February 21, 2012

Kaw/Creek jazz saxophonist

Jim Pepper’s jazz infused with Aboriginal heritage

By Miles MorrisseauJazz saxophonist Jim Pepper grew up immersed in the traditional music of his people. His father was a member of the Kaw nation and his mother was a Creek. The Oregon-born Pepper’s mixed Native American heritage, along with his having to adapt and succeed within mainstream America, seems to have inspired his musical work.

The role of Native American music in the creation of jazz is difficult to define, although one expert considered the connection to be fundamental. Duke Ellington’s sister, Ruth, once said, “All the credit’s gone to the African for the wonderful rhythm in jazz, but I think a lot of it should go to the American Indian.”

For Jim Pepper, the fusion of both was his life’s work and his legacy.

Pepper is credited with forming the first jazz-rock fusion ensemble with his group Free Spirits. His willingness to open up his mind to all the musical influences around him was the foundation of his sound.
And:Pepper died in 1992 from cancer. In the years since his death, he has received numerous posthumous honours. In 1999, he was awarded the Lifetime Musical Achievement Award by the First Americans in the Arts and in 2000 was inducted into the Native American Music Awards Hall of Fame. His saxophone is now part of the permanent exhibit on the Music of Native Americans at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.Comment:  For more on the subject, see Hard Rock Promotes Native Musicians and Inside Up Where We Belong.

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