Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Day the Earth Stood Still for Thad and Mel

The morning of Thursday, 11 July 1968 started triumphantly for the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. The band assembled at the Northwest Orient ticket counter at New York's JFK Airport where they were met by an exuberant throng of family and friends who were commemorating the band's first trip overseas. The orchestra was scheduled to fly to Seattle then Tokyo to begin an eleven day tour of Japan. Thad Jones and Roland Hanna had been to Japan before but most of the band had not, so there was a tremendous air of excitement. Seven musicians--Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Snooky Young, Garnett Brown, Seldon Powell, Eddie Daniels, and Richard Davis--paid $700 in advance to Elvin Jones Productions for their wives to join them on the trip, and Richard Davis also brought along his infant child.  

The tour was built by Elvin's girlfriend, Keiko, whose father was a wealthy shoe manufacturer in Yokohama. Already very Westernized in her way of doing things, Keiko had no prior experience doing concert promotion. An itinerary of gigs and lodging in numerous cities, as arranged by Keiko, was distributed in advance of the trip and everyone was instructed to meet at the airport where they would pick up their tickets then fly West.

The celebratory mood ended when everyone learned that airplane tickets would not arrive and the band would not be traveling that day. Fortuitously, Thad's attorney was flying elsewhere out of JFK that day and came by to help. Calls were placed to the Japanese and American Embassies to sort out the dilemma, but Thad's lawyer learned that restrictions existed on how much money could be transferred on a given day between U.S and Japanese banks. He was also told that in the absence of a contract, nothing could be done to find Keiko or any specific party liable. Thad and Mel were running out of options.

Those in the band that pre-paid for their wives were, as Jerry Dodgion put it, "doubly pissed off" because they began to suspect that they'd be losing out on a trip, several weeks of work, and their deposit. As Mel Lewis told me in 1988, the possibility of a mutiny was growing by the minute. While Thad, Mel, their attorney, and the orchestra's band boy (Red Keller) tried to sort things out, the future of the band stood in the balance.

It's not clear how naive Mel Lewis and Thad Jones were about how business is done, but, according to Jerry Dodgion, in a recent interview, Keiko was certainly deceiving Thad, Mel and everyone else. According to Dodgion, Keiko kept assuring Mel that the tour's money was forthcoming, saying that everything was going to be OK and not to worry because her father was a wealthy industrialist. Little did Thad and Mel know that Keiko's father had disowned her after learning that she was dating Elvin. Nor were they aware that Keiko told Japanese promoters to "fuck off" because she wouldn't play along with the Japanese system--corrupt from a Westerner's perspective--of paying off people who demanded a cut for helping her get in touch with Japanese promoters. 

Prior to the airport fiasco, Thad, Mel, Keiko and the Japanese photographer K. Abe went to a Japanese bank in New York to get an update on the tour's funding. All conversation was in Japanese. Keiko translated for Thad and Mel and said that all was OK. But afterwards Abe told Thad and Mel that Keiko's rosy version was not the case at all and what the Japanese bankers in New York were telling Keiko instead was that there was absolutely no money available for the band.

At one point, when things looked extremely grim at JFK, Thad called his brother. In an understated, concise, and ironic turn of phrase that both Jerry Dodgion and Pepper Adams thought was remarkably appropriate, Thad said to his brother in a very stern tone of voice, "Elvin? Do you know any good spirituals?" 

Ultimately, Red Keller came up with a solution. He asked Thad and Mel if either of them had an American Express Card. Both answered that they did. "Well, buy the tickets with them!" replied Keller. That's how the band got overseas. Thad and Mel charged one-way tickets for the band and its entire retinue because their credit cards gave them 30-day terms and they'd be back in two weeks.

Their flight to Seattle departed at the same time the following morning, but this time without the hoopla. Trumpeter Danny Moore forgot his passport and had to retrieve it and fly the next day. The band finally arrived in Tokyo in the late afternoon and checked into an airport hotel. This was the first indication that the itinerary was awry. The band nonetheless had a big celebratory dinner that night at their hotel. At the end of the evening, however, Pepper got really drunk and unruly and tried to "take" Thad outside. Had Pepper sensed that the band wasn't going to get paid?

Each day the band didn't know what they'd be doing until around 2pm. Ultimately, all gigs took place in Tokyo except for one in Yokohama. Only one gig from Keiko's original itinerary was retained, to her credit at a well-known Tokyo venue. Another gig, at the Pit Inn, possibly lasted for 3 nights. Admission was $5 and the band never got paid for any of them.

Even after the difficulties at JFK and the degree to which Thad and Mel had to scramble in Japan to secure gigs, a major problem still remained: The band was stranded in Japan without any way to return. The final act of the drama played out thanks to the extraordinary generosity of K. Abe, who lent Mel his life savings to get the band back to New York. Then Mel leveraged his residence with a secondary mortgage to pay Abe back for the tickets. According to Mel Lewis, Thad and Mel also paid off their credit cards by leveraging their homes and it took quite some time to pay it off.

After the band left Japan for the U.S., Eddie Daniels stayed behind to record with Terumasa Hino's group (that included bassist Kunimitsu Inaba). Upon Daniels' return to New York, a Northwest Orient employee at the Seattle airport counter asked if he was a member of that big band that just went to Japan? Acknowledging that he was a member, Daniels was told that Thad and Mel's return flight broke the airline's record for the most liquor ever consumed. Back then, little glass liquor bottles were given out for free and some in the band, such as Bob Brookmeyer, were very heavy drinkers. "They really got their money's worth," said Jerry Dodgion.

The reason for my new research into the 1968 Japanese tour is the occasion of saxophonist Frank Basile's discovery of a Japanese website, The site, among other things, lists a possible recording--either a radio broadcast or an audience recording--that would be the first recording ever found of a performance from the 1968 Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra's tour of Japan. Frank and I are trying to determine if the recording exists. Once confirmed it will be added to "Joy Road (Discography) Updates" at

Here's the details of the possible recording, with my appended annotation. Thanks again to Jerry Dodgion and Richard Davis for their help in sorting out the personnel, etc:

THAD JONES-MEL LEWIS ORCHESTRA                                                                          680720
20 July 1968, audience recording or radio broadcast, Pit Inn, Tokyo: Thad Jones flh; Bob Brookmeyer vtb; Jimmy Knepper, Garnett Brown tb; Cliff Heather btb; Jerry Dodgion as, fl; Jerome Richardson as, cl, fl; Seldon Powell ts; Eddie Daniels ts; Pepper Adams bs; Roland Hanna p; Kunimitsu Inaba b; Mel Lewis dm.

a Lover Man
b Bachafillen
c unknown title
d Don't Git Sassy
e Back Bone
f Don't Ever Leave Me
g St. Louis Blues
-c is a solo piano feature.
According to bassist Richard Davis, in a 2014 email to the author, Davis left the gig early and Inaba took his place. Because the Pit Inn was a small room for a big band, it's conceivable that Thad Jones scaled the band down to twelve pieces and Davis left the club along with the entire trumpet section before the final set.
This is the only known recorded gig from the band's first "tour" of Japan. Elvin Jones' future wife, Keiko, had agreed to put together eleven days worth of gigs. There was a great deal of excitement because this was the band's first overseas trip. An itinerary of events was given in advance to members of the band. On the morning of 11 July the band, along with seven of the musicians' wives, waited at JFK Airport to board a plane but the promised tickets never arrived at the gate. Thad Jones and Mel Lewis were left with no alternative but to charge the tickets on their American Express cards, without which the orchestra might've dissolved. To make matters worse, despite the itinerary, only one gig was arranged for the band in advance. The orchestra was in limbo each day until gigs could be acquired. The photographer K. Abe lent his life savings to pay for airplane tickets to get the group back to New York. After Mel Lewis returned, he paid Abe back by leveraging his residence with a second mortgage.
According to Jerry Dodgion, Jerome Richardson made the trip and the trumpet section on the tour was Snooky Young, Jimmy Nottingham, Danny Moore and Richard Williams. Richard Davis remembered the following: Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Richard Williams, Garnett Brown, Bob Brookmeyer, Cliff Heather, Eddie Daniels, Pepper Adams and Roland Hanna.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Park Frederick the Great

A week ago I had the good fortune to lecture about Pepper Adams while on vacation. I was invited to the University of Nevada/ Las Vegas by pianist Dave Loeb, who worked with Pepper in 1977 and got to know him at that time. Although Dave was out of town for my lecture, he asked me to speak to one of his jazz classes in his absence. I only had an hour, so I spoke about Pepper's place in jazz history, read a favorite Hank Jones excerpt from my book about Pepper's genius, but mostly let Pepper's playing speak for itself.

This June will mark the 30th anniversary of my first meeting with Pepper at his home in Brooklyn. Sometimes you just don't know where life will take you. I certainly never thought I'd be working on Pepper's life and work this long. What a wonderful journey it's been!

It occurred to me again after I gave the lecture just how lucky I am to have been given this extraordinary gift. As I've told interviewers, at the time I met Pepper in 1984 I sensed that he was a fine player but really had no idea of his place in the pantheon. I hadn't begun any discographical research on his career and I approached the project as an oral historian. 

Listening again with the UNLV students to three favorite solos--Have You Met Miss Jones (Eddie Condon's, New York, 1983), Three and One (La Voute, Montreal, 1982), and Day Dream (Warwick studio date, New York, 1961)--I was reminded vividly of how spectacular and original a player he was and how enduring his music continues to be for me. The students dug it too. One bought my book and another came up to me, thanked me for lecturing, and said about Pepper, "I had no idea he was that great."

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Tim Horner's Herd

Last November drummer Tim Horner organized a tentet to record newly written Tony Faulkner charts of Pepper Adams tunes. The group first did a warm-up gig in New York City that was emceed by jazz historian Dan Morgenstern, then recorded two sets live at the Puffin Foundation in Teaneck NJ. Tunes performed by the group include Libeccio, Conjuration, Excerent, and Trentino. Tim is currently reviewing the recordings to see what takes are useable and he's also planning to reconsititute the band for a follow-up live recording at Trumpets in Montclair NJ.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Las Vegas Lecture

I'll be giving a lecture on Pepper Adams at the University of Nevada/Las Vegas on Tuesday, 1 April 2014 from 3-4 pm in the Fine Arts Building where the jazz band rehearses. Come on down. I'll be autographing copies of my Pepper book and selling it at a very special price.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Pepper Adams Society?

Does anybody think that establishing a Pepper Adams Society is a good idea? I'm trying to democratize work on Pepper. There's only so much I can bring to the table. My forthcoming Pepper Adams anthology is one such attempt to present differing viewpoints.

Does anyone have experience with The Duke Ellington Society or other groups, even outside of jazz? I've looked at some of the Duke Ellington Society monthly mailings and I know that they've had monthly meetings, summarized in their mailings, in which members get together to listen to recordings of, say, a member's handful of favorites of a particular Ellington musician. It helps that a number of Ellington devotees live in New York but the same could go for Pepper. It used to be that once a year TDES has a conference, either in the US or Europe. Papers are presented and concerts are given. I think it also includes the attendent vendors--books, CDs, etc--that you'd expect.

With Skype and video teleconferencing, maybe travel isn't as imperative? Maybe a virtual meeting could take place quarterly where members could tune in on their computers? What would be the mission of the Pepper Adams Society? What would dues be used to accomplish? Establishing a non-profit takes an attorney and a considerable amount of paperwork. A Pepper Adams Society sounds good in theory, but do enough people care?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

New at

My webmaster and I have unveiled a new link at Called "Joy Road (Discography) Updates," this gives me the chance to frequently update my book Pepper Adams' Joy Road: An Annotated Discography. I'll be posting exciting Pepper discographical discoveries here and, of course, making corrections and additions. Posting pdf updates allows us to get them on the site quickly without reformatting.

The web is really the ideal medium for discography. There were three reasons, however, that I published the Pepper discography in book form rather than post it all at or sell chapters as eBooks. For one thing, I had a book contract in place with Scarecrow. I wanted to fulfill the contract and especially the promise I made to so many people that the book--any book on Pepper!--would finally be published. 

Secondly, I felt that the oral history annotations derived from my unpublished musician interviews were historically important and made my book a reference work that could actually be read. I felt that it should get into the hands of fans and historians. That's why I pushed so hard on my first book tour and afterwards to sell out the hardcover edition to get an affordable version released in paperback. 

Lastly, there were commercial considerations. Aren't there always? My record company, Motema Music, felt that a book about Pepper Adams would help promote the North American CD and concert tour they were building with me. They wanted the book released in time for the tour. The strategy had worked well for them when they timed their Randy Weston release with the publication of his autobiography. I was happy to oblige! Motema's offer to reissue all four of my self-produced Pepper CDs and add to it the unreleased fifth vocals date lit a fire under me to finally finish the book, begun in 1984 when I first interviewed Pepper.

The discography updates listed within the new link will sometimes need to be referenced to the Pepper book to be fully understood. In time all these updates will be folded into the body of the book. That's when the entire discography gets posted at It will occur when the book officially goes out of print, probably around 2017.

Apart from Joy Road (Discography) Updates, we're soon unveiling a new Dedications page. It will include an overview, recorded samples and lead sheets. Many who've written Pepper dedications have not had their music heard or performed by others. We want to provide a forum for their gift to Pepper and encourage others to write dedications.

The Pepper Adams "Chronology," in some ways the core feature of, is in line for a major overhaul too. All updates to the discography need to be entered, plus I've discovered hundreds of new items, many that fill in important gaps or change the historical record. The Chronology is something I frequently consult. Having it updated is vitally important for my Pepper Adams research and something I want available to others.

In addition to the new link and our plans for the Chronology and Dedications, we're trying to automate "Solos of the Month" so we don't keep slipping behind. I'm also trying to find the time to build out "Pepper Adams & John Coltrane." A fascinating email thread took place two years ago between me, Lewis Porter, Kevin Bales and others regarding my discovery of Pepper's November 1956 manuscript of Mary's Blues and how that relates to Coltrane's title of the same name. I hope to get to this soon. 

A discussion like that is perfect for this blog. Maybe I'll initiate new links derived from blog commentary, such as "Pepper Adams & Miles Davis," Pepper Adams & Wardell Gray," Pepper Adams & Louis Armstrong," "Pepper Adams & Coleman Hawkins," "Pepper Adams & Thad Jones," "Pepper Adams & Cannonball Adderley," "Pepper Adams & Benny Goodman, "Pepper Adams & Duke Ellington," "Pepper Adams & Billy Strayhorn, "Pepper Adams & Art Tatum," "Pepper Adams & Charlie Parker," Pepper Adams & Tommy Flanagan," "Pepper Adams & Elvin Jones," "Pepper Adams & Thelonious Monk," "Pepper Adams & Lee Morgan," "Pepper Adams & Rex Stewart?" Any suggestions or advice? What would you like to see?

Is there anything else you'd like included in the site? Obviously, my webmaster and I are constrained by our day jobs. We can proceed only so quickly. One thing I've wanted to include is a Pepper Adams genealogy and a collection of postcards that Pepper sent to friends. When Pepper was on tour he liked to stay in touch by sending postcards. I have two that he sent me and I've collected a bunch from interviewees. They're often very witty and give a glimpse into Pepper's life at the time. Any way we can include documentation from Pepper is a priority. To that aim we expect to post more radio interviews with him in the coming months.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Wardell Gray and Pepper Adams

How many have heard Wardell Gray's playing? How many know how big an influence he was on Pepper Adams? For the last year I've been thinking a lot about Gray's influence on Pepper. Last fall I had the opportunity to lecture about Pepper and Gray at a number of colleges while on a second Pepper Adams book tour. The trip took me to the University of Illinois, Western Illinois University, Wayne State University, Humber College, Concordia University, Hunter College, William & Mary, the University of North Carolina, and the North Carolina School of the Arts. I was traveling with eminent UK arranger/composer Tony Faulkner, one of the world's foremost authorities on Duke Ellington and Thad  Jones. As part of the tour Faulkner conducted workshops and rehearsed his Pepper Adams big band charts with college and professional bands. It was a great trip and we made a lot of new friends.

My lecture discussed the effects of Wardell Gray and Art Tatum's playing on Pepper Adams. Wardell Gray, for his part, was Pepper's greatest Detroit mentor. Already a world class player by the time Pepper relocated to Detroit in 1947, Wardell was based in Detroit and he would return after tours with name bands, such as Benny Goodman and Count Basie. Wardell was one of many great Detroit jazz players that attended Cass Technical High School. Pepper and Wardell Gray played together in Detroit at the Blue Bird Inn and elsewhere and the two would trade horns. Wardell was the first baritone saxophonist that Pepper heard who played with precise articulation. That coupled with Wardell's elegant lyricism and his unparalleled gift for creating beautiful melodic lines ultimately worked its way into Pepper's style. 

Accentuating that lyricism was Wardell's penchant for pulling the time back, playing behind the beat. Pepper made it into an art form, often accentuating the swing feel when playing heads, and, when doing so, creating an interesting tension against the rhythm section. Moreover, Pepper often "back phrased" passages of his solos to swing even harder and alternate with his blistering double-time diminished lines. In my lecture I referred to these two things as polar opposites and as the yin and yang of Pepper's solo style.

Besides being a huge early influence on Pepper's saxophone playing, Wardell was also a close friend. Both were very scholarly, well informed and conversant on many topics. Wardell's early and controversial death at age 34 was a personal tragedy for Pepper and for jazz. Wardell died in 1955, two months after Charlie Parker. At the Diggs Funeral Home Pepper served as a pallbearer at Wardell's funeral. For Pepper's take on Wardell, please read my interview excerpt taken from the 1984 interview I did with Pepper. Click "Wardell Gray" at the homepage's link "Reminiscensces."

I write about Wardell not just because I'm spending time listening to his music. Just yesterday I came across a nice overview of Wardell Gray written by New England Public Radio host and blogger Tom Reney. Here's the link:  Within Reney's post was a link to a documentary film on Wardell, Forgotten Tenor, done by Hampshire College professor Abraham Ravett. So delighted to learn about the film, I emailed Ravett and heard right back from him. He had no idea of Pepper's relationship with Wardell, nor was he aware that Pepper carried Wardell's torch and passed it down to virtually every baritone saxophonist playing today. I'm eager to see the film, which Ravett is mailing me to preview. Let me know if you want to see it and I'll put you in touch with him. 

Abraham and I are trying to put together some kind of program at Hampshire College or elsewhere in Western Massachusetts to raise awareness for both Pepper and Wardell and to rekindle an awareness of his film that was first released in 1994. I've also suggested that the film be aired at the Detroit Jazz Festival, hopefully as part of a tribute to Wardell Gray. As Rachel Maddow says, "Watch this space."