Saturday, January 24, 2015

Prologue to Pepper Adams Biography

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Prologue: I Carry Your Heart

On September 28, 1986 I drove three hours from Boston to New York to attend Pepper Adams’ memorial service at St. Peter’s Church. Adams had waged a courageous battle against an aggressive form of lung cancer that was first diagnosed in early March, 1985 while touring in northern Sweden. St. Peter’s, with its modern ash-paneled interior and large multi-tiered sanctuary, is tucked under the enormous 915-foot-tall Citicorp Center at East 54th Street and Lexington Avenue. On that somber but bright Sunday afternoon, St. Peter’s chapel was packed with musicians, friends and admirers. Reverend John Garcia Gensel presided over the service and many jazz greats—Tommy Flanagan, Elvin Jones, Frank Foster, George Mraz, Roland Hanna, Barry Harris, Louis Hayes, Sheila Jordan, Gerry Mulligan and others—performed and paid their final respects. 
For over a year Adams’ plight had galvanized the jazz community, who heard varying stories about his wife leaving him, his declining health and his dire financial situation. Between September, 1985 and March, 1986 two benefits had been organized to raise funds for Pepper’s medical care. One at the 880 Club in Hartford, Connecticut was organized by alto saxophonist Jackie McLean and Adams was able to attend. The other took place at the Universal Jazz Coalition on Lafayette Street in New York and featured performances by Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, Tommy Flanagan, Louis Hayes, Frank Foster, Kenny Burrell, Jerry Dodgion and the entire Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. Pepper, gaunt and bald from chemotherapy treatments, was out of town for that one, working a weekend gig in Memphis. He sent a letter of gratitude that was read to the audience by singer Lodi Carr.
At Pepper’s memorial service it seemed ironic that this brilliant musician’s musician, so admired by his peers, was receiving such a fond farewell. He had fans, I was sure, but you’d never know it by the indifference he received from the jazz press, the few gigs he did in New York or the small audiences I was fortunate to be a part of near the end of his life. While his predicament likely drew more attention to him than previously, I had the impression that an accreted, long overdue realization of Adams’ musical accomplishments had finally coalesced in the public’s mind. How strange it was that, at his death, it felt like his ascendant hour.
  Pepper Adams was a friend of mine, but, sadly, I knew him only during the last two tumultuous years of his life. During that time, only partly recovered from a horrible leg accident that had kept him bed-ridden for six months, Adams was separated from his wife and had been diagnosed with the cancer that would, in short order, kill him. 
I’ve been wanting to tell Pepper’s story since June 28, 1984, the memorable day I conducted the first of several lengthy interviews with him. I promised Pepper that I would complete his biography and a 350-page transcript of my interviews was stacked high on his nightstand the morning he died. After his death, I interviewed many of his peers. For them, Pepper Adams was a complex figure: a hero, a model of grace, a virtuoso musician and stylist, a composer, an intellectual. Adams was also an unworldly looking sophisticate; a public person yet emotionally guarded; a full-throated, exuberant saxophonist who was mild-mannered and soft-spoken. In short, a brilliant artist full of interesting ambiguities and contradictions.
After so many years of living with his music and researching his life, in 2012 I produced a five-volume CD box set of Adams compositions that was co-branded and released with my book Pepper Adams’ Joy Road: An Annotated Discography. Now, with this companion work, I fulfill my promise to him and myself. 
I’m especially pleased that John Vana agreed to co-author the book. John’s an alto player on the faculty at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois. I first met him when he invited me to speak at WIU in late 2013. That’s when I toured the Eastern half of the U.S. and Canada for a month with British arranger Tony Faulkner. 
John is a huge Pepper Adams fan. Soon after my visit he agreed to write a major piece on Pepper’s early style (to 1960) for a possible Adams anthology. Not long after that, John started asking me to send him, bit by bit, every Pepper Adams tape, LP and videotape that’s listed in Pepper Adams’ Joy Road. Clearly, “Up to 1960” wasn't enough for him. He wanted to hear it all and consider Pepper’s entire oeuvre.
Eventually, it occurred to me that John’s piece on Pepper’s style would likely cover much of the same terrain that I’d be exploring in the second half of this book. Considering the demands of my day job, perhaps it would be better for me to write the biography and have John (with my input, additions and editorial oversight) write the second section? Wouldn’t it move up the timetable? I got John on the phone and he agreed. He thought it was a really good idea. The anthology might not even happen, I pointed out, so what better place for his study? 
For those either already hip to Adams’ life and recordings or encountering him for the first time, it’s our sincere hope that we convey his extraordinary contribution to the history of Twentieth Century music and inspire readers everywhere to listen anew to his glorious work.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Pepper Adams Biography

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

I've begun writing the second volume. I've modified and signed off on the Epigraph, Prologue and first chapter and I continue to build the Recommended Listening section. Perhaps some of you have noticed that every few days I've been sneaking in my listening choices on my Facebook page? So far, I've posted around seven tunes and videos. Many more are to come, of course. It's been fun listening again and adding them. Today I listened twice to one of Pepper's great masterpieces: Pepper Adams Plays Charlie Mingus.

As for the biography, I'll post the Epigraph below, then the Prologue next week and Chapter 1 in two weeks. After that, you'll just need to wait and read the book! Chapter 1 sets things in motion with a rationale for why Pepper is an important figure. It's intended to entice those not faamiliar with him and his work.  It leads into Chapter 2, something I'm developing, which might be a discussion of his father or other father figures, such as Rex Stewart. The Prologue discusses when I met Pepper and how my work on Pepper came to be.

Here's the Epigraph, stated to me in a Thelonious Monk seminar I took many years ago in Blake's Brookline, Massachusetts apartment:

How many musicians out there are really different?

- Ran Blake

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Pepper's Good Groove

A few months ago I came to the conclusion that the best approach to my second volume on Pepper Adams was to write the biography in two separate sections. The first, I explained in a blog entry a few months back, would be a 100-page biography and the second would be a 100-page discussion of his saxophone style and compositions. I still like the way this approach frees me to write a shorter but more focused biography, then get deeply into his playing and composing.

Two days ago, on a long drive from Atlanta to Orlando, however, it occurred to me that it might be quite some time before I'm able to write this book. When would I finish it? I turn sixty this year.

My assessment of the book project has taken sharper focus recently because I've just changed careers. Or, you could say, I've returned to a previous one. Twenty years ago I worked in the financial services industry. I did quite well but left to work with a wellness company and then the wine industry. A few months ago I decided that the wine industry was going through too much of a contraction to ever give me the kind of gig I need. I began getting licenses and I'm now working for three separate insurance agencies in Georgia.

My career shift is taking me farther away from the Pepper book project, with little end in sight. Though I've been busy building out the Instagram page, this blog, and other projects, what about the book? I first conceptualized doing Pepper's biography in the summer of 1984, when I interviewed him at length. The discographical first volume took a little heat off but the biography has always been very dear to my heart and a life-long goal.  When would I do it?

Somewhere after I crossed the Georgia-Florida line I started listening to Pepper's magical playing on Red Garland's Red's Good Groove. It's always been a favorite of mine. How perfect  Pepper's playing is on the date, I thought, and how beautifully the engineer captured his sound! I started thinking about my friend John Vana and I thought I should give him a call to tell him about the recording.

John's an alto player on the faculty at Western Illinois University in Macomb IL (Al Sears' hometown). I first met John when he invited me to speak at WIU in 2013. That's when I toured the Eastern half of the U.S. and Canada for a month with British arranger Tony Faulkner. 

John is a huge Pepper fan. Soon after my visit he agreed to write a major piece on Pepper's early style (to 1960) for a possible Pepper anthology. Soon after that, he started asking me to send him, bit by bit, every tape, LP or videotape of Pepper Adams that I own or that's listed in Pepper Adams' Joy Road. Up to 1960 wasn't enough for him. He's now up to 1977 and he wants to hear it all.

Not only is it my mandate to support anyone's work on Pepper, but it's been a good deal for me too. John has converted (and preserved) so much of my precious Pepper stuff onto CD. It's vitally important to save all my Pepper audience tapes for future generations.

At first I thought I'd just catch up with John on the telephone. I could tell him why the last batch of LPs and cassettes hasn't been mailed out and I could tell him how relaxed and perfect Pepper's playing is on the Garland LP. But before I called him it occurred to me that John's piece on Pepper's style would likely cover much of the same terrain that I'd be exploring in the second half of my Pepper book. Considering the demands of my day job, perhaps it would be better for me to write the bio and have John (with my input, additions and editorial oversight) write the second section? Wouldn't it move up the timetable? Yes, I thought it might.

I got John on the phone and he agreed with me. He thought it was a really good idea. The anthology might not even happen, I pointed out, so what better place than in the "definitive" Pepper biography? 

That's where the Pepper Adams biography stands at the moment. I've yet to see John's work on Pepper in any tangible form but I'm encouraged by his passion for Pepper and the long phone conversations we've already had. I'll let you know how it's going as things move ahead. I think he still has at least six months of listening to go. 

One thing I reiterated to John was my feeling that maybe Pepper went through more than just an early, middle and late period in his stylistic evolution. We're in agreement that everything leading up to the 1960 Live at the Half Note date amounts to the flowering and maturation of him as a soloist. That could be construed as "Early." His playing in the early 1960s is so majestic and soulful. He still has a very bluesy and lyrical style, using a wail as a stylistic element, using space to great effect and pulling back the time. At what point, I asked John, did Pepper move into such a dense way of playing and become such a diminished freak?  Perhaps the transition to that is his "Pre-Late" period? Any thoughts, dear listener?

When things settle down a little for me, I'll start to pull together my thoughts for the biography. Just the other day I thought what a kick it would be to listen again to all those interviews I did about Pepper with so many musicians and friends. Only a fraction of them was transcribed for the first book. I've already decided to start the book with Pepper meeting Rex Stewart in 1944 at the RKO Temple Theater. So I can set the stage, I need info about the theater, particularly its interior. Upward and onward!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra Early Personnel

When Thad Jones and Mel Lewis first began drawing up who they most wanted to hire for their new big band, the choices weren't necessarily the same as those who eventually made it to the first rehearsals or the first gig at the Village Vanguard. In the left column are those who were originally slated for the band. The right column are those who made the first Vanguard gig on 7 February 1966. Who thinks Nick Travis would've taken the concertmaster chair over Snooky Young? Who laments the fact that neither Phil Woods nor Clark Terry made it to the band? Phil Woods did sub for Jerome Richardson occasionally but is there any record of Clark Terry playing in the orchestra? On the Chuck Stewart photo below, who can identify the personnel (other than Thad, Mel, Dodgion, Richardson, Herman)? Is that Eddie Jones on bass?

Thad Jones +

trumpet trumpet
Snooky Young (lead?) Snooky Young (lead)
Nick Travis (lead?) Jimmy Nottingham (Travis deceased)
Jimmy Maxwell Bill Berry (subbing for Maxwell)
Clark Terry Jimmy Owens (Terry's absence unexplained)

trombone trombone
Bob Brookmeyer (lead)  Bob Brookmeyer (lead)
Willie Dennis  Garnett Brown (Dennis deceased)
choice not known Jack Rains
choice not known Cliff Heather

Phil Woods (lead) Jerome Richardson (lead)
choice not known Jerry Dodgion
Wayne Shorter Joe Farrell
choice not known Eddie Daniels
Pepper Adams Marv Holladay (subbing for Adams)

Hank Jones Hank Jones
guitar not planned            Sam Herman
choice not known Richard Davis
Mel Lewis                         Mel Lewis

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Looking Ahead to 2015

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas (that ever so conveniently rolled into the weekend). 2015 looks like an exciting year for my Pepper Adams work. As always, I continue to revise the Chronology and Discography whenever new information presents itself. As it turns out, some new data has surfaced recently. Now that all the databases are in PDF format, I'll be updating quarterly. The next update will take place in January.

I continue to look for lecture opportunities. If anyone works at a college and is interested in having me give a talk on Pepper, please let me know. Since the 2012 publication of Pepper Adams'Joy Road I've done about fifty such talks. I love doing them because most students don't know anything about Pepper. Such is the state of jazz history survey courses and textbooks to this day. Because Pepper remains an historical footnote, I always get out to spread the word.

The biggest project of 2015 is the CD issue of Ephemera. Although available on iTunes, it's amazing that the date has never been issued on CD. Tony Williams of Spotlite recently sent the original master to Robin Springall at Repeat Performance in London and the date sounds magnificent! I think it will sound even better if Mel Lewis' drums are brought up in volume. His brushwork is too low and his toms need more definition.

As I wrote a few weeks back, Pepper asked that all alternates from the first day be destroyed, due to some ridiculous antics that took place in the studio. Hence, everything on the date is a first take from Day Two. I hadn't heard Bouncing with Bud, Jitterbug Waltz, Quiet Lady or Hellure in years. What a joy to hear this great music again, especially Quiet Lady. I completely forgot what a brilliant performance this is, right up there perhaps with Day Dream and I've Just Seen Her as one of Pepper's greatest studio ballad performances. Roland Hanna steals the show with his unaccompanied intro, solo, and spectacular unaccompanied coda and Pepper really lays way back in his time on the theme and in his solo.

Bouncing with Bud brings tears to my eyes. It so perfectly captures the language of the 1950s and is played so well by the ensemble. Adams' arrangement of the tune is quite daring. Mel Lewis takes an unaccompanied solo after Hanna's, then George Mraz solos before Pepper. The delay of Adams' solo builds tension, released by Pepper's dramatic entrance. The tune, almost eleven minutes long, feels like a club date performance.

Ah, how about that Adams ballad atmosphere? Is there anything else like it? Civilization and Its Discontents is such an amazing thing, isn't it?

Mel Lewis' driving percussion on Jitterbug Waltz is just wonderful. How about his unaccompanied intro to the tune? What a fine arranging decision on Pepper's part, as is the terraced dynamics in the theme. As I wrote a few weeks ago, Ephemera is one of Pepper's masterpieces. I eagerly look forward to writing new liner notes.

I'll let you know about the timeline of Clarion Jazz reissue. Early September still looks reasonable at this point but no word yet about that from Dale Fielder. Happy New Year everybody! 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Word About Mean What You Say

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

On a long drive this morning I listened to Mean What You Say, the only studio recording ever made by the Thad Jones-Pepper Adams Quintet. Although the group (with Mel Lewis) continued to work throughout the '60s and '70s, much to Pepper's disappointment the group was eclipsed by the establishment of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra.

Mean What You Say is a record that I've always held in very high esteem, one that I've heard thirty or more times though not recently. What struck me today is just how spectacular a recording it is, how fresh it still seems, how original Thad Jones' small group arrangements are, how wonderful the tunes are (with two waltzes and no ballads) and how great Thad's soloing is throughout. Actually, everyon e plays brilliantly, including Duke Pearson, who, despite his Blue Note A&R gig was still a very strong soloist in mid-1966.

This is a recording of historic proportions on so many levels. It's one that should be dissected in jazz texts and wildly appreciated as one of the seminal recordings of the 1960s and in jazz history, just as Kind of Blue or A Love Supreme are discussed. Woefully, it's completely overlooked by critics, authors, jazz fans and even musicians.

First, the personnel: Thad Jones flh; Pepper Adams bs; Duke Pearson p; Ron Carter b; Mel Lewis dm.
Three Detroiters plus one honorary Detroiter in Mel Lewis (though from Buffalo, but with that wide Elvin Jones kind of beat). Add Atlanta's Duke Pearson, a close friend of Pepper's. What a band, all playing at their best! In fact, for those very familiar with Thad Jones' playing, has he ever sounded better? It's certainly the best Thad playing I've heard! With his performance it's easy to understand how revered he is by brass players, who have placed him firmly in the trumpet lineage right in there after Dizzy, Clark Terry and Miles, and before Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw.

The next thing that struck me about Mean What You Say is Thad and Pepper's phrasing. Their dynamics and time feel lock up as if they were together for many years. In fact, the band was only playing gigs on and off for about a year, but it shows.

The tunes? The title tune should be a standard of the jazz repertoire. Why aren't musicians besides Peter Leitch and Gary Smulyan playing it? Thad's "Bossa Nova Ova," one of the hippest bossas I've ever heard, is a spectacular Thad arrangement with a dazzling soli. Why isn't this being played? Can you believe Mel Lewis' amazing Latin playing on this tune? 

The uptempo Burt Bacharach waltz "Wives and Lovers?" What a great tune. Musicians are asleep on this one too. Duke Pearson's great tune "Chant," better know and which Pepper had recorded twice before with the Byrd-Adams Quintet (once with Pearson at Live at the Half Note), is another tune that should be a standard. How about Thad's outlandish arrangement on this version? 

For those who think Pepper was an extreme double-time player who couldn't play with sensitivity, check out his (and Thad's) beautiful, behind-the-beat, amazingly poignant solos on Ron Carter's "Little Waltz?" So much for that stereotype.

Thad's hip "H and T Blues?" (Does that stand for Hank and Thad, by any chance?) Thad's swinging "No Refill." Que pasa? Why aren't musicians playing these tunes? 

And how can you top the wonderful slapstick rendition of "Yes Sir, That's My Baby?" Here Thad and Pepper hilariously deconstruct the tune as if they're 11-year-old struggling jazz soloists, then re-equilibrate, as a startling contrast, and completely tear it up. Dick Katz, who was Milestone's A&R man, told me that Thad's solo is "historic." Milestone's Orrin Keepnews was horrified by the band's approach but what a way to evoke musical satire!

The only flaw I can speak to on this dazzling landmark recording is Pepper's sound on the Fantasy digital remaster. Like the original it still has far too much reverb. I'm surprised it's not repaired but, again, another lame decision made about the date without understanding its real significance. 

Significance? Yes, five of the greatest musicians of their time playing absolutely unique and brilliant arrangements by one of jazz's greatest arrangers, with soloists all at the top of their game. I want to hear from you about this recording. Isn't it a "dessert island recording" and one that's been completely overlooked?

Photo by Rick Mattingly
Mel Lewis

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Ephemera to be Reissued in 2015!

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Just a few minutes ago I awoke to an email from Tony Williams, owner of Spotlite Records. Williams wanted to let me know that he transferred from the original master all seven of the magical tracks from Pepper Adams' date Ephemera that he produced 41 years ago. Williams is mailing me a copy of the CD today. What a Christmas gift!

Many of you know that Ephemera is one of Adams' greatest achievements. It was recorded at a time when Pepper was out of fashion and couldn't get a recording date as a leader. It had been five years since his Encounter session was recorded. Even though that date was eventually sold to Prestige, it was independently produced by Fred Norsworthy and funded by Norsworthy's girlfriend. The intent was to sell it to an interested party but no one was interested! Eventually, Don Schlitten at Prestige took it, which of course meant for virtually nothing and with limited distribution.

If you consider the stretch of time between Ephemera and when Adams was last recorded by a commerical entity, it had been eight years since the Thad Jones-Pepper Adams Quintet date Mean What You Say was done for Milestone and eleven years since Adams' last date for Motown. That one remains unreleased and in Universal's vaults.

Ephemera is significant on several levels. For one thing it includes four original compositions by Pepper Adams. He had never written more than two tunes for any of his previous dates. Those tunes--Patrice, Hellure, Ephemera and Civilization and Its Discontents--stand as some of Pepper's greatest achievements as a composer. In fact, Adams felt that Ephemera was his greatest piece. I'm inclined to agree, though Patrice and Civ is right up there with it. Additonally, the quartet plays the standards Bouncing with Bud and Jitterbug Waltz, plus the Thad Jones ballad Quiet Lady. The playing is outstanding!

The date, recorded in London on 9-10 September 1973, uses the extraordinary rhythm section of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra: Roland Hanna, George Mraz and Mel Lewis. All tracks are from the 10th because the first day was marred by all sorts of bizarre technical difficulties. Because of that, Adams asked Williams to destroy everything from the 9th. 

Jones-Lewis was on tour of Europe at the time. As some of you know, Adams was right at home with the rhythm section and visa versa. Pepper and Mel were very close musical buddies since 1956. Mraz was Pepper's all-time favorite bass player. And Roland was a Detroiter. Need I say more? 

How can it be that this date has never been issued on CD? Well, saxophonist Dale Fielder and I are correcting that injustice. Fielder, based in Los Angeles, operates Clarion Jazz. He'll be putting the date out, we hope in early September in time to celebrate the 42nd anniversary of the recording and in time for Christmas sales. Fielder will be repackaging and mastering the recording, possibly with the help of engineer Jim Merod (a passionate Pepper Adams fan). I'll be writing a new essay and providing photographs, never before seen, that were taken by Jill Freedman at the London photo shoot.