Throughout jazz’s illustrious history, live and studio performances have been frozen in time on recordings, preserving for listeners the musical traditions passed down, from generation to generation, by jazz’s great improvisers. Because of recordings’ pivotal role in conveying jazz’s oral tradition, it can be argued that recordings are jazz’s most basic and enduring artifact. If that’s indeed the case, then discographies—books that list these recordings—are jazz’s most fundamental reference works.
A jazz musician’s discography is a musical story. It shows the people he played with, the venues he played, the progression of his art over time, the maturation of his repertoire, the compositions he wrote. It functions as a life chronology and a buying guide.
What you have in your hands is Pepper Adams’ story, as told by his recordings. It’s the culmination of three decades of research on Adams’ recorded work—from the LP and cassette era to VHS, CDs, DVDs, and now YouTube—that began in 1984, when I worked with Adams on his memoirs during the last two years of his life.
After much of our work was done, in 1985 I moved from New York to Boston to study jazz musicology with Lewis Porter. I was already well along on the biographical aspects of Adams’ life, but I needed to learn from an expert about discographical research, and to round out my knowledge of jazz history, especially the 1920 and ’30s. Apart from all that Lewis Porter taught me (and it was considerable), during that time I adopted an overarching strategy to my Adams research: I would, at the very least, try to interview everyone still alive who recorded with Adams, with the aim of verifying published and anecdotal discographical information. The end result was vastly improved data, plus two things I hadn’t anticipated: The first was the discovery of many unknown recordings. The other was learning fascinating new details of well-known sessions, sometimes in glorious detail, that cast entirely new light on the creative process and on the business of jazz.
While busy making sense of this, in 1987 Evrard Deckers, an independent researcher working in Belgium, asked me to review the discography he was compiling on Pepper Adams. After a few years of correspondence, and a trip to Belgium, in 1992 Deckers and I decided to collaborate on a co-authored work. It was a wonderful division of labor, since I’d focus on my archival materials and North American research while Deckers could mine the many resources available in Europe. This was before the internet and Google era, so geography mattered far more than it does now. Evrard Deckers contributed much new information, especially regarding reissues, European radio broadcasts, and audience recordings, before he died in his sleep at home in 1997.
In the fifteen years since his death, however, this book has become an entirely different entity. The biggest change is the addition of transcribed interview material that took me two years to complete. It occurred to me that some of my interview material only pertained to Adams’ discography, and was too nuanced to be used in an Adams biography. If not used here, it would never be published.
Also new to the manuscript, I’ve identified Adams’ solos, so that listeners can focus on these recordings, as opposed to those he did as a sideman or studio player. Moreover, much new recorded material, and a new generation of reissues, has been released since 1997, necessitating a great deal of additional research.
The format of the discography, too, has been completely overhauled to better conform to current standards and make it more legible. Annotations and footnotes, for example, have been redesigned, LP titles have been added, and subtle changes have been instituted, such as adding the country of origin and identifying 78s, 45s, LPs, CDs, VHS, and DVDs.
Joy Road is so named not just to riff on one of Adams’ great compositions. I chose it to also capture the essence of Adams’ life on the road, playing jazz with a cast of thousands, some of whom are quoted in this book. It’s also my tribute to Adams’ great recorded oeuvre, his 43 magnificent compositions, and they joy he derived from playing the baritone saxophone.
Much about Adams’ personality is woven throughout the annotations, especially among younger musicians that witnessed Adams’ final illness. In a sense, I’ve tried, like documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, to infuse my work with a kind of “emotional archeology.” Those who are interested in getting a still deeper understanding of Adams’ life might enjoy my companion volume, a full-length biography of Adams, tentatively entitled In Love with Night. I’m planning to finish it well before 2030, the centennial of Pepper Adams’ birth. In the meantime, please consult pepperadams.com, the website I maintain as the historical record of his life and work.