Saturday, April 18, 2015

Walkin' About: Strolling Through Pepper's Chronology

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

I hope you enjoyed reading the Prologue to my forthcoming Pepper Adams biography that I posted last week. I've re-read it a few times since then and I'm pleased with it. It took me several months and numerous revisions to get it to this point, and this after first writing an entirely different draft more than a year ago. Two of my distinguished readers, John Gennari and Ron Ley, have given me the "thumbs up" on the new version. That gives me the assurance that I can finally move on to Chapter 1. To that end I've been pulling together my notes about Rex Stewart and listening again and again to Pepper's 8-track material featuring Rex with the Ellington band.

How many of you have listened to Rex Stewart? I'm quite familiar with contemporaneous Ellington trumpeter and growl master Cootie Williams. Somehow I never really knew much about Stewart until now. Rex is terrific! He had an impressive plasticity with his time and could play with tremendous drama, power and technique. But mostly it's the playfulness and joyousness and incredible creativity that makes him so compelling. Like Cootie, Rex's half-valve inflexions and smears add a "badness" and soulfulness to his solos. They serve as such a beautiful counterpoint to his exuberance and sometimes wild sense of humor. I'm starting to understand why Pepper loved his playing. Rex, above all else, was a stylist.

I'm also reminded of what Kenny Berger wrote in this blog a few months ago about Rex's influence on Thad Jones. Pepper, for his part, was a huge Rex Stewart fan for at least ten years before he met Thad in the early '50s. One can only imagine how their mutual affection for Rex Stewart, among other things (such as Pepper's close friendship with Elvin, Thad's younger brother), must have brought them quickly together as soulmates. Pepper and Thad's relationship was complicated. It will be explored in the biography.

Besides signing off on the Prologue and getting deeper into Rex Stewart, I've also been updating "Thaddeus." That's the part of Pepper's chronology that begins with the early 1965 formation of the Thad Jones-Pepper Adams Quintet and ends with Adams leaving Thad/Mel in late August, 1977. The new version has been posted. Please check it out:

Although the Chronology can be easily overlooked as a less sexy part of, it's really the bedrock of the site and of all my research. I can't begin to tell you how many times I've consulted the Chronology when I'm assessing aspects of Pepper's life. Because new data is always being discovered--ads for gigs, broadcasts, audience tapes, memorabilia--you can expect that I'll be continually updating it over time. The new version of "Thaddeus" has been enlarged about 10% with new discoveries and deletions. At around 50 pages, it accounts for at least a third of Pepper's entire five-part Chronology. Fortunately, now that "Thaddeus" is updated, I can turn to more manageable sections and get them out soon. 

One thing that I'd like to add to the Chronology, if it's possible to build it directly into the site, is some kind of search function. When the database was on my old Macintosh laptop, it was really quick and easy to do searches of musicians, dates or whatever was needed. If I wanted to check all the times Pepper recorded for a certain label, for example, or check how many times he recorded with a certain musician, or even see all the times he visited a certain location, the computer did it effortlessly. Now, with an iPad, I have to convert my original PDF files to iBooks and search it there. It's doable but not as good as if I could do it directly at 

Can you do Chronology searches on your computer? Please let me know. I'll be sure to discuss this with my trusty webmaster. If there's other things you think can improve the utility of the Chronology or other parts of the site, please volunteer that too.

Regarding the update of "Thaddeus," a few things attracted my attention. One was learning that Duke Pearson returned to New York from Atlanta in late November, 1972 to reconstitute his big band. From what I can tell, he kept his steady Half Note gig until the Summer of 1973.

Another thing that struck me was that Pepper participated in a number of benefits. Whether it was to assist the family of writer Ed Sherman, perform at the Dave Lambert Memorial Concert, participate at a benefit to restore the Apollo Theater, etc, Pepper was involved with the community.

Many sporting events are listed in "Thaddeus," thanks to Pepper's penchant for saving all sorts of memorabilia. When possible, links to my Instagram site show the original ticket stub or program. Pepper especially liked football and hockey but enjoyed spectator sports of all types.

I was reminded about the one-month gig Pepper did in New York with Ella Fitzgerald in 1967. Ironically, that was at a time when Tommy Flanagan was not her music director. Tee Carson was her pianist. 

I also forgot that my reader, Ron Ley, was Pepper's Best Man. Imagine that! Ley's comments will be some of the most compelling in the biography. As you can tell from his quote in the Prologue, he was very close with Pepper and witnessed him at pivotal moments.

Pepper's early role in jazz education also jumped out at me. With Thad Jones, Tom McIntosh and others (such as Herbie Hancock and Donald Byrd), starting in the late 1960s Pepper was involved with the Wilmington Band Camp. Pepper also participated at the National Stage Band Camp.

The amount of "hit-and-runs," with those long, early-morning bus rides back to New York, was pretty startling. Adams' many gigs directly after long airplane flights, too, was a pretty frequent occurrence. The touring jazz life is grueling. Add to the lack of sleep cigarettes, alcohol, late nights and financial twists and turns and you get some sense of why so many jazz musicians, such as Pepper Adams, died far too young.

Another thing I was reminded of was the finite amount of time Pepper spent in the New York studios. He only got involved doing session work in about 1967. His participation, though limited by not doubling on bass clarinet, lasted until about 1976. He mostly did overdubs, especially on CTI dates in the early 1970s. But he was on some unusual projects, such as those by The Cowsills, Sonny Bono, The Nice and others. Of course, he also appears on many of the great early Aretha Franklin tracks for Atlantic. These were done as overdubs. He had no idea at the time for whom the music was crafted.

The number of gigs Pepper had in Baltimore for the Left Bank Jazz Society surprised me. There must be at least ten, maybe more? Also, the amount of work Pepper did with David Amram over the years is substantial. 

If anyone knows of the 2 June 1974 WBAI interview that Pepper did in New York with Larry Davis, I'd really like to hear it. That and a Phil Schaap telephone interview done on Mingus' birthday for WKCR (New York) are two radio interviews I'm eager to hear.

The length of "Thaddeus" is surprising. But, then again, Pepper's date books and memorabilia (including many band itineraries) helped me chronicle that part of his career more than any other. The sheer number of gigs and presumed gigs--at colleges, in California, or those many "possible" nights at the Vanguard--is staggering. Because so many remain unsubstantiated, much work remains to prove they actually happened. Please email me any discoveries.

                                                        (Thaddeus Joseph Jones)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Prologue Anew

I started a new full-time job this week but somehow fit in some editing work on the Prologue to my Pepper Adams biography. I took a few weeks off from it and I think it helped me to look at it anew. John Gennari, the very fine cultural historian who is functioning as one of my readers, suggested that I add two things. One is some kind of contextualization about the late 1970s and early 1980s and what was going on in jazz as Pepper's life changed so dramatically. The other was a mention of Pepper's place in ithe baritone saxophone lineage, particularly in light of the fact that, historically speaking, it's not a typical jazz solo instrument. That alone has implications, Gennari pointed out. Pepper's choice of the baritone sax would signal certain aspects of Pepper's personality that should be hinted at in the Prologue.

Here's the updated Prologue that I'll be sending to Gennari. If you notice anything that needs amending, please comment below. It's not likely perfect but at least good enough so I can at last move on to Chapter One.


In the Summer of 1977 Pepper Adams was at a crossroads. For twelve years he had anchored the reed section of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, one of jazz’s greatest big bands, but at age 46 desperately needed to reinvent himself. Adams never wanted to be in the group in the first place. After too many years of accepting section work with big bands, he was eager to break free and work exclusively with small ensembles so he could stretch as a soloist. But Thad Jones—one of his dearest friends, whom he admired more than anyone—needed him in his newly formed orchestra, leaned on him, reminded him of all the things his mother did for him back in Pontiac, Michigan in the early 1950s and convinced him to stay. That was in 1966. Now, after hundreds of Monday nights at the Village Vanguard and countless tours of the U.S., Europe and Japan, Adams was more restive than ever. 

Pepper had voiced his frustration at least a year prior to the ’77 summer tour. He told Thad and Mel that he was unhappy with his lack of solos, citing the baseball expression, “Play me or trade me!” as some indication of his discontentment. Pepper’s clever use of the phrase, so characteristic of his understated sense of humor, has since become part of the band’s mythology. When it was uttered, they laughed and ignored it. This time around Adams wasn’t joking.

Pepper’s situation came to a head in Stockholm at the midpoint of the band’s two-month European tour. Before their August 1 evening performance at Tivoli Gardens, Adams met privately with Jones and Lewis. He told them that he wanted a pay raise and star billing as a featured soloist. Adams, though, was unaware that it was band policy to never give inordinate solo space, nor pay any musician, more than anyone else. Even if he had known, Pepper still would’ve felt entitled to it because of his twelve-year participation in the band and his longstanding relationship with both Thad and Mel dating back to the early 1950s. As things turned out, neither his tenure or rapport mattered. Much to Pepper’s surprise, Thad and Mel declined his request, steadfastly adhering to band protocol. An aggrieved Pepper Adams, left with no alternative, said he’d be leaving the band at the end of the month when the tour concluded. The news of Pepper’s imminent departure saddened everyone in the band, but none more than Thad Jones and Mel Lewis. That night at Tivoli, Adams again had no solos to play. Adams had sublimated his feelings by getting so drunk before the gig that he could barely comport himself onstage.

Adams’ close friend Ron Ley traveled with the orchestra part of the way through Scandinavia that summer and witnessed Pepper’s transition out of the band. A day or so after Adams submitted his resignation, Ley and Thad Jones had a moment alone. Jones reminded Ley that Pepper was jazz’s greatest living baritone saxophonist. Later on, said Ley, “Mel shared Thad’s opinion of Pepper’s playing and added that his opinion was shared by all fellow musicians of the period. It may have been that Thad and Mel made a point of telling me this because they knew that Pepper and I were close, and wanted to express their feelings so that I wouldn’t be left with an impression that they were indifferent to Pepper’s feelings of disappointment.”

After the tour concluded, Adams returned to New York and began forging his identity as an itinerant soloist. He already possessed an international reputation based on more than twenty years of commercial recordings with many of the greatest musicians, including Phil Woods, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Elvin Jones, Paul Chambers, Chet Baker, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and so many others. In no time Pepper found himself in demand throughout Europe and North America. Then, in 1978 and 1980 he recorded two of his greatest albums, Reflectory and The Master, featuring his original compositions. Both were nominated for Grammy Awards as the best instrumental albums of the year by a jazz soloist. Building a book of originals he could perform had finally pushed him to put his mind to composition. Between 1977 and 1983 Adams wrote nearly half his oeuvre of 42 tunes. 

At last, success was coming his way from all directions. His 1979 project with singer Helen Merrill, Chasin’ the Bird/Gershwin, was nominated for a Grammy Award (his third in three years) as the best jazz recording of the year by a vocalist. He received yet another Grammy nomination for his 1983 album Live at Fat Tuesday’s and, clad in a tuxedo, Adams appeared on the 1982 nationally broadcast Grammy Awards telecast, performing (appropriately enough) the jazz standard “My Shining Hour.”

Besides being a personal triumph for Adams, his high-profile television performance was less overtly some indication of cultural and political forces that were sweeping the globe. Just a few years earlier, radical Islam had toppled the Shah of Iran and, in the West, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were elected to dismantle “progressive” social programs. In the jazz world, as in politics, a return to conservative values would become a fact of life. In the early 1980s large American record companies, led by Columbia, concocted a media campaign (lasting a decade and penetrating even the mainstream press) that a new movement was afoot. Central to their argument was trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Columbia first signed Marsalis as a double-threat jazz and classical recording artist. Then, while showering Marsalis with publicity, it anointed him as the leader of a new wave of fledgling African-American jazz musicians chosen in his image. These neoclassicist “Young Lions,” it was said, abhorred rock rhythms and electronic instruments. Instead, they yearned for the “nobility” of late 1950’s jazz, the post-Charlie Parker style of music that Pepper Adams never abandoned.

The altered landscape, that suddenly favored hard-swinging acoustic jazz more than at any time since the early ’60s, helped Pepper Adams. He was working steadily, winning all the readers and critics polls as the world’s premier baritone saxophonist, and had the ongoing support of a record company. A younger generation of musicians was seeking him out for their gigs and, due to numerous radio and television appearances, the public was becoming familiar with this soft-spoken gentle man who let his big horn and bigger sound speak for him.

Then, like a sand castle at high tide, it all washed away. With so much forward momentum propelling him, in December, 1983 Adams had a bizarre car accident that forced him to cancel seven months of work, including a week at Lush Life, his first prominent New York City club date in years. His marriage, already on shaky ground, ended during his convalescence, then lung cancer was discovered half a year later, leaving him with only eighteen months to live. 

Adams’ career can be measured by a long, slowly ascending arc of success that increased exponentially once he left the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. Without a doubt, his first six years as a traveling soloist were triumphant—a time when he burnished his legacy as a virtuoso performer and composer—making his dramatic three-year fall that much more lamentable. Nonetheless, Adams had a rich, very influential forty-year run. Consider for a moment the most notable jazz musicians of Adams’ generation. How many bonafide stylists are there among them who are instantaneously identifiable on their instrument and have had a profound effect on the art form? John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Wes Montgomery spring to mind. Clifford Brown? Cannonball Adderley and Phineas Newborn perhaps? Equally noteworthy in his own way is Pepper Adams, the father of modern baritone sax playing. Just like Coltrane, Wes Montgomery and other stylists on their instruments, Pepper’s unique sound and innovative melodic and harmonic concept, just as surely as his dazzling technical mastery, have shaped all baritone saxophonists to follow. This book is an attempt to contextualize Pepper Adams’ accomplishments and reveal the man who revolutionized the baritone saxophone.


On September 28, 1986, our first wedding anniversary, my wife and I attended 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—George Mraz, Elvin Jones, Frank Foster, Louis Hayes, Roland Hanna, Barry Harris, Sheila Jordan, Tommy Flanagan, 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 were 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 Milt Jackson, Louis Hayes, Frank Foster, Kenny Burrell, Jerry Dodgion, Dizzy Gillespie, Tommy Flanagan 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.

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 immobilized 22 hours a day for six months, Adams was separated from his wife and had been diagnosed with the cancer that would in short order kill him. Although it was an utterly miserable time for him, it was a fascinating and complex ride for me. I was a 28-year-old grad student; a passionate jazz fan and record collector who was trying to interest a jazz musician just enough to work with me on his memoir. As fate would have it, because of his leg injury Pepper had some time on his hands. He was so gracious, so prepared, so articulate and engaging.

Then, seven months later his cancer was diagnosed. I visited him at St. Luke’s Hospital when he started his medical treatments. I saw him perform whenever he had a gig around New York. On one occasion, between sets at the Blue Note, I saw him bark at a pianist whom he misperceived was harassing him for a gig. Another time, in New Jersey, I heard the pain pour out of him during a magnificent ballad performance that brought me to tears. I spent time with Pepper at his home in Canarsie, eating pizza, watching football games and dubbing copies of his tapes. Although I was trying to gather as much information as I could in the little time that was left, I always had to reign in my curiosity and not push too hard. Things had changed drastically since the summer and I had to make the shift with him. Mostly, I had to respect that he was fighting for his life and that the cancer treatments made him feel awful. It was simply inappropriate to think that every time we got together Pepper would feel like analyzing aspects of his life.

In January, 1986, Pepper worked a four-night stint in bitterly cold Minneapolis. I urged a friend of mine to attend as some show of support. During intermission Dan Olson said hello for me, bought Pepper a beer and the two had a chance to talk at the bar. Dan told me that my gesture meant a lot to Pepper, that he was obviously quite fond of me. My final experience with Pepper was equally poignant. A month before his death, bedridden at home and under the care of a hospice nurse, I called to see if there was anything I could do for him. His nurse asked me to hold on. I waited anxiously for at least five minutes while Pepper somehow found the energy to drag himself to the telephone. In a sentence or two he acknowledged that time was short, thanked me for calling, said a final goodbye and hung up the phone. That would’ve been in August, 1986, right around the time that Dizzy Gillespie called him to say that Thad Jones had died in Copenhagen.

About a year later, once I began interviewing Adams’ colleagues, I spent a very memorable afternoon in Cambridge, Massachusetts with Tommy Flanagan. I was meeting him for the first time and was completely starstruck. Flanagan was one of the last people to see Pepper alive. He wanted me to know that transcripts of my interviews were stacked high on Pepper’s nightstand just before he died. At one point, while sitting next to Pepper on the edge of his bed, Flanagan explained, Pepper awoke and tried feebly to push my manuscript towards him. As you can imagine, I was completely stunned by this story. At first I was touched that my work comforted Pepper at the end of his life. Then I began to take my role a lot more seriously, knowing how important it was to Pepper that his work carry on after him. Of course my resolve to do this book and all the other work that’s preceded it was strengthened. But, truth be told, I’ve wanted to tell Pepper’s story since June 28, 1984, the memorable day I conducted the first of several lengthy interviews with him. His recollections of his childhood and early career (see were stunning in their depth and historical sweep. I knew right away that I had something very special.

Flanagan’s interview was one of more than 100 I conducted, mostly in the late 1980s before my daughter was born. Those I interviewed portrayed Adams as a complex figure: a hero, a genius, an intellectual, a model of grace, a virtuoso musician and stylist, yet someone also very hard to calibrate. Their remembrances revealed a brilliant artist full of interesting ambiguities and contradictions; an unworldly looking sophisticate, a white musician often mistaken for a black one, a engaging raconteur in public who was emotionally guarded in private, and a full-throated exuberant saxophonist who was mild-mannered and soft-spoken.

Many spoke of Adams’ unprecedented agility on his instrument, how he “played it like an alto.” Before Adams, the baritone sax was a cumbersome low-pitched fringe instrument rarely played outside of big bands. Because of his innovations, a baritone saxophonist with a rhythm section or as part of a small jazz ensemble is now commonplace and no longer viewed as a novelty. 

Pepper Adams was fond of saying that the range of the instrument was similar to his speaking voice. But much more about him can be divined from his adoption of the baritone sax. For one thing, Adams prized individuality above all else and scorned cliche. Becoming a baritone saxophonist in the late 1940s gave him an opportunity to create something completely unique on a little heard instrument. Like Duke Ellington, who he greatly admired, Adams could similarly stand apart from everyone else. 

Paradoxically, despite enhancing the idiom and securing his place in jazz history, Adams’ fealty to his instrument also hurt him. The public’s bias against low-pitched instruments forever stood in the way of him fronting a band or recording far more albums as a leader. Furthermore, stubbornly refusing to double on bass clarinet disqualified him from studio work that would’ve helped him immeasurably, especially during the early 1960s when work was sporadic. Throughout his career, Adams was exclusively a baritone saxophonist for hire. He never taught saxophone on the side or experimented here and there with other instruments. Always the fierce individualist, Adams lack of pragmatism was a constant and it interfered with other aspects of his life.

Part biography and part musical study, this book is the culmination of more than forty years of research on Pepper Adams. When I began working with him in 1984 I knew he was a fine saxophonist but I had little idea of the extent of his contribution or how much his colleagues admired him. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have known Pepper Adams. After so many years of researching his life and living with his music, in 2012 I produced a five-volume box set of Adams’ complete compositions that was co-branded with my book Pepper Adams’ Joy Road: An Annotated Discography. Now, with this companion work, I at long last 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. We first met when he invited me to speak at WIU in late 2013. John’s an ardent 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 LP, cassette and videotape in my collection. Clearly, listening only to Adams’ early work wasn’t enough for him. He wanted to consider Pepper’s entire oeuvre. Eventually, it occurred to me that John’s piece would likely cover much of the same terrain I’d be exploring in the second half of this book. Considering the demands of my day job, wouldn’t it be better for me to write the biography and have John (with my input, additions and editorial oversight) write the second section? John 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.

Gary Carner
Braselton GA

Ron Ley, email to the author, 2013.

                                                                 (John Gennari)

Saturday, April 4, 2015

On the Trail

Last week I wrote about the long-lost 1955 live recording done by many of the greatest Detroit musicians. I got a text about it from saxophonist Adam Schroeder, saying he wanted to search Los Angeles for the tapes if I could just give him some more information. Adam, a very positive guy (and a very fine player in his own right) said, "I know they're here. I can feel it." After a smile and a chuckle, I called producer Rudy Tucich. All I was able to learn from him is that the tapes were mailed out in April, 1955, just a few weeks after the concert. Maybe Schroeder can do the impossible? Until something turns up, however, I'm requalifying the session in my Pepper discography as "Broadcasts and Recordings That No Longer Survive." A new version will appear soon at "Joy Road (Discography) Updates."

As you can see, I'm not only trying to discover brand new discographical things. I'm also trying to solve longstanding riddles. One example was last week's post. Still another is embedded within an Author's Note on Page 4 of my Joy Road:

"Private recordings made during the period 1953-1956 at the Blue Bird Inn, Klein's Show Bar and probably the World Stage and West End Hotel comprise part of the collections of saxophonist Joe Brazil, impressario Willie Bolar and jazz fan Terry Weiss. These collections contain recordings of Pepper Adams in performance with Wardell Gray, Sonny Stitt, Miles Davis, Thad Jones, Billy Mitchell and many of the foremost Detroit musicians of Adams' generation, such as Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Burrell, Barry Harris, Frank Foster, Elvin Jones, Yusef Lateef, Curtis Fuller, Doug Watkins and Paul Chambers. Additionally, because Detroit in the 1950s was one of the major jazz centers in the United States and, thus, an important destination for traveling musicians, these three collections also contain recordings that capture in performance many significant soloists of that time who were touring as singles or with ensembles."

As with the Detroit Institute of Arts recording of 1955, I've long wondered about these collectors; my "Big Three," vaguely reminiscent of Detroit's Big Three Automakers. I once interviewed Willie Bolar but he refused to discuss the contents of his collection. I also got pretty close to Joe Brazil, interviewing a musician friend of his in Seattle, Pete Leinonen, who said he would try to speak to Brazil for me. Terry Weiss, for her part, remains a complete mystery. I'm not even sure how I learned about her. When it was time to finish the Pepper discography, all I could do was publish the above excerpt with the hope that someone else would make another attempt. Fortunately, there's been some progress.

Some time ago, Mark Stryker, who covers jazz for the Detroit Free Press and who's nearly done writing a book about Detroit jazz musicians--not Pepper though, because he feels it would be redundant considering my work--let me know that a researcher in Washington State has been working with the estate of Joe Brazil to finally assess what's in Brazil's collection. Hallelujah! I hope to speak directly with him soon to see what he's discovered regarding Pepper. 

What about Bolar and Weiss? I had a conversation with Stryker today about them. I mentioned to Mark that he's probably the last person who could possibly make something happen with Bolar, considering Bolar's age and Stryker's position at the newspaper and his connections with the Detroit jazz community. My fear, as it is with Donald Byrd and anyone in jazz that has important papers and recordings, is that they'll die and their estate, not knowing its value, throws everything away. If Stryker's able to get anywhere with Bolar I'll let you know.

Stryker never heard of Terry Weiss but he's promised to ask around about her. I was told many years ago that Weiss lugged around a reel-to-reel at the Bluebird, Klein's and possibly even the West End Hotel and World Stage.

                                             (Mark Stryker)

Saturday, March 28, 2015 Improvements

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Dan Olson, my trusty webmaster since's inception, has been visiting this week. Apart from four rounds of golf in wonderfully balmy Georgia weather, we've spent time making refinements to the website. The main issue is's compatibility with iPads and laptops or desktop computers. Over the last year we've found that newer versions of popular browsers don't support some of the older features of Quicktime that we used to build out the site. Because of that, our links, mouse-overs and other "cool" features aren't working as originally intended. Over the last few days we've fixed typos and repaired captions. Text has been rewritten, dead links have been removed and other tasks are ongoing. You can expect more improvements in the coming weeks. 

A long discussion ensued yesterday about what to do about Pepper's compositions. For quite some time I've been eager to correct the total number of Adams compositions from 43 to 42 but Dan has resisted. Without belaboring the point, from a technical point of view it's very involved to change the Composition List without having to update scads of other pages linked to it. A seemingly simple task, as it turns out, isn't simple at all. Moreover, all sorts of philosophical issues regarding the nature of research are involved. Is it best to retain a record of what was once thought to be correct or is it better to reveal newly discovered information and expunge the old information entirely? For us, a New Yorker article (see "Discards" by Nicholson Baker, 4 April 1994; describing the wholesale destruction of card catalogs about 20 years ago was a chilling reminder of how important it is to show the progression of knowledge. Much like the Nazis burning books, the New Yorker piece described how card catalogs were destroyed when libraries transitioned to the digital age. But the rush to embrace the new technology was done without care to preserve all the research contained in those card records and much information, such as handwritten notations, was lost in the process. It reminds me of America's urban renewal movement in the 1960s and the ensuing loss of many great public buildings.

Ultimately, we decided to keep the Compositions page as is but append it with a new mouse-over explaining how 43 Adams compositions became 42. For those not aware of the need for the revision, see "Like . . . What Is This." It's written by Kiane Zawadi (formerly Bernard McKinney), not Pepper. Nevertheless, where appropriate, we've also decided to change "43" to "42" throughout the site.

Another thing Dan and I discussed was how to reconstitute Solos of the Month. No longer should we update the page every month, we agreed, or scramble to catch up because it wasn't updated in time. We've decided instead to post all of the samples, rename the page "Rare Performances" and add new things as we go. Stay tuned for that update.

"Audio from 2012 Tour" is a work in progress. It will take some time before that's repaired. "Dedications" will also receive a make-over soon. We have music samples and lead sheets to add. 

"Pepper Adams and John Coltrane" is due for a major overhaul. That will wait until Osian Roberts and John Vana share their insights in this blog. Also, an old thread about "Mary's Blues" will be appended. So much to do!

                    (Kiane Zawadi and Howard Johnson,1966)

                             (Kiane Zawadi/Bernard McKinney)

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?