Now that my time serving in the Oregon State Senate is at an end with the retirement of Senator Avel Gordly, I am focusing myself on a project very close to my heart: Jim Pepper.
Although I never met this Great Soul personally, I was transfixed by his performance/presence at a Larry Coryell concert in San Rafael, California in the early 1970's. The name of the venue was, appropriately enough, Pepperland!
I left the concert without knowing his name, but more than thirty years later, I can still see him standing at the front of the stage, "Jim" baseball cap and lumberjack shirt, torrents and cascades of notes and pure emotion pouring out of that silver saxophone. He reached deep down inside of me that evening, and I've never forgotten the experience.
I learned his name in 2002, shortly after I bought my home, which was the Pepper family home for many years. Jim had passed on several years before I moved to Portland.
I saw the Remembrance Band perform at the 2005 Portland Jazz Festival, the first time I heard Jim's music as a body of work, and he reached up there (I was in the balcony) and grabbed me again.
I spoke to Senator Gordly about the experience the next day as we rode to the Capitol together, and she assigned me to draft what would become a Senate Joint Resolution (SJR 31, 2005) honoring the life and achievements of the Flying Eagle.
Later, motivated by the need to hear the Remembrance Band again, I promoted two performances at Portland's Blue Monk.
In 2007, the Pepper family asked me to speak for them at the National Museum of the American Indian on the occasion of the dedication of Jim's saxophone and other memorabilia to the NMAI permanent collection. This is one of the singular honors and moments of my life....
This event gave me the opportunity to meet and hear the musicians of Yellowhammer, and to understand in greater depth Jim's place in the world, and in the history of American music.
Now, as the Nation faces grave economic times, I am convinced that the world needs Jim Pepper more than ever, and I am dedicating myself to organizing the first annual Jim Pepper Festival of the Arts, to be held in Portland Oregon in 2009.
I invite all comments, from near and far, from those also touched by the Flying Eagle, for one thing we know for certain is that Pepper Lives!
--Sean Cruz, December 6, 2008