CRIME NOVELIST MICHAEL CONNELLY ON THE ROLE OF JAZZ IN CREATING “BOSCH” (Peter Solomon, JANUARY 23, 2024, Jazz88.fm)
There’s a couple of musicians, one of whom you just mentioned, that I’ve noticed, you know, appear frequently in both the books and in the Amazon series as well. And it seems like there’s even some dialogue surrounding Art Pepper. I was wondering if you could talk about these two individuals Art Pepper and and Frank Morgan, and the way that you’ve experienced them and why you chose their music.
CONNELLY: Yeah, somewhere along the line, a publisher, a small press publisher, who did some, like limited editions on my books, and was a jazz guy said to me, probably the best book he had ever written (sic) (read) about jazz was Art Pepper and Laurie Pepper’s book, Straight Life. And so I got that book and I read it. And this goes back to what I already said. It’s so hard for me to describe it. I think it’s hard for any writer to describe music. But these were – that book was basically recordings Laurie Pepper made of of her husband Art Pepper, talking about the music he makes on the saxophone. And I just found that book to be, you know, a real head turner. And then it took me down in the rabbit hole into Art Pepper’s work and his connection to Los Angeles and he was this handsome guy who pretty much got destroyed by drugs, spent a lot of time in prison. And that worked for me on on two different levels because I had created this character Harry Bosch who didn’t know who his father was, and so he as a little kid, he built up this fantasy. His mother liked jazz and his – Harry Bosch’s joy from jazz is inherited from his mother, who also had a struggle in life. So I came up with this idea that Harry Bosch is white, Art Pepper’s white, Harry Bosch had this fantasy that that was my dad. I don’t know who my dad was. So he created a replacement. And it was this very cool cat named Art Pepper. And, you know, in the stories about him, you know, Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section is a fantastic album, and the story behind it about how he was junk-sick, and had a broken reed, and all these things he overcame to make music that was so gorgeous, so beautiful, was important.
You know, like, it takes me about a year, back then it took me even longer – to write books. You know, you got to find things that plug you in. It’s a long haul, it’s climbing a mountain, and you got to find things that mean something to you that keep you plugged in. They might totally escape the reader. But you need to be able to climb that mountain and get up every day and all that, but you need something to keep you in. And so the music was a lot of what kept me in. And so that’s where the, you know, the Art Pepper connection, came into play. And later on, I got to meet Laurie Pepper and spend time with her and talk to her about Art. And, you know, it was all part of the research, but also part of my growing reacquaintance and love with jazz.
The other thing is, you know, I’ve been married a long time and my wife – (I’ll) say, Hey, I’m gonna write a book – you know, (she’s) like, good luck. You know, I had a daytime job where I had to spend a lot of hours. You know, being a newspaper reporter on the crime beat is not necessarily a nine to five thing. And so I was already spending a lot of time making a living as a journalist. And I had to make a deal. Luckily, I didn’t – we didn’t – have any kids at that time. But I made a deal with my wife that I need four nights a week to write (for) me to go to disappear. And we had a walk-in closet that I use as a writing room to disappear in there at night, and I went one of the weekend days. And I promise I’ll give this up if I don’t get published in X amount of time. And I blew that deadline, but she put up with me. But she was very much part of the team and aware of what I was doing and aware that I was this guy who you know, like going to see the Allman Brothers and Eric Clapton is now going to the Catalina Bar and Grill, which is a jazz club in LA and Hollywood. So she she knew what I was doing. And so one day she came into the closet with a copy of Newsweek magazine. And, and it was folded open to a full-page story on a guy named Frank Morgan. And the headline was something along the lines of “The Return of Frank Morgan” and it was about this guy and LA musician. At the time based I know he has a big connection to Minneapolis, he had his second album or first album in something like 27 years. Basically, it was almost three decades between his first and second album. And that was because a life of crime and drugs had landed him repeatedly in prison. And as at different times unreliable as a session guy. So it was a long time between the promise of this first album and the second album.
There wasn’t really the internet back then. This is probably in like ‘89 or ‘90. But I I went to the alternative newspaper that came out in LA and listed most of the jazz performances and coincidentally or lo and behold, he was playing three nights at the Catalina that week. And so I went to that I went to hear him play twice. He just became my guy. Yeah, something about his his sound really touched me beyond the guy doing research. Something about his music, and he spoke a lot between sets are between songs and he would talk about his life and the the path not taken or, the wrong path taken. And it just kind of struck me. And he played this one song and he was playing with George Cables, a pianist. They did a lot of work together and George wrote a song called Lullaby- it’s only a minute long, and it’s on Frank Morgan – well I think he recorded it three different times on albums. That song just kind of pierced my heart. There’s something that was sad about it, but also resolute like, you know, I’m gonna persevere basically.
We’re getting into how hard is to write about music. This is a song obviously without lyrics. It’s basically a piano and saxophone that’s it. And it’s just a beautiful song. And that kind of became my writing anthem. And I got the record and I would play that every morning, or every night or more realistically, every night before I started working on my Harry Bosch novel. Those two musicians were pretty much the most influential in the kind of forming of the character of Harry Bosch.