John Betsch remembers Jim Pepper


“We met the summer of 1966 at a jam session in NYC with Chris Hills and a couple of others whose names escape me, and I was stunned by his sound and spirit. He was complaining about his chops and that special horn that I eventually took to Selmer for repairs, beginning their special relationship, and which is now in the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

“We remet in 1981 at a festival in Austria when he was with Don Cherry and I was with Archie Shepp, Mal Waldron and Santi Debriano, who became key players in our lives later. We realized we were neighbors in Park Slope and thus began our close association, playing together in the Park and at the home of Gordon Lee where Jim was staying.

“When we both moved to Brooklyn our friendship continued to grow and at his and Caren’s apartment I met Pura Fe among others. When I moved to Europe in 1985, invited by trombonist Marty Cook, Marty and I began bringing Jim over for tours a year or so afterward.

“Through the Munich associations with ENJA and TUTU Records things began to take shape with tours and recordings with first Marty’s quartet with Jim’s Portland friend Essiet Essiet, then with Ed Schuller on bass, and later the quartet with Ed and Mal Waldron, Santi and Kirk Lightsey, Claudine Francois with whom I was living near Paris and finally guitarist Bill Bickford.

“The Mal Waldron–Ed Schuller band literally made people cry: three different people came to me after gigs and said, “I was crying and didn’t know why”.

“My personal high water mark was a gig in a club near Vienna where Jim finally relocated: when we did the songs from the ‘Comin and Goin’ recording, everybody in the club sang all of the words. I will never forget the look on Jim’s face when he turned around and looked at me with a ‘Do you believe this shit?!?!’ look on his face.

“When I developed a tumor on my right shoulder bone and Jim’s lymphoma forced us into being on chemo at the same time, we decided to phone each other every Monday morning and talk about our experiences. We called each other “the brothers we never had” because of both having sisters as siblings and our musical and personal relationship remains the most special of my life.” – John Betsch, June 21, 2013, Paris, France.

Hear this great band here: Jim Pepper, Mal Waldron, Ed Schuller, John Betsch:



About 1000nations

Sean Aaron Cruz is Executive Director of 1000 Nations and a co-founder of The Friends of Celilo Falls. He is the organizer of the Jim Pepper Native Arts Festival. He is co-author of Winona LaDuke's new book, "The Militarization of Indian Country." He is the father of four children who disappeared into Utah in a Mormon abduction in 1996, and the author of Oregon's landmark anti-kidnapping statute "Aaron's Law" (Senate Bill 1041), named for his late son Aaron Cruz. He writes online as Blogolitical Sean.
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