Sunday, March 4, 2018

Pepper Adams Biography News

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

A belated happy New Year to everybody! My apologies to those who have been awaiting a post from me. Yes, I've been away from the blog for some time. My life has been a little chaotic job-wise, though things have sorted themselves out recently.
I'm very pleased to announce that the first half of my Pepper Adams biography is now finished. I completed it a few days ago. It's about 100 pages. I began writing around the middle of April, 2017, upon my return from lecturing at four colleges in Utah. Looking back, I'm still amazed how I got all this done in eleven months. It sure helps to have 34 years of notes! During the next four weeks I'll be editing the manuscript, and going over my Pepper Adams interview transcript and listening to about 25 interviews, just to be sure I don't leave any important things out.

Here's an overview (finding aid) of Part I, what I call "Ascent":

Ch. 1:
Charlie Parker at the Mirror Ballroom
Move to Detroit, Rochester NY vs. Detroit
Skippy Williams
Arrival in Detroit, race relations
Detroit in the 1950s
History of Detroit, 1700-1900
History of Detroit, 1900-1950
Lionel Hampton
Wayne University
The Music Box, Little John and His Merrymen
Getting the Berg Larsen and Selmer, Detroit's baritone history, Beans Bowles

Ch. 2:
Pepper's father in Detroit
Paternal genealogy
Family's musical roots
History of Rochester
Early life in Indiana, move to Rochester
Age 4-9, father's death
War years
Rochester musicians during World War II
Age 10-12, Everett Gates
Duke Ellington at the Temple Theatre, Rex Stewart, trip to Seattle
Ellington, Skippy Williams, classical music
Importance of elders (especially Rex Stewart), Duke Ellington
Raymond Murphy, Bob Wilber
John Huggler
The Elite
John Albert

Ch. 3:
Service in the U.S. Army, Korean War
The Blue Bird Inn
The World Stage
The West End Hotel, Klein's Show Bar
Detroit's jazz history
Thad Jones, Wardell Gray, baritone players on the scene
Obscure Detroit jazz musicians
Pepper's personality, Detroit pianists
Maternal genealogy
Detroit musical education
Detroit's outlier jazz generation, Malcolm Gladwell outlier concepts related to Pepper
Pepper demo played for Prestige and Blue Note, Pepper sits in with Miles and Rollins
Stan Getz story, Pepper moves to New York City

I met with my trusted webmaster, Dan Olson, last week. We're planning important upgrades this year to New context will be added to "Radio Interviews" and "Big Band Performances." A link to a new WikiTree genealogy of Pepper Adams is planned.
I had to wipe clean the hard drive on my iPad a few months ago. By doing so, I lost my trusty app for Blogspot. If anyone has a recommendation for an app I can use that DOES NOT ask for my Google password, please let me know. It will help me format future posts.
I did submit my first section from Ch. 3 about Pepper's experience in the U.S. Army for publication in 2019. I'll let you know if it's approved. I'm

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Bird and Herbie

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and that you are anticipating a great Christmas season and new year. In the last few weeks one of my readers suggested that I open my Pepper Adams biography with the story of when Pepper heard Bird at Detroit's Mirror Ballroom in 1949. I end the opening section of Ch 1 with it, in a way building to it. He felt that, because it's about Bird, it would create far greater interest among readers than what I have now. Back to the drawing board, as they say.

I've been rereading the very fine biographical primer The Biographer's Art, written by Milton Lomask. One of the things he recommends is for an author to conceive of an ending well in advance, then work your way there as a destination. I'm toying with ending my biography with Pepper's appearance on the Grammy Awards telecast. It seems to me that the way the New York chapter of NARAS rallied behind Pepper when his appearance on the show was threatened with cancellation is a metaphor for much that occurred in New York when Adams got ill. Maybe I don't need to worry that much about the ending? The way the book is set up, the second section of the book (analysis) follows mine. Is it perhaps more appropriate to have John Vana's work summarize the entire book?

Over the last few weeks I also came across this great piece about Herbie Hancock:
Hancock discusses how he joined the ByrdAdams Quintet. Here's his only mention of Pepper:

"In December of 1960, a couple of months after the Coleman Hawkins gig, I got a call from John Cort, the owner of the Birdhouse, a small club in a second-floor walkup on Dearborn Street, on the North Side. ‘Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams are playing in Milwaukee this weekend,’ he told me. ‘You want to play with them?’ "‘Are you kidding?’ I said. ‘Yeah, I want to play with them!’ I couldn’t believe it – I’d just been invited to gig with one of the best jazz trumpeters around. Donald Byrd was a veteran of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and he’d earned a master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music. He’d performed with many of the jazz greats over the years, including John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, and in 1958 he’d started a quintet with the baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams. That was the group I was being invited to play with."

This piece is the most in-depth one I've read about Hancock and his "discovery" by Donald Byrd. It turns out that John Cort deserves much of the credit for recommending Hancock to Byrd.

One thing that has always surprised me is how little Pepper Adams is mentioned by Hancock over the years. I know that Byrd is the one who met with Hancock's mother and assured her that young Herbie would be fine living with Byrd in New York once the band left Chicago. With that in mind, it seems likely that Pepper didn't have the same degree of responsibility for Hancock as Byrd. Still, you would think that Herbie would have absorbed some influences from Adams, perhaps his harmonic usage? It sure would be fascinating to know what kind of conversations the two of them had during the year that Herbie was in the Byrd-Adams Quintet.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

New Pepper Adams Archive

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

I'm pleased to tell you that I've decided to donate all of my Pepper Adams materials to William Paterson University. How can I not make these important materials available near New York City, where so many researchers and musicians can use them? Moreover, how can I not add Pepper's materials to the archive where Thad Jones' materials are held? That's almost as silly as establishing a Harry Carney archive apart from Duke Ellington.

I've been in touch with curator David Demsey, and I've already boxed up twelve cartons of Pepper's material from his estate. All of the packed stuff is material that I eagerly scooped up after Pepper's death to protect it from destruction, when his widow was disposing of the contents of his house in Canarsie, Brooklyn. Much of my own materials that I've collected over the years, such as my many audience recordings, will get there eventually. The trick is figuring out a way to transport these things from Atlanta to West Paterson, New Jersey. The plan is to move everything there in phases as I finish the biography.

Some of the things that I saved from destruction that amazing day in late 1986 were Pepper's copies of alternate tracks that he recorded for Reflectory, The Master, Urban Dreams and Live at Fat Tuesday's. I've just gotten them digitized for posterity. Pepper's original cassettes will be going to William Paterson.

David Demsey and I have been discussing the provenance of the charts on the Ruth Brown/Thad/Mel date. In a private interview that Pepper did with Albert Goldman (discussed last month in this blog), Pepper mentioned that not all of the charts on the date are Thad's. Pepper affirmed that his feature on "Trouble in Mind" was written by Thad. Demsey told me that "Bye, Bye Blackbird" is Thad's too. They have the score in Thad's hand. Judging from the intro, does anyone have any doubt? We're still figuring out who wrote the other charts. Does anyone have any input on the matter?

I'm also excited to report that I've finally finished Chapter 1 of Pepper's biography. For over a month, the period 1900-1947 was a gaping hole in the chapter. Now it's been closed. It was my overarching aim to contextualize Pepper's experience by writing about the socio-political history of Detroit. Two sections (1701-1899) were done already, but writing about the first half of the Twentieth Century, so important to Pepper's sensibilities, lingered for quite some time. So much happened in Detroit then that affected the course of American history. Furthermore, Pepper worked in the auto plants, and was an impassioned advocate of social unionism. I needed to explore that to understand that part of him.

That led me to the Reuther Brothers. If you haven't seen the extraordinarily moving documentary Brothers on the Line, I urge you to watch it. Although I knew something about Walter Reuther before I watched it, I left with the strong conviction that Reuther was one of the towering figures of the Twentieth Century. If anyone should be designated for sainthood, it's Reuther. He and his two brothers' courageous work to raise the standard of living of American auto workers, in the face of all sorts of hostility, physical beatings, and assassination attempts, is the thing of legend. Do you know about his work with Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King in helping them advance their struggles for human rights, or his work with the Kennedys and Lyndon Johnson? Now almost fifty years after his death (which I suspect in 2020 will be celebrated), Reuther is far too little known. Please check out the film. Here's the trailer:

Now it's time to finish up Chapter 3, essentially the period 1954-1955 but with some intentional twists and turns added. This will conclude the first half of my part of the book. Part II is being written by alto saxophonist John Vana. He's making great strides with his analysis of Pepper's playing.

For those who like to hear Pepper Adams speak about his life, a whole crop of new interviews with him have been posted at

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Pepper Adams Interviews

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

This month hasn't gone as expected. I developed a case of eye strain from my previous months of writing and editing on my computer. Because of that, I've had to stay away from my manuscript and laptop, and instead fashion other tasks that still allowed me to move ahead with the biography. One of the most important things I've gotten done in September was listening to interviews that Adams did on the radio and in private. Over the years, I've been able to collect these gems:

Peter Clayton: BBC
Alan Stevens: BBC
Alfie Nilsson: Malmo radio
Ted O'Reilly: CJKT, Toronto
Len Dobbin: Montreal radio
Ben Sidran: NPR
Albert Goldman: private interviews
John Reid: private interview

The plan has always been to post some of them at so you can hear Adams speak about his life. While a few are posted there already, technology has changed and it's necessary to use different software and update the site. That's already in the works. Stay tuned for updates.

Besides the fact that I'm taking a necessary break from writing the biography, the main reason I've been working through these interviews is because Adams occassionally says things that were not covered in my interviews with him nor exist anywhere else in print. I've found that some of his comments not only add to the historical record but sometimes alter the way I have written about parts of his early life. 

Although some of these interviews are more entertaining in nature and mostly feature commercial recordings that Adams did throughout his life, those done by John Reid, Al Goldman and Ted O'Reilly are especially poignant. Reid's brief interview was done in Calgary after a gig in August, 1985. Adams was very blunt in his comments about critics, one of his pet peeves. At that time, already quite ill, Adams was far more direct than usual. Speaking privately after hours, he wasn't constrained by the same degree of politeness that he would convey in a radio interview. 

The same holds true to a certain degree with the private interviews done with Al Goldman. I have two of them. The first was done between sets at the Half Note in New York on September 10, 1971. Goldman, at that time a big Elvin Jones and Zoot Sims fan, was just getting to know Adams. 

The far more significant Goldman interview was done on June 19, 1975. Goldman drove from Manhattan to Adams' home in Canarsie, Brooklyn to conduct an extensive interview over several hours for a feature piece that he was writing about Adams for the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Ultimately, the piece was published in Esquire due to the fact that Goldman's editor at the Times left and the piece was orphaned. This is a dazzling few hours, certainly the most in-depth and fascinating interview of the bunch: two brilliant minds ranging over many topics in great length. I'm very excited to post it soon.

Albert Goldman was a brilliant man and quite a controversial figure in the 1980s and '90s, ultimately dying of a heart attack on an airplane flight to Europe. His obituary: 

He left his tenured English professorship at Columbia University to write several best-selling biographies on Lenny Bruce, Elvis Presley and John Lennon. While his work was denounced by some as sensational (see and, I interviewed him several times about his experiences with Pepper Adams. I always found him to be insightful, provocative, very encouraging to me in my early years of the work, and always on target with his assessments about Adams' life and music. All this comes through in his Adams interview. His profound admiration and respect for Pepper Adams is evident throughout their conversation.

The O'Reilly interviews, too, are extremely insightful because O'Reilly, like Goldman, is an adept interviewer who asks probing questions. I have two O'Reilly radio shows for sure, and possibly a third that I haven't heard in years. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Biographical Excerpts

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

It's Labor Day Weekend but it seems that my Pepper work never takes a break. It's what centers me and pulls me through each day. There's just so much work to do! I expect that tomorrow will be no different. Maybe that's a true indication that this project is a real labor of love?

I'm excited to report that I'm on the verge of finishing the first half of Pepper's biography. Since my early April lectures in Utah, I've been on fire, much to my surprise. I wasn't expecting to begin writing upon my return home. The thing that I find so gratifying is that the writing has flowed out of me, sometimes effortlessly. Perhaps it was just the right time to start? That's not to say that writing is ever easy. Much like scupture, the craft of writing mandates the continuous polishing until it reaches its final form. Getting ideas out might be fun but editing is always arduous.

It's because of my extensive reading, writing and note-taking over the last couple of years that I've been able to move so quickly in the last five months. In about a month from now -- hopefully in the next blog installment -- I'll  be able to report that Pepper's life from 1930-1955 is complete. I'm now at around seventy pages and I expect that I'll be at around 100 pages in a few weeks. That implies around a 200 page biography, then John Vana's musicological analysis will make up Part Two. I expect great things from him!

Chapter 3 of my part has several components. The first section is about Pepper's time in the US Army. Then I discuss his transition to civilian life in 1953-54, with sections on the Blue Bird Inn and the World Stage Theater. What follows that is a three-part history of Detroit, then a short history of Detroit jazz (1928 or so through the late 1940s). The chapter concludes with Pepper's time in Detroit in 1955, including a section on his mother, Klein's, and the West End Hotel.  

Once I get the first half done, I'm going to take a break to consider how I want to treat the second half of his life. Pepper hated cliches and I feel that, in respect to him, a chronological narrative is far too predictable. I find it boring too. I've avoided such a rendering thus far by darting around thematically. Yet there's a limit to how much you can move about and not confuse the reader. Some biographical theorists recommend reverse engineering. That is, inventing the ending first, then figuring out how to get there. I didn't need to do that at all because my Prologue in some sense "ruins" the ending. It gives me cover because in it I intentionally divulged the broad strokes of Pepper's life to make a case for why anyone should care to read the book. The Prologue has, in a sense, liberated me to at least consider some kind of experimentation with the narrative. 

Yesterday on my two Facebook pages I included an except from the book regarding Pepper and Charlie Parker. Here's two more excerpts from the book:

Pepper’s bunk was at the edge of the camp. Across the street in an empty lot Adams, Kolber and a few of their buddies planted marijuana. “We set up a schedule,” said Kolber. “We marked down everybody’s name to take turns going out. We had a water can and a big hat. We had a schedule made up to water it.” In the early 1950s, smoking marijuana was still somewhat of an arcane activity. In a glorious touch of irony that created more than a few snickers and knowing winks, the guys in Pepper’s platoon would roll a joint and then ask the military police on the base for a light. The MPs had absolutely no idea what was going on.

“Whenever we took physical training, he was beautiful,” said an amused Kolber.
When we had to jump and meet our hands above our head, he would never jump. He said, “Listen, I can play, that’s what I’m here for in this band, to play, and I can’t do all these other things.” He says, “It doesn’t take that much physical energy to strap a baritone sax around your neck.” He told the sergeant that. The officers always used to call him into the office so I never heard too much about what they did. He always came out smiling, smoking a cigarette, saying, “It’s all straight,” and they never bothered him but they did shake him out. He was too well liked. No one could really dislike him because he was an intelligent man, knew what he was talking about, so people didn’t monkey around with him too much. They knew, whatever he did, there was a good reason for doing it and no one really picked on him.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Pepper Gets His Selmer and Berg Larsen

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Welcome back to the Pepper Adams blog. The reason I moved to a once-a-month posting schedule is because I started a new gig in early July with a steep learning curve that demanded a great deal of my time. It's a challenging sales job that requires quite a bit of travel. Now that my acclimation process is over, I'm happy to be back in the saddle, writing about Pepper Adams again. I hope this new schedule hasn't inconvenienced anyone. Again, postings will be the first Sunday of each month for the foreseeable future.

With the little free time I had left over this month I did manage to get some Pepper Adams work done. Just last night I finished a new draft of Chapter Two of Pepper's biography. It basically covers the period 1930-1947. I say "basically" because I jump around thematically, not adhering to a chronological narrative.

It's now time to turn my attention to Chapter Three, Pepper's experience in the U.S. Army. From June, 1951 until June, 1953 Adams was in the Special Services, a group of musicians that performed nearly every day for troops in Korea to improve morale. Although it sounds like a cushy gig, it was fraught with danger. Typically, they performed near the front lines. Traveling around in convoys in some sense made them a moving target. At least once, Adams' jeep was strafed, flipping his vehicle over on its side. Adams found the entire war experience to be harrowing and wouldn't generally talk with interviewers about his time in Korea. When I interviewed him he did explain some aspects of it. Most of my research is with his  fellow soldiers. I'll report on my progress in September's post.

I had a fascinating email exchange a few weeks ago with a baritone saxophonist friend of mine. He told me that he had done some research on his horn at the Selmer office in Paris, getting a copy of the production log that showed when his horn was built. Some time after that he went to the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University to take a look at Pepper's Selmer, the instrument that Pepper's widow asked me to deliver soon after his death. It turns out that the serial number of Pepper's horn is nearly identical to his, only seven numbers away, meaning that both were produced within a few weeks of each other.

Due to their near identical production date, information about Pepper's horn was on the log sheet that  he was given! It turns out that production on Pepper's horn began on October 14, 1949 and finished four days later. Knowing this necessitated me to go back and change around a few parts of Chapter One of the biography (and it's going to require me making some changes to the Chronology at I originally thought that Pepper got his horn about a half year after he first started playing the baritone sax in December, 1947 because that's the way Pepper remembered it. That led me to research Ellington's Detroit gigs in 1948 because Pepper brought Harry Carney with him to the shop to vet the instrument. My friend's startling discovery changed the timeline that all of this happened and shows how a person with a crystal clear memory can still very easily reorder facts 35 years later.

It now looks like Pepper bought his horn sometime in the period January 20-28, 1950, when Ellington played Detroit's Paradise Theater. The instrument was already destined for the USA upon its completion and it would have taken about six weeks by boat. Adams had almost twice that time to get it and that would have given some extra time for it to move from the distributor, probably on the East Coast, to Detroit. The reason it wasn't purchased later in the year at two other Ellington gigs (Sept 1-3 or Nov 30-Dec 6) is because my co-author, alto saxophonist John Vana, doesn't think that a Bundy could have given Pepper the warm sound that he gets on a recording he made in the summer of 1950.

Once I put all of that in order, I then had to figure out when Adams got his Berg Larsen mouthpiece. Pepper told me that Wardell Gray returned to Detroit with the mouthpiece after his European tour with Benny Goodman. According to research done by Leif Bo Peterson, that tour (BG's only one when Gray was in the band) was cancelled due to labor issues in England. Gray still went east with the presumption that a tour of Europe was in place. I suspect BG's band got stranded in NY; only Goodman, it turned out, went on to London. While Goodman went to London, Gray returned to Detroit and recorded live at the Blue Bird on July 20, 1949. I can only assume that around this time Pepper sat in with Wardell and fell in love with Gray's Berg Larsen when they switched horns on the bandstand. If he ordered it around August 1, then he might have gotten it as early as mid-September, 1949, some four months before the Selmer. Maybe getting the Berg Larsen impelled him to get the new horn? Could it be that he wasn't able to get as good a sound as he wanted on the Bundy that he heard on Gray's tenor and that finally compelled him to buy a new horn?

The end result is that Pepper played his Bundy for two full years before he fully committed to the instrument by purchasing a professional model. Moreover, he did get his Berg Larsen within only a few months of getting his new horn. Learning that Adams got his new horn and mouthpiece by early 1950 makes sense in light of my interview with Detroit baritone saxophonist Bean Bowles. He told me that Pepper came to him a few months later, still struggling to get a big sound on the instrument. Bowles advised him to change his reed set-up and a few other things you'll discover when you read my book.

                (Where Pepper Adams bought his Selmer.)

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Pepper Adams, 1947

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

I stepped back from writing this week, partly because I wanted some perspective, mostly because I attended a training program for work. I did read Chapter 2 in my down time and made some minor changes. One of my readers looked it over and made some important suggestions. More work to do, as always.

I'm posting the last section of the chapter below (without corresponding footnotes). Also, as of today, because of the new demands of my day job I will be moving to monthly posts, done on the first Sunday of each month. Thanks for your continued interest!

       From the mid-1940s through the mid-1950s pianist Joe Strazzeri ran Squeezer’s, his club at 420 State Street across the street from Kodak. Typically, gigs were followed by open jam sessions with white and black musicians alike. “Pepper used to stop in there and just get on the stand,” said  trumpeter Leo Petix. “He was around town. He was looking to get with a group and get on the road.”106 Even though he was far from being an accomplished player, pianist John Albert heard him once in a Rochester club and felt that he had a conception of what he was doing as a soloist. “He played quite well and for a person his age (middle teens) he had already developed a style, certainly different than anyone there that day,” said Albert.107


He was playing a soprano sax. The rhythm section (I don’t recall who they were) responded to his playing. He was a good “time” player and left holes they could fill in. That’s what I remember most about his style. He would blow a single note or a phrase and then wait for the rhythm to come to the next change or even go by it, and then he would dig in and catch up with great time and ideas. This to me was different than the other horn men; they seemed to stay on top of the beat and didn’t seem to use the rhythm [section] to their best advantage or let them have some fun too on the chorus. So I guess what I heard that made him different and new was a thinner, biting sound. [He] played more notes and more interesting melodic flights and used the rhythm section like Miles Davis.108


“The musicians were half and half in their comments,” added Albert. “The horn men weren’t that 

‘gassed’ but the rhythm section was impressed. I know that later when other horn men were changing 

their ideas and sound I thought back to that day and I wondered if any of them remembered where 

they heard it first.”109