“It’s good where we’re goin’ and where we’ve been
Hey yeah Hi yi Hi yi Hi yi Hi yi”
–Jim Pepper, Comin’ and Goin’, 1985
After a two-year hiatus, we are re-forming the Jim Pepper Native Arts Festival Steering Committee.
From the beginning, our number one priority has been to establish a home closely allied to an educational institution, where proceeds from Pepper-related events would be dedicated in support of Native American students, and music and arts programs.
Our earlier efforts were focused on building a partnership with Portland State University, in largest part due to this language in SJR 31, the 2005 senate resolution honoring the life and achievements of Jim Pepper, but also because Jim’s mother Floy Pepper retired there after a career spanning some 60+ years as an educator:
(3) The members of the Seventy-third Legislative Assembly direct that a copy of this resolution be delivered to the Leroy Vinnegar Jazz Institute at Portland State University for inclusion in its permanent collection and encourage the creation and endowment of a Jim Pepper (hUnga-che-eda “Flying Eagle”) Chair at the university to further the study of Native American music and its relationship to jazz.
But the University is a very crowded and busy place, its Leroy Vinnegar Jazz Institute faded away several years ago and, practically speaking, the increased costs of parking and public transportation to that part of the city make accessibility an issue and a hindrance for many.
Now, we are exploring a partnership with Jim’s alma mater, the Parkrose School District in outer NE Portland, where as a student in 1955 Jim first made his mark in Oregon music history as a member of the Young Oregonians, which was also the beginning of his lifelong friendship and musical relationship with Glen Moore, co-founder of the band Oregon. Oregon continues to carry Jim’s music to the far reaches of the globe to this day.
Then there is the wind and the water to consider, and the views of the mountains that Parkrose offers, close to the Columbia Gorge and the Big River. Also from the Senate Resolution:
Whereas Floy Pepper said during her acceptance of her son’s First Americans in the Arts award in 1999, “Jim Pepper was a member of the Kaw Indian Nation known as ‘The Wind People’ from his father. From me, his mother, he was a member of the Creek Indian Nation known as ‘The People of the Waters.’ It’s no wonder his music was so strong and powerful–with the wind to carry his music to the four directions of the Earth. And as long as the grass shall grow and the waters flow–which is forever–may his spirit remain alive for time immemorial”; now, therefore,
Parkrose also offers wide open spaces and abundant free parking. There is a much different pace here than in downtown, and the Parkrose School District offers a different set of charitable purposes. These are likely to have a broader reach, and to make a difference in more students’ lives, and in their families’ lives as well, supporting music and the arts “from the ground up.”
Our earlier planning had two charitable purposes: to fund scholarships for Native students to PSU, and to support the endowment of the Jim Pepper Chair as described in the Resolution.
Among its first orders of business, our Steering Committee should develop a charter that contains language directing proceeds of Jim Pepper-related events to be used to support music and arts-related programs throughout the Parkrose School District, including college scholarships in Jim’s name, and to provide pathways for Native students wherever they are, to wherever they are goin’.
And, we must identify some sources of funding to move organizing forward.
About the music of Jim Pepper
It is not enough to describe Jim Pepper as a jazz musician. His first album, Pepper’s Powwow, for example, recorded in 1970, featured traditional Native American songs and chants, Jim’s original compositions, rock, blues, bebop, free jazz and two songs by Peter LaFarge that had been famously sung by Johnny Cash. Wow!
Jazz trombonist Marty Cook, who recorded with Pepper in Munich, Nuremberg and New York City in the 1980s, described Jim’s world wide musical range in these liner notes:
“Jim Pepper is hard to categorize. He is an eclectic player. Known best as a jazz player for his work with Don Cherry, Paul Motian and Charlie Hayden, his playing and writing embrace the traditions of African, Caribbean, South American and his own Native American cultures, as well as the traditional standards, and pop and rhythm and blues repertoire.”
And Bill Siegel’s excellent biograph, posted on his Jim Pepper Lives! website, has this to say:
But at the base of it all, there was always Pepper’s commitment to the power of music and to its healing message. “The emotion most prevalent in his music,” says mother Floy Pepper, “is intense spirituality.” World-renowned saxophonist Joe Lovano has said that he still thinks of Pepper and that he will sometimes ask himself, “What would Jim do now?” before launching into one of his own solos.
Pepper spent most of his final years living and performing in Austria, where he was wildly popular. According to Hoch, “they loved him in Austria… loved him. He never got that kind of recognition here. It’s too bad… more people should know about him, they should know his music.” Thorne remembers that Pepper “complained bitterly about America’s lack of support for jazz. That’s why he went to Europe. It’s a typical story – they’ve made movies about it, written books about it, how jazz musicians had to leave America.” His mother has said that “he did not find respect and acceptance of his music in America – but he did find it in Europe, where he was respected as a person and as a jazz musician. There he found peace.“
Jim Pepper was posthumously granted the Lifetime Musical Achievement Award by First Americans in the Arts (FAITA) in 1999, and in 2000 he was inducted into the Native American Music Awards Hall of Fame at the 7th Annual NAMMY Awards ceremony. In 2005, the Leroy Vinnegar Jazz Institute and the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission named Pepper Jazz Musician of the Year at the Portland Jazz Festival.
The Jim Pepper Native Arts Festival Steering Committee will hold its first meeting in November in Parkrose at a date TBD. We will organize ourselves and begin planning a series of small concert events that will start in the Spring and lead to a major festival down the road.
Please contact me if you are interested in joining the Steering Committee, participating in any other way, or being kept in the loop via email.
Water spirit feelin’
Springin’ ’round my head
Makes me feel glad
That I’m not dead
–Jim Pepper, Witchi Tai To, 1970
Sean Aaron Cruz
Public policy research and consulting