peter Walker.
In 1983, Jim Pepper released Comin’ and Goin’ on France’s Europa Records, featuring a cast of all stars including Don Cherry on trumpet, Danny Gottlieb on drums, Mark Helias on bass, and Colin Walcott on tabla and sitar.
A video for Jim Pepper’s composition “Goin’ Down to Muskogee,” with Lester McFarland on electric bass and vocals, John Scofield on guitar, Naná Vasconcelos on percussion and vocals, Kenny Werner on piano, and Pepper on saxophone and vocals, is on YouTube:
Many of Jim Pepper’s compositions draw inspiration from his Native American roots. For example, “Witchi Tai To,” the last cut on Polar Bear Stomp, was first recorded by Pepper for Everything Is Everything Featuring Chris Hills, a 1969 eponymous release, then again on Pepper’s Pow Wow in 1971 and is based on a peyote song which he learned from his grandfather. His best known work, it has been covered at least fifty times.
Two more tracks from Polar Bear Stomp, “Squaw Song” and “Ya Na Ho,” both composed by Gilbert Pepper, also first appeared on the 1971 album. In fact, Jim Pepper’s Comin’ and Goin’ album, offers versions of all three tracks, too, plus “Lakota Song,” another Pepper standard fusing elements of jazz and Native American music covered on the 2003 album.
Jim Pepper and pianist Mal Waldron made four albums in the late 1980s, including Remembering the Moment, with Julian Priester, Eddie Moore, and David Friesen, in 1987 for Soul Note; Art of the Duo in 1988; and Quadrologue at Utopia and More Git’ Go at Utopia, both in 1989. The latter three released by TUTU Records.
In 1989, Jim Pepper joined the Mal Waldron Quartet to perform “Funny Glasses,” a piece Pepper composed that appears on the Quadrologue at Utopia album released the same year:
More information about the life and musical career of Jim Pepper, which includes interviews with family members, early photos, and video footage is found on the “Jim Pepper Story,” a TV piece first broadcast on 31 May 2007, produced by Jack Berry. Part 1 is HERE.
Select Discography of Jim Pepper (as Band Leader)
- The Free Spirits – Out of Sight and Sound (1967) ABC Records
- Everything Is Everything Featuring Chris Hills – Everything Is Everything Featuring Chris Hills (1969) Vanguard
- Jim Pepper – Pepper’s Pow Wow (1971) Embryo Records
- Jim Pepper – Comin’ and Goin’ (1983) Europa Records
- Jim Pepper – Dakota Song (1987) Enja Records
- Mal Waldron & Jim Pepper– Art of the Duo (1988) TUTU Records
- Jim Pepper – The Path (1988) Enja Records
- Jim Pepper, Christoph Spendel, Ron McClure, and Reuben Hoch – West End Avenue (1989) NABEL
- Jim Pepper & the Claudine François Trio – Camargue (1989) Pan
- Jim Pepper – Flying Eagle: Live at New Morning, Paris (1989) TUTU Records
- Jim Pepper – Remembrance: Live from International Jazzfestival Münster (1990) TUTU Records
- Jim Pepper Trio – Polar Bear Stomp* (2003) EmArcy/Universal Music, with Wayne Darling and Bill Elgart
- Jim Pepper, Amina Claudine Myers, Anthony Cox, and Leopoldo Fleming – Afro Indian Blues* (2006) PAO Records
*Recorded in 1991 and released posthumously
A retired professor for Jazz Bass at the University of Music-Graz, Austria, Wayne Darling has performed and/or recorded with numerous players of note, including Bob Brookmeyer, Árni Egilsson, Art Farmer, Joe Henderson, Woody Herman, Marc Johnson, Mel Lewis, Ed Neumesiter, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Jim Pepper, Barre Phillips, Olaf Polziehn, Monika Stadler, and Kenny Wheeler, to name a few.
Darling made three albums with Sun Dial, a trio with Peter O’Mara and Bill Elgart that began in 1983, and a fourth followed when it was extended to a quartet with Kenny Wheeler in 1987. Bill Elgart appears on Wayne Darling and Peter Sonntag’s Bass-Force in 1983 and Darling’s The Art of the Bass, Vol. 1 released in 2002. The pair also played on Yuko Gulda’s Mellow Sky in 1984, Lee Harper’s Live At 50! in 1995, and the Jim Pepper Trio’s Polar Bear Stomp in 2003, among other albums.
In 1980, Tom van der Geld and Children At Play’s Out Patients was released on Germany’s Japo Records, featuring Wayne Darling, Bill Elgart, Roger Jannotta, and Tom van der Geld.
Tom van der Geld and Children At Play’s “Things Have Changed,” featuring Wayne Darling on bass, Bill Elgart on drums and percussion, Roger Jannotta on bass clarinet, and Tom van der Geld on vibraphone, is on YouTube:
In 1996, the Wayne Darling Band released Gone Again on SBF Records. The album includes the title track composed by the bandleader. More than a decade later, a new rendition of “Gone Again” was recorded by Darling and harp player Monika Stadler for their 2010 album Scandinavia: Live In Halbturn.
Each track on the Extraplatte release features Stadler on harp and Darling on acoustic bass. Monika Stadler also contributes vocals on two cuts including one that features Wayne Darling doing an improvisation using a waterphone.
On 9 December 2014, Wayne Darling and harp player Monika Stadler performed “Gone Again” at the ORF Radio Cafe in Vienna, Austria.
A video of this live performance of Wayne Darling’s composition “Gone Again” was made by Slabihoud Pictures and posted online:
Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1942, Bill Elgart received his first drum set at age 13. In the early 1960s, he enrolled at what was then called the Berklee School of Music, studying with master drummer Alan Dawson. After two semesters, Elgart left school to start his career as a professional musician. He first made a name in New York’s New Jazz Scene in the mid-1960s, playing with Carla Bley, Marion Brown, Mike Nock, Sam Rivers, and was a member of the New York Art Quartet, along with Roswell Rudd, John Tchicai, Eddie Gomez, and Buell Neidlinger. In 1968, Bill Elgart joined Paul Bley and Gary Peacock on Mr. Joy, Elgart’s recording debut, his first of more than 75 albums as a leader or sideman. A closer look at Bill Elgart’s career in music is found on this site under “bio.”
These days, when not recording or touring, Bill Elgart is a professor of jazz drums at the University of Music Würzburg. He also finds time to hold workshops and clinics all over Europe.
In July 2017, the Christian Hassenstein Trio’s Cause & Consequence, featuring Hassenstein on guitars, Sven Schuster on bass, and Bill Elgart on drums, was released on Germany’s DJAMtones label. The album is now available from distributor NRW Vertrieb as well as retailers such as Amazon.de, JPC, and as a download at Christian Hassenstein’s Bandcamp page, which also includes a complimentary digital copy with the purchase of the CD.
A closer look at the album on this site includes several videos as well as an exclusive interview with group leader Christian Hassenstein. See the “albums” section at the top of the page.
A video for Thelonious Monk’s composition “Monk’s Room” from the Christian Hassenstein Trio’s Cause & Consequence album, featuring Christian Hassenstein on guitar, Sven Schuster on bass, and Bill Elgart on drums, is here:
Upcoming Dizzy Krisch Quartett Show in Schorndorf
Bill Elgart will be appearing in concert next month as a member of the Dizzy Krisch Quartett, with vibraphonist Dizzy Krisch, bassist Karoline Höfler, and vocalist Lauren Newton. The group will perform on Friday 29 September 2017 at 20:30 at Jazz Club Session 88 in Schorndorf, Germany.
Last year, Krisch – Höfler – Elgart feat. Lauren Newton released their debut album, Lonely Woman on German label JazzHausMusik. See the “albums” section at the top of the page for a profile of this release available in CD and digital format from iTunes.
A live version of “Green,” composed by Dizzy Krisch, with Bill Elgart on drums, Karoline Höfler on bass, Lauren Newton on voice, and Krisch on vibraphone, was shot by Koho Mori on 28 December 2016: