Heroin addiction famously took out a lot of rock stars and jazzmen. It may be one of the most insidious characteristics of the stuff that, while it inevitably destroyed people, it did not prevent many jazz giants from producing extraordinary music while it was flowing through their veins. It was a common view among jazzmen (and later, rock musicians) that mind altering drugs actually promoted genius. I have contempt for that idea, because I am sure that it killed a lot of beautiful minds. But I confess that I am not sure it was always wrong. I think it is silly to believe that heroin or LSD opened up any new pathways in the brain. Beethoven didn't need LSD. But heroin may have kept at bay certain personal demons that otherwise would have put a stop to the music. Genius often goes hand in hand with a dysfunctional personality, and that is the setting for tragedy.
One of the epochal recordings in jazz is Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, which I recently acquired from EMusic. Pepper was a piece of work: brilliant alto player, heroin addict, convict. His wife arranged the gig for him, but didn't tell him until just before it happened for fear he would get cold feet and run off. He hadn't played for six months when he shot up with smack, grabbed a horn held together with bandaids, and went into the studio with what might be the greatest rhythm section in the history of jazz: Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on base, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. That was the same trio that laid the foundation for Miles Davis' first quintet (with Coltrane).
The music is indescribably delicious, so I won't try to describe it. Heroin did eventually kill Art Pepper, but it it didn't kill his genius, at least on this occasion. High as a kite, he worked his saxophone with a brilliance that precious few gods or human beings could match. I am not sure there is any moral to this story. It is a clue to how deep and uncharted the human soul is that so much of it could be submerged beneath the orgasm of heroin, and yet room is left for the saxophone. SavedHere is sample from the disc: Star Eyes.