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Jim Pepper

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Biography

Jim Pepper will always be best remembered for his popular recording of "Witchi-Tai-To," a peyote chant put to music. Pepper, who is definitively profiled in the hour-long documentary Pepper's Pow Wow (available on video), infused advanced jazz with the influence of his Native American heritage. The son of a father who also played saxophone, Pepper early in life loved to tap dance. He largely taught himself both tenor and clarinet, developing a soulful sound and keeping his style open to both free expression and the influence of world music. Pepper grew up in Oklahoma and moved to New York in the mid-'60s. He was a major part of one of the first fusion groups, Free Spirits, which made a record for ABC/Paramount in 1967. Pepper, who played in the "Everything Is Everything" band in the late '60s, was encouraged by Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry to put more of his heritage into his music. Jim Pepper worked with Cherry, Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, and his own bands. He recorded with Paul Motian and Bob Moses, and led a session apiece for Europa (1984) and Enja (1987). Pepper passed away at the age of 50 from lymphoma.

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