Art Pepper: “Smack Up” (1960) US Contemporary mono


Selection 1: Smack Up (Harold Land)

Selection 2: How can You Lose? (Benny Carter)

Comparethepressing meerkat veegeeComparethepressing opportunity!

Compare original US mono with original US stereo editions, (thanks to a previous post on Smack Up stereo edition, usual Numark issues over exact pitch and gain differences aside!)

First up, in mono:

now in DuNann-alicious stereo


Jack Sheldon (tp) Art Pepper (as) Pete Jolly (p) Jimmy Bond (b) Frank Butler (d) recorded Los Angeles, CA, October 24 & 25, 1960

Year 1960:

1960Feb 29th – 1st Playboy Club, featuring bunnies, opens in Chicago.

You have to admit the timing is impeccable. A leap year.


Smack Up  differs from the usual West Coast formula, of standards and show tunes, in featuring songs composed by other saxophonists, from the famous Benny Carter’s How Can You Lose? to the infamous Ornette Coleman’s Tears Inside , and the deserving-of-wider-recognition Harold Land for the title track Smack Up. The resulting variety of styles gives the album greater breadth than Pepper’s other records, or indeed  most West Coast records.

The playing is terrific, with energy and swing in equal measure, and is one of the highlights of Pepper’s recording career. Having already recorded one of the all time great jazz albums in 1957′s  Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section up there with Kind of Blue in my opinion, Art adds “Smack Up” to the austerity-burdened record collector’s must-have list.

Shortly after recording “Smack Up” Pepper was sentenced to three years jail for heroin possession. Instead of a War on Drug Dealers, the forces of law and order mounted a War on Musicians. It made a sort of sense from their point of view: at least musicians didn’t generally shoot back.

Interesting question why the quote marks around the record title “Smack Up” not Smack Up. Koenig must have been aware of Pepper’s habit and the slang term smack for heroin, perhaps obliquely referring to drug use from a safe distance. A long way from The Stranglers positive tribute to Golden Brown.

True Confessions

LJC-True-ConfessionsI gave up on Pepper’s autobiography Straight Life part way through, feeling my time was not well spent reading about his life. His relationship with his dad, how he lost his virginity, his continuous pursuit of drugs, none of the early chapters held much interest for me from the point of view of the music. He had great talent as a  saxophone player, which I appreciate, and the rest of his life was something of a mess. I may return for the Prisoner: Cell Block H years, but until then, I think I’ll stick to listening to Art.

The Cover:

One thing, probably the only thing, Lester Koenig’s Contemporary Records fails on is the quality of manufacture of their covers. The design is immaculate, fine photography, layout, but all pasted on flimsy card, art paper unlaminated  (deadly to remove stickers from) and they rarely wear well over the years – split seams, and ageing and mottling. Compared to some of the laminated beauties produced for Blue Note at the same time, an unfortunate economy, but perhaps these things were never intended to last fifty years. That’s more than a Life Sentence.

Vinyl: Contemporary M3602 US original, 156 gm vinyl

Contemporary are among the most cloned records around, which turn up with depressing frequency in record sales.The runout of an authentic original Contemporary pressing will show the Lester Koenig machine stamp matrix LKLxxx or LKSxxx…and stamper number eg “D4”, no catalogue number or other handwritten codes that are the handiwork of the clone-maker (on very rare occasions, examples have been seen with both original stamper matrix and handwritten codes, suggesting use of a surviving stamper) With Contemporary you must study the run-out carefully before parting with the cash.



Collectors Corner:

Source: from the collection of the late Brian Clark.

Despite owning a US Stereo and a UK Contemporary Vogue, I couldn’t resist a US original mono. Roy DuNann’s engineering is a delight, the only engineer who could give RVG a run for his money, and US Contemporary pressings are outstanding. When I can get around to it, I must  A:B the US mono against the UK mono, which is re-mastered from copy tape by Decca engineers. Interesting to find out how the result differs, if at all.

Envy rating 3Any gaps in your Art Pepper collection should be filled as a priority, and this one is essential, as are all the others

smug-index-3-US originals are few and far between here in UK because of UK licensing to Vogue, so I am entitled to feel smug

cool-3Pepper is hot, and he’s cool, hot and cool, perfect combination

10 thoughts on “Art Pepper: “Smack Up” (1960) US Contemporary mono

  1. just listening to my UK Vogue Mono pressing of this record. So much space on this record. Art’s alto is sweet, smooth, melodic and precise. And the rhythm section swings. What a lovely record. Thanks for reminding me, I hadn’t played it for a while.

    • By the way, my UK mono sounds spacious, big, with a monstrous bass. Unlike the rip I hear here on the site. Might be the cartridge, I am playing it with a mono denon dl102. What a great record

      • You are probably right, Boukman – the cart on my USB TT doesn’t do it justice. My intention is just to communicate a sense of the music rather than to distribute a hifi-quality digital copy. I’ll leave that to Pirate Bay.

  2. I enjoyed ‘Straight Life’ a lot, especially the notes on his time with Stan. It’s a book about a man’s life, a man who happened to be a musician, not a book about jazz. I seem to remember there’s a ‘Fifties pic in there of cars parked outside the Lighthouse(?) Many years later, I parked there, went to the restaurant opposite and found a parking ticket when I returned. Not quite the nostalgia I had in mind.

  3. Sadly, this isn’t amongst the Peppers I have (yet) — but I heartily agree on MEETS THE RHYTHM SECTION: what a great record. Yes, up there with KIND OF BLUE but a closer comparison may well be things like Gil Evans’ treatments of classics on the PACIFIC STANDARD TIME sets and maybe even the astonishing Michel Le Grand’s LE GRAND JAZZ.

    Honey, I have to pop out for some Peppers. Uh, OK, get some juice and a packet of baby wipes too, will you?

  4. So kind of you to post both the mono and stereo version for the comparison! To my ears, it’s not really a contest as the stereo sounds so much more clear and dynamic. The mono seems somewhat distant sounding in comparison. I almost wonder if the stereo was towards the beginning of a stamper and the mono towards the end of one. Out of curiosity, is this how they sound on your system as well in terms of the overall qualities of the two?

    Thanks again for the time you take to share your thoughts with us!

    • To be honest I was quite taken aback by the difference between the two rips. The mono does sound a little bass-shy and a little thin compared with the stereo. I don’t remember the two sounding that way played on “big brother”. I have some listening time tomorrow – after the installation of the new valve phono stage amp – I’ll do a dedicated A:B on the various copies of “Smack Up” mono/stereo US/UK and see if there are any conclusive thoughts. bearing in mind variability of early and late stamper-wear.

  5. Wow! Love these comparisons. I don’t care if it’s mono vs. stereo or english pressing vs. original american, they are wonderful. In this instance, the stereo version trumps the mono. Food for thought. The stereo tone, timbre, position of the players across the soundstage comes thru beautifully on the stereo version. Keep up the incredible work you’re doing. It’s a great service to jazz lovers. With all the pundits steering us one way or the other, your site gives is providing a wonderful service to let us, conveniently, make up our own minds. KUDOS!!!

  6. Hurrah for LJC. While the nipper watches Mr Tumble on Cbeebies (mummy at work) daddio gets to compare pressings on a Father’s Day morning in amongst changing nappies and other duties…solid.
    I have the US stereo which I was determined to get recently after spotting it on ebay. Nice label shot and telltale wear on the stick-on cover convinced me of its provenance. Living legend, of equally impressive sonics, came in the same sale although someone outbid me on the same seller’s copy of The Trip. They are both prized possessions and I cruelly play them to people who don’t have turntables and replaced all their records with CDS.
    The stereo is nice and ‘roomy’ but I’d like the mono as well. A year ago I would not have considered such things but thanks to this site I now lust after different copies of the same record.
    Smack Up is a truly great thing; the well-thought-out track list a tribute to the concept of the album.
    It’s interesting to compare Art’s Tears Inside to Ornette’s Tomorrow is the Question original. Art’s interpretation is tense, edgy, neurotic even. Ornette breaks the rules but his solo is expansive and happier. Both are very beautiful.

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