Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Sound and the Fury: Pepper Adams at the Little Vienna, 1960

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

I hadn't listened to this very rare audience recording in many years. I finally got my cassette version converted to CD and listened to it in the car. Wow, did it hit me between the eyes! Ever hear a solo for the first time that completely blows you away? That's what happened to me here. I was mesmerized and broke out in a sweat! It wasn't the first time hearing it but it sure seemed like it.

This audience tape was originally recorded by Montreal pianist and impresario Keith White, who was the first person to bring Pepper Adams to Montreal. White was responsible for bringing many greats to Montreal, such as John Coltrane, Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham and Bill Evans. Pianist Art Roberts was supposed to do the gig but bowed out, leaving White to fill in. Adams had played in Montreal once before--with Benny Goodman's big band two years earlier--but never as a single. Pepper did have a chance to be heard after hours at Montreal jam sessions in 1958 and the word was out among musicians about his brilliance as a soloist.

What is truly remarkable about this recording is Pepper's sound. White took special care by using a very fine reel-to-reel tape recorder and two high quality microphones. It's the real Pepper!; what he would've sounded like back then on his original Selmer and Berg Larsen. What's so striking is that his sound is unlike anything we have on commercially available live recordings of that time, such as Riverside's Five Spot date or Blue Note's Byrd-Adams at the Half Note. Who knew his sound was so different from the live dates or studio recordings? Pepper's sound here is more woody and resonant, more like a woodwind instrument and less austere. In short, sax fans, absolutely beautiful! Yes, of course I'll push my webmaster to post it at for all to hear. In fact, it would make sense right away as an appendage to June's Solo of the Month, since White also produced Pepper's triumphant Montreal concert at the Museum of Fine Arts. 

So much for the sound. But Pepper takes care of business too, especially on the opener, Bluesology, and the following tune, Scrapple from the Apple. By 1960 Pepper was a fully-formed magnificent soloist. With everything clicking at the Little Vienna--ideas, chops, tone, time--Pepper was decidedly more experimental here. This date is the earliest known audience recording of Adams on his own date. Already pushing the jazz harmonic envelope, he can be heard experimenting with dissonance that would become more and more his personal trademark.

It's even more amazing a recording if you read White's comments in Joy Road. Between sets, twice each night that weekend, Pepper left the club to get laid! White knew Pepper very well and his anecdote about their first gig together is one of the most amusing and important vignettes in my book. I share parts of it (not the sex part) at my lectures about Pepper because White speaks at length about pattern playing and Pepper's debt to both Bird and Tatum.

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