Saturday, March 21, 2015

Lost Detroit Session

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

For years I've wondered about the eighth entry in Pepper Adams' Joy Road. I first learned about that mysterious 1955 live recording from a concert program I found in Pepper Adams' materials. Program notes written by drummer Rudy Tucich referred to a live recording with a numbing array of Detroit's finest musicians. What happened to it? Now, thanks to Tucich, I finally have some news.

On 28 March 1955 the New Music Society produced a spectacular concert at the Detroit Institute of Arts to showcase its members. Tucich and singer/vibist Oliver Shearer, co-officers of the Society with Kenny Burrell, invited many of the greatest players then living in Detroit to participate in the concert, including Burrell, Tommy Flanagan, Pepper Adams, Barry Harris, Curtis Fuller, Elvin Jones, Yusef Lateef, Bernard McKinney and Sonny Red. Detroit elders Sonny Stitt and Milt Jackson, not Society members per se, were invited as very special guests. "This concert," wrote Tucich, "is being recorded and will be the first release on our own label, Free Arts Records. Your cooperation in the recording will be greatly appreciated. We would also like to have you give us your suggestion for the name of our first concert album." 

In 1955 most of the musicians at the concert performed on Monday and Tuesday nights at the World Stage. The World Stage was a theater above Paperback Unlimited at the northwest corner of Woodward Avenue and Davison. On weekends, World Stage put on plays. Lily Tomlin was one of its actors. Early in the week, however, the theater was dark, so a perfect venue for the New Music Society's members to have sessions.

The Society recorded the 28 March concert on three ten-inch reels. A quintet comprised of Pepper Adams, Kenny Burrell, Tommy Flanagan, Billy Burrell and Hindall Butts opened with a tune based on the changes of Undecided, then performed Afternoon in Paris. After Flanagan's trio feature on Dancing in the Dark, the quintet returned to play Someday, If Not in Heaven (with Kennny Burrell singing!) and Woody'n You.

A local group, The Counterpoints, performed three numbers before Sonny Stitt's quintet (with Curtis Fuller, Barry Harris, Alvin Jackson and Elvin Jones) performed Loose Walk, a ballad medley (I Can't Get Started, If I Should Lose You, Embraceable You and Lover Man) and a closing blues.

After a likely intermission, Oliver Shearer gave a speech about the New Music Society, then Kenny Burrell introduced Yusef Lateef's ensemble. Lateef, Bernard McKinney, Sonny Red, Barry Harris, Alvin Jackson and Elvin Jones played four tunes: Wee, Three Story's, a ballad medley (This Love of Mine, But Not for Me and Darn that Dream) and a closing blues. 

After two tunes by pianist Jerry Harrison and three by pianist Bu Bu Turner, Sonny Stitt returned with Milt Jackson, Kenny Burrell, Barry Harris, Alvin Jackson and Elvin Jones to finish out the show. They stretched out on Billie's Bounce, then did Stardust and an ending blues. 

Oh, to hear this music! What happened to it? Tucich told me a week ago that he and Barry Harris decided to mail the tapes to a guy in Los Angeles, who would edit the tapes and transfer them to LPs for release. Did they think to make a backup copy? No. "It never occurred to us. We were naive," admits Tucich. Woefully, the engineer went backrupt and, after a concerted attempt to track him down and rescue the tapes, Tucich and Harris finally admitted that the material was lost. "I've waited 60 years to find out about them," said Tucich. Hopefully, it will turn up. Weirder things have happened.

DETROIT, 1958, courtesy of Lonnie Hillyer. Barry Harris (fourth from left), Rudy Tucich beside/behind him, Charles McPherson at far right. Others include Donald Walden, Lonnie Hillyer and Ira Jackson. Three are unidentified.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Osian Roberts on Pepper Adams

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Welsh born tenor saxophonist Osian Roberts 
has arranged for big band the two Adams ballads "In Love with Night" and "Civilization and Its Discontents." (See Stay tuned. His long-term goal is to write big band charts of Pepper's entire oeuvre. Besides running Hard Bop Records and co-leading a quintet with trumpeter Steve Fishwick (recently augmented to a sextet with the addition of Frank Basile), Roberts has also recorded in Prague several Adams tunes with a small group featuring Pepper's first-call bassist George Mraz. Roberts' comments about Pepper Adams were originally posted at on 8 October 2010, Adams' 80th birthday. He's agreed to write a guest post sometime in the future, when I hope he'll elaborate on some of the points made below. By then, his recordings of Pepper tunes should also be available at

I don't think I could overstate my love of Pepper Adams' music. He's one of the greatest jazz musicians and saxophonists (not just baritone) in the history of jazz. Not only did he have his own sound and vocabulary but he had a unique way of using that vocabulary--which was direct but, at the same time, highly sophisticated and completely devoid of any bullshit. That places him on the same level as Charlie Parker and John Coltrane in my opinion. Also, like Bird and Trane, his compositions seem to be an extension of his improvising concept. That he was held in such high regard by his fellow musicians isn't surprising to me in the least. His music conveys so many things: excitement, beauty, passion, humour, pathos, joy, sadness, urgency ... it's all there, which is why I find myself listening to his albums almost every day.

I was very fortunate last year to do some gigs with a former associate of Pepper, Hod O'Brien, who, incidentally, is one of the nicest people I've ever met. I took the opportunity to quiz him about Pepper Adams the man. You won't be surprised to hear that Hod thought the world of Pepper, saying that he was an incredible musician, an intellectual (the phrase "Renaissance Man" occurred) and great company. He also said that he was very funny and recounted a story of when he was sitting outside a cafe somewhere with Pepper. Across the road was a hardware store. They noticed a couple of kids hurry out the door, looking rather suspicious. Sure enough, when the boys approached Hod and Pepper's table, they offered to sell them some decorator's paint brushes. Pepper immediately replied, "No thanks, I only paint miniatures"--which completely cracked Hod up (he was in tears of laughter as he told the story!)--and sent the boys away looking nonplussed. It's always nice to hear that your musical heroes are also witty, nice people. I also recorded a couple of albums with Pepper's former bassist George Mraz recently but I didn't manage to prize out any P. A. anecdotes out of him in the brief time we had to talk. I'm hoping to work with him again so I'll keep trying!

Osian Roberts

Prague, 2010

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Sublime and Neglected Wardell Gray

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

How many have heard Wardell Gray's magnificent opening solo on the Count Basie 1950 small group Snader transcription "I Cried for You?"


I can't think of a more perfect one-minute introduction to the swinging and sublimely beautiful playing of little known tenor master Wardell Gray. Wardell Gray's tone, time and lyricism was a huge influence on Pepper Adams in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Gray grew up in Detroit, attended Cass Tech and often returned to Detroit to play gigs there, including gigs with Pepper, where they traded horns. Apart from Sonny Stitt, Pepper cited Wardell Gray as the best baritone player he ever heard. Gray had a distinguished career in the bands of Earl Hines, Benny Carter, Billy Eckstine, Benny Goodman and Basie. He's particularly known for his tenor duels with Dexter Gordon. With lots of work experience, he served as a strong role model for younger players in Detroit, and in Los Angeles where he lived for a time. Pepper and Wardell were very close and Pepper was a pallbearer at Wardell's funeral in 1955. Wardell, like Bird, died in 1955 at the age of 34.

Read Pepper's description of Wardell and his death here:

The Basie performance above plays a prominent part in Abraham Ravett's 1994 documentary Forgotten Tenor. 

See excerpt here:

Interviews with family members, Clark Terry, Eddie Bert, Art Farmer, Buddy DeFranco and especially Teddy Edwards are extremely illuminating in the film. They give an account of his death, true, but also a character portrait that will help me explain Pepper and Wardell's friendship in my forthcoming biography. Others have very interesting points here and there to make about Wardell's personality and musicianship. Basie bassist Jimmy Lewis, for one, says about Wardell, "On the bandstand he was very serious about his music."Another noted that Wardell sometimes would exhort the entire band to dig in when it was his time to solo, saying things such as"C'mon! Let's go!" Another interviewee pointed out that Wardell enjoyed quoting in his solos and once played Dvorak's Humoresque on the bridge of Honeysuckle Rose. Pepper became a great paraphraser himself and might have been inspired early on from Wardell's use of musical quotation.

Wardell Gray was very bright, very funny and he could be sarcastic at times. Generally speaking, he was a happy-go-lucky guy and extremely friendly. Yet his letters late in life to his wife reveal his loneliness on the road and his frustration with not be able to send home enough money for the family. Imagine if a letter or two he might've sent to Pepper would turn up somewhere? Pepper, too, became a voluminous letter and postcard writer. Maybe another Gray influence?

Because my copy of Hampton Hawes' very fine autobiography Raise Up Off Me is packed, I can't cite parts of it. But I understand that Hawes writes about Wardell's influence on the young players like himself on the West Coast. Art Farmer said in the film that Wardell was more of a big brother than a father figure. Farmer said, "He was an excellent example for us in Los Angeles because he was doing what we wanted to do." We can probably safely assume the same with Pepper, though Pepper was fatherless at age 9 and Wardell may have filled in other gaps for him. After all, when Pepper was 17 or 18 in Detroit, attending college and mastering the baritone sax, Wardell Gray was 28 and had traveled widely in name bands.

Like Pepper, Wardell Gray was funny, studious and a sports nut. Wardell liked doing practical jokes, unlike Pepper, who preferred puns and subtle humor. Unlike Pepper, too, Wardell was very emotional and could cry easily. You kind of get that sense in his playing--so emotional--but especially in the poignant recitation of letters that his widow reads in the film.

Pepper has said that the hallmark of Detroit jazz playing is the time feel. Perhaps best embodied by Elvin Jones, you know where the beat is but Detroit musicians imply it and have a sophisticated plasticity in respect to the beat. According to DeFranco, Wardell had a natural way of swinging. He could fool with the time--play behind or forward or on it. I suggest that, apart from Wardell's behind-the-beat lyricism that Pepper adopted, Wardell's time feel was a huge influence on Pepper's solo conception. John Vana and I will explore Gray's influence on Pepper in our forthcoming study.

As Art Farmer said in the film about Gray, "He influenced my playing in striving for excellence. He was 
very strong in melodic content and very strong in rhythm. . . . I loved the way his lines just flowed."
Pepper felt the same way.

Listen to Wardell's great feature on Little Pony, that Pepper mentioned to me when I interviewed him in 1984:

Anybody think that Pepper's great 1968 date Encounter with Zoot Sims (see photo below) is kind of a second coming of Pepper and Wardell?

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Dark Side Reassessed

A note about last week's post. It was the first time I was ever critical of another player, though it was mostly Pepper's criticism that I was expressing. I was interested in hearing about Brignola, but I did it in the wrong way. Going to the dark side really isn't my thing but I tried it as an experiment. I rarely get any responses so I figured I'd try polemics and see what happens. Personally, I was also having a very tough week. I've gotten enough criticism to not do it again. Thanks to everyone for sharing your feedback. 

I've gotten a pushback once before about sharing Pepper's personal views. That was regarding his dislike of Serge Chaloff's playing. More about last week's post, a friend pointed this out: "Your blog leaves the impression that men like Brignola and Haynes were somehow lame players compared to Adams, when in fact they were merely different players. Pepper comes off as mean-spirited and somewhat petty as a result." That's certainly not my intent. Pepper was a very gracious person who kept his opinions to himself and a select group of friends.

My friend contunes: "Granted that Pepper's approach was the most technical and the most harmonically advanced of all the modern baritone players, but Brignola was much more than just a "licks player." Even if Nick's rhythm patterns were more straight ahead, he certainly swung strongly at all times, no mean accomplishment on that big saxophone. The fact is that ALL jazz artists assemble a number of "licks" that they make their own and then, as is the case with both Nick and Pepper, they make creative use of them as they generate their own unique solo statements. Surely you recognize that Pepper had many of his own "licks," more often ascending and descending patterns of fourths, that other baritone players still quote to this day."

He concludes about Brignola: "His rhythm feel is the best of all the baritone guys, just as Mulligan's ballad playing is in a class by itself, a class that, quite frankly, Pepper never quite achieved, though his ballad work was wonderful. There is enough room in the jazz world for lots of different players contributing their own unique visions. Pepper was the best at what he did and it is only right that you have dedicated your website to celebrate his achievement. But there is no need for any implied belittlement of his competitors."

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Strange Bedfellows: Pepper Adams and Nick Brignola

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Pepper Adams performed with Nick Brignola only a handful of times during his career. Other than a 1982 festival concert in Holland, all of the known gigs were produced by Fred Norsworthy. Norsworthy was a huge Adams fan who self-produced Adams' Encounter date that was eventually sold to Prestige. Norsworthy was also responsible for doing A&R work on the Baritone Madness recording on Beehive. Pepper didn't care for Brignola's playing and would've only taken the gigs here and there because of need. He was also hired on Baritone Madness as a sideman and was furious with the way he was manipulated on the date to appear as a co-leader. I doubt he was pleased with how his sound was re-engineered to make Brignola seem the more prominent sounding player.

I interviewed Norsworthy, Adams and Brignola regarding their work together. Much can be learned from their comments in Pepper Adams' Joy Road (pages 340-44 and elsewhere). Although Adams and Brignola were contemporaries, how do they differ? First, other than occasional doubling on clarinet only in a big band setting, Pepper exclusively played baritone sax and would only solo on baritone. Brignola, for his part, was a multi-instrumentalist who favored baritone more and more later in his career because he finally got an offer to record as a leader on baritone. In a JazzTimes article (August 1989, p. 14) Brignola told Jesse Nash, "I play all the saxophones. The soprano, alto and tenor, as well as bass sax, the clarinets and flutes."

Brignola for many years--until Pepper passed away and Brignola slid into his place--taught saxophone whereas Pepper never had students. Phil Woods told me that he wrote the charts for his octet with Pepper in mind and with the expectation that he'd be in the group. Pepper passed away before the group recorded and Brignola took Pepper's place. 

Both Pepper and Brignola had great technical facility and good time but the differences are dramatic. Pepper was a stylist, with an immediately identifiable style. He had a very sophisticated harmonic sensibility, plus an encyclopedic mind that could cite all sorts of arcane musical paraphrases. His time feel had a plasticity to it: he could play way behind the beat or on top of the beat when double-timing. According to Kenny Berger, however, Brignola was a "lick player." That means he didn't have his own style and his approach was an amalgam of licks from his contemporaries. Pepper prized individuality above all else and would've been completely turned off by this kind of superficiality substituting for style. 

Brignola didn't have the flexibility in time feel either. According to my co-author John Vana, "Brignola has the bop thing down on Baritone Madness but it's as though he's trying to upstage Pepper. On the surface he succeeds. Pepper is so much more creative in his lines, always looking for something new and usually finding it. While the bop/on-top-of-the-beat approach certainly works, Brignola's baritone comes across as a big alto. On Donna Lee, Pepper's time is much more flexible and he freely quotes to add a conversational quality to an up-tempo workout. Brignola's turn sounds pre-planned and less of an artistic statement."

For me, when I hear Brignola, his playing sparkles for a few minutes but then gets extremely tiresome. That's because there's no variety of time, no paraphrasing or humor, little in the way of harmonic depth and it's all in-your-face machismo. He's not telling a story and it's technique for technique's sake. I don't care for Brignola's altissimo playing. More of the same. It strikes me as a gratuitous gimmick. Pepper only rarely jumped into that range and only for dramatic effect.

Kenny Berger also said that Brignola wasn't a good reader. That's another reason why Brignola didn't work that widely. Pepper was a great reader and played with everyone imaginable.

Regarding their only known non-Norsworthy twin baritone gig, Bert Vuijsje attended the De Meervaart concert in 1982 with Hank Jones: "I vividly remember the sadness and, to a certain extent, indignation I felt. Pepper Adams did not make a healthy impression, to say the least. His playing lacked its usual strength and already rumors were going around that he had a serious illness. Nick Brignola reacted in a rather tasteless manner by using his ballad feature, Sophisticated Lady, as a kind of show-off, demonstrating his - momentaneous - superiority by (unusually in this song, I thought) going into double-time after a while and then playing chorus after chorus after chorus as a real tour de force. My idea at the time was that here we saw the final moments of a history of rivalry (at least from Nick Brignola's side)." Here's another case of flamboyance masquerading as artistry. I suspect that Pepper probably knew he was being roped into yet another dumb baritone sax combat situation and demurred. It was also a hit-and-run for Pepper. That is, he flew in from New York for the gig and then went back home. He might've been jet-lagged. More than anything, the Baritone Madness recording left a very bad taste in his mouth and he was probably very uninspired and did this gig solely for the money. On the recording, he couldn't stand the way Beehive's owner took advantage of him and he hated Roy Haynes and Derrick Smith's playing. Years later he cited Roy Haynes as an example of a drummer who doesn't listen.

I do agree with Brignola that Baritone Madness helped Pepper's career. That's something that Brignola pointed out in our interview. The date did bring attention to Pepper as a soloist just a half a year after Pepper went out on his own as a single.

About two years ago I exchanged emails with recording engineer Jim Merod. He worked with Brignola and knew him very well. Jim said that Nick was very much aware of Pepper's place as the superior player and the greatest on his instrument. Nick himself told me years before, in our interview, how he respected that Pepper "played with all the cats." He was referring to all the greatest musicians: Monk, Mingus, Elvin, Miles, Trane, Diz, Thad, Mel, Lee Morgan--I could go on forever. I sensed that Brignola knew exactly what that meant in relation to him not having that kind of access.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

I Remember Pepper

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Baritone saxophonist and arranger Kenny Berger is our guest blogger today. He was Pepper Adams' personally anointed sub in the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra in the early 1970s. Berger has performed and recorded with Art Farmer, Freddie Hubbard, the Duke Pearson Big Band, the Lee Konitz Nonet, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, the Bill Holman Big Band, the Gil Evans Orchestra, the Phil Woods Little Big Band, the Dave Brubeck Big Band and many others. Berger is currently freelancing in New York and teaching at New Jersey City University. See for more information on his life and career.

My introduction to the music of Pepper Adams came as a complete surprise one evening around 1962 or '63 while I was a jazz obsessed high school student in Brooklyn. I began playing alto sax in Fifth Grade but a couple of years later in Junior High I fell in love with the baritone. Since the school owned one and I didn’t would use every spare moment in the school day to sneak into the band room and mess around with it. At that point the only baritone soloist I was familiar with was Gerry Mulligan. I especially dug his playing on the first Concert Jazz Band album, though I longed to take my own playing in a harder-swinging direction. 

There was plenty of jazz on the radio in New York in those days. One evening, while listening to the Alan Grant Show on WABC-FM, I heard a track from a recent Donald Byrd album called The Cat Walk. Following Byrd’s trumpet solo came a baritone solo which approached the instrument in a manner that, until that moment, I had perhaps only dreamed was possible but had never actually heard anyone attempt. The tone was hard-edged but deep and resonant, the ideas poured forth in powerful torrents, the sense of swing was irresistible and it felt as though the player was literally eating up the changes. Here, finally, was someone playing the instrument that was to become my voice--and absolutely tearing it up, backed by a relentless Philly Joe Jones-led rhythm section. The player of course was none other than Park “Pepper Adams.

I don’t recall precisely the first time I heard Pepper play live, but with Manhattan just a subway ride away I had plenty of chances to do so. All the qualities I had admired in his recorded work were of course present in his live playing. But hearing Pepper in person brought out some qualities in his playing that records failed to capture. The very presence of his sound and rhythmic energy right there in the room was something that no recording could fully capture, which is true of all great musicians regardless of style or context. The other outstanding quality was his ability to play extremely long solos that built logically and never let up in terms of invention or rhythmic drive.

After I made the switch to being a full-time baritone player, and as my knowledge and understanding of music increased--I later attended a classical conservatory as a bassoon major, though I remain a proudly self-taught improviser, a dying breed if ever there was one--I began to appreciate other notable qualities in Pepper’s playing. It seemed to me that the playing of almost all the other well known jazz baritone players sounded in some way or other to be an application of ideas and general approaches to the horn that would sound equally appropriate on alto or tenor, whereas Pepper seemed to have developed a distinctive style that I could not imagine being used on any other instrument. Unlike almost all the other influential baritone players, Pepper employed the entire range of the horn, really enjoying all the noise it could make and refused to either dance around or totally avoid the lower register as almost everyone else did. This was no mean feat, as the register the baritone is in scares many players away from employing all but the most basic harmonic and melodic ideas and forces others to approach the horn as though they wished it were a tenor or alto, using only the upper register and/or employing an inappropriately bright and edgy soundPepper’s style was a good deal more harmonically and rhythmically complex than those of his peers while maintaining a true baritone sound. For proof of this, check out my personal favorite of all his recorded solos on Reflectory from the album of the same name on the Muse label. The solo unfolds logically, swings like mad and builds to an intense climax that he plays in the bottom register. Listen to this solo and try to imagine it having the same impact played on any other instrument and you’ll hear what I mean. He used to say that the baritone required more use of articulation than the higher saxes and if you played a complex run on the baritone without slightly tonguing every note it would sound like someone playing a glissando on a piano with the sustain pedal held down. 

As far as the actual musical content of Pepper’s playing, it reflected his intelligence, open-mindedness and diverse listening habits. His harmonic ear, understanding of motivic development and complete command of devices such as diminished scales was on a par with those of the greatest soloists in jazz, period. His concept of sound was rooted in Harry Carney and his harmonic and rhythmic approaches were heavily influenced by Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker. In typically unpredictable Adams fashion, his favorite soloist among the Ellingtonians was not Carney but the great cornetist Rex Stewart, whose quirky, idiosyncratic style (a term Pepper used to describe his own style) appealed to Pepper’s sense of humor and appreciation for players who spoke in a personal voice. This may help to explain his affinity for and compatibility with his old Detroit homey Thad Jones, whose only detectable influences to my ears were Rex and Dizzy. Pepper was also quite well versed in Twentieth Century classical music and was especially partial to the symphonies of Arthur Honegger. This, combined with a storehouse of knowledge of older jazz and pop tunes, as well as songs and themes from film scores and all sorts of corny operettas, plus works by Stravinsky, Shostakovich and others, provided Pepper with a huge database to draw on for his seemingly inexhaustible supply of musical quotes (speaking of lost arts) that allowed his incomparable sense of humor to express itself through his music. More on Pepper Adams the man in Part Two.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Reader Survey

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Today I'm taking a break from supplying content to ask you what it is you'd like to see in this blog? Are there certain things you'd like me to cover? Are there specific question you have about Pepper you'd like me to answer? A blog without happy readers and threads that spur discussion is little more than narcissism so please fire away and let me know how I can upgrade this space.

Gary Carner