© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.
Swedish psychoanalyst Gunnar Windahl was one of Pepper's dearest friends. His recollection below gives an extraordinarily rich and detailed portrait of Pepper Adams. Windahl tape recorded his remembrances and sent me a cassette in the late 1980s. I transcribed it about 10 years later.
I was invited to come over to the U.S. I think it was in April, 1979. That was the first time I was in the U.S. Pepper and I were supposed to go within a few hours of each other from Kastrup in Copenhagen. Pepper was on a tour in Norway and he showed up rather early in the morning when I was in the bar. I saw immediately that he was very tired, to say the least. I offered him schnapps and so on. Suddenly I saw that he was heavily drunk. He was in a good mood and somehow we came onto the topic of Oscar Pettiford. He told me a good story about when he and Oscar Pettiford were out riding in Long Island or somewhere and Oscar said that they should go to his Indian friends. (He was an Indian.) So they ended up in an Indian tent drinking “firewater.” It was a long and interesting story that the bartender was caught up in; he forgot serving the other customers at the bar. It was very early: nine in the morning or something, but Pepper had no sense of the time. His timing, when it came to playing, was impeccable. When it came to drinking it could slide away a bit.
Pepper was supposed to go a few hours before me. We went out to the gate a bit swaggering. When we came to the gate Pepper’s plane was overbooked so he couldn’t go. Pepper yelled at the hostesses and they were terrified. I heard expressions I never heard from him before or since but he couldn’t get on the plane. He had to fly to Stockholm, stay overnight at a hotel and return the next day. My plane was not overbooked so I flew ahead to Kennedy Airport, where Claudette fetched me. We went to their house at 8715 Avenue B in Brooklyn, where I got introduced to Claudette’s son, Dylan, a very nice kid. The next day we picked Pepper up at the airport.
I stayed for five or six weeks and I had a good opportunity to study his routine. It was not always joyous. You could see he had no job for long periods of time. He went smoking around, reading and so on. When we approached the cocktail hour his frowning forehead cleared up and he went deep into the Kentucky bourbon bottle. Just two drinks before dinner: that was a very rigid rule in that house. Really, it was like two bottles of hard liquor! He could really pour a drink, I assure you. I was not accustomed to a very fast drink. I was deadly drunk when I came to the table.
Sometimes I was very sad because he had no job and you saw that he longed for a call. But now and then he had a gig and I went with him: to Washington, up in Connecticut and, of course, in New York City, but not the main places. I think Pepper was very disappointed that he wasn’t invited to play at Fat Tuesday’s more often, at the Village Vanguard, Seventh Avenue South. We talked about that when we were a bit drunk. Otherwise, I didn’t dare take up the topic.
Claudette had alimony from her ex-husband and I think they lived a lot upon that. I don’t think Pepper was happy about it but he never mentioned anything to me. Still, they were very happy together and we had a very good time. I really liked it there. Claudette prepared very delicious food. I think Pepper needed to have a family at that time. It meant a lot to him. A few years later it broke. That was terrible.
It was interesting to stay at Pepper’s house. He had a very good record collection and I taped a lot of them. Every day, I think, he listened to Duke Ellington. Duke Ellington meant a lot to Pepper. I remember we were in Gothenburg. After a gig there we came into my room. I had a half a bottle of whisky and we sat talking. With my blue eyes, and as an overreacting person before such a star as Pepper Adams, I managed, “Who is the best jazz musician in the world, Pepper? Who do you consider the most interesting and underrated?” He said, “The most interesting and underrated musician in this business is Rex Stewart.” I was a bit taken aback. Then Pepper said that he seen Rex just before he died and that Rex was very disappointed that he wasn’t more recognized. I think Pepper identified with Rex’s destiny. We say in Sweden that you must have “elbows” to get into the front but Pepper didn’t have that and he knew it. He would never push himself. He expected people to phone him. I think he felt a lot of dishonesty from fellow musicians that didn’t hire him and took other musicians at a lower rate.
I recognized, of course, that he had a very good book collection. He read a lot and was very versed in literature and art. He was a very intelligent and clever man. I learned a lot from him. In a way he was a bit too much taken aback by me being a professor. Many times I tried to tell him, “You shouldn‘t take that so seriously.” He was much more into history than I was. I told him so. I think it meant a lot for Pepper to get confirmation that he was an intellectual. He mentioned often that his parents were poor and couldn’t send him to college. I think he, all by himself, became “professional,” besides just the music. I was very much impressed by his knowledge of many things. He was a fantastic man.
I arranged a tour in Sweden for Pepper in the summer of ’79. It was no big deal. I fixed gigs in Malmö, Gothenburg, Stockholm and so on. Claudette and Pepper stayed in my apartment in Malmö. We had a very good time then. Of course the booze could be a problem for Pepper. Once we played at a place called Stampen in Stockholm. He was drinking schnapps during intermission and he was very drunk during the last set. I didn’t like that. It was like having your own father drunk before other people. Sometimes Pepper was like a father for me but he didn’t care. But Claudette was, of course, not very happy about it. Al Porcino told me once that Claudette accompanied Pepper during the tours in Europe and when she left for the U.S. he started drinking with Thad. Sometimes they had to change the “book” when Thad realized that Pepper was drunk, that he couldn’t play any solos.
Pepper spoke more freely after a few glasses of liquor. He was no easy-speaking man when he was sober. It was not that easy to get in touch with him. A few sentences, then he picked up a cigarette and lit it. But after a few glasses he thawed and was very easy to speak with. He very generously presented good stories from his fantastic life. That Claudette had to behave like a policeman sometimes so he didn’t drink too much was, of course, a problem. When it came to my part, it was sometimes a bit difficult if I should present a new bottle or should refrain.
Pepper exposed me to other musicians. For example, if he had Rex Stewart as his favorite musician, another musician high up on the list was Tommy Flanagan. I can’t remember how many times he tried to remind me that Tommy Flanagan is “the best.” Of course, Pepper’s other favorite pianists were Sir Roland Hanna, Hank Jones, Jimmy Rowles. He admired them very much and we played them often in his house in Brooklyn. But sooner or later he came back to Tommy Flanagan. It was very interesting that he knew so many people.
When he was out playing, I got the impression that other musicians liked to hear him. I remember once Sam Jones telling me how much he admired Pepper. It was more backstage talk in some sense. It was not said explicitly but they admired him.
Sometimes Roland Hanna would be confused about Pepper, I think. Pepper was too much for Roland. I think Roland was never safe with him. Pepper was too clever for him or something. When I presented the lead sheet for “Doctor Deep” to Roland he was a bit embarrassed, I think. He didn’t want to play it on the piano. Sometimes I see that with Tommy too. Maybe they were uncertain about my relationship to Pepper, how close it was. Maybe that, I don’t know. But I think it’s something else. I think he was a bit of an enigma for them. He knew very much outside the usual areas of the jazz musician’s world: politics, literature, art and so on. I think they were a bit uneasy about it. I think no one musician was very close to him. He had no real friends among musicians, at least at the time I knew him.
Pepper was in Sweden in 1983. He was playing in Stockholm at Skeppsholmen with Monica Zetterlund. I don’t know but I think they had a relationship in some way. We met at the Korsal Hotel, together with Charlemagne and Hans Fridlund. Pepper was rather drunk and I remember I was with a friend of mine. That was the first time I saw him really drunk.
At that time I got a letter from Claudette that upset me a lot. His blood counts were not very good and he had to stop drinking. But I couldn’t see any of that when I met him. That was the first sign of their relationship getting worse. There I was, not very optimistic about the future when it came to his marriage, but we had a good time in Stockholm. He played very well there.
That was the last time I saw him, as far as I could see, as a “whole” person. The next time I saw him in Sweden was the disastrous time when I discovered his cancer. Before that, of course, he got his leg broken. At that time I understood that their relationship deteriorated very much. When I called him, when he sat there in his wheelchair, he was not very happy. I didn’t understand what was going on. Claudette didn’t write me. As I understood, she was not in the house. He came to Sweden afterwards, walking with a limp. He wrote me long before he was supposed to be in Stockholm in March, ’85. He wanted me to come down and see him. He was supposed to play in Mosebacke and I arranged a gig in Boden up where I live. I took a few days off. I went to his hotel, knocked on the door around noon and was taken aback when he opened the door. I saw that something was wrong with him and it couldn’t just be the leg. He greeted me as a long-lost friend and I asked him how things were in his life. He complained that he didn’t know if he had any house or belongings when he went back to the U.S. I tried to get some clear information about this but he refused.
I didn’t like his look. His eyes were burning. Now and then he coughed, and it was a terrible cough like one with pneumonia. So I said to Pepper, “We must look at that when you come up to Boden.” He was supposed to be there in a few days to play at the local jazz club. They were quite excited about such a star up there among the polar bears! He would come up, I’d fetch him at the airport and he would live at my apartment for a few days. I said, “I have a good friend up there, Chief of the Thorax Clinic. I’ll arrange an x-ray of your lungs and we’ll see what shape it is.” He was very, very grateful for that. He looked relieved.
Then a friend of mine didn’t show up. I had nowhere to sleep in Stockholm so I took the other bed in his room. I woke up very early in the morning and I saw him still asleep. I saw that he slept very uneasily, very much dissimilar to his usual calm way. He hadn’t been drinking. He had slept very well the night before, as far as I could understand. But now he slept with some hectic way of breathing. I was very much alarmed about the situation. Something was wrong.
We got around in Stockholm, though he had difficulty walking. I invited him to restaurants. He played with Rolf Ericson, among other guys there, and he played very well. I went to Boden before him and he came up after a few days. He took a nap in the day. That got me anxious too. He never would like to do that. Before the gig I served a very nice dinner for him with specialties from the Lapp area like reindeer. He very much liked that. Then he played at the local club. We went home, having a few beers, but he didn’t want to drink because of the meeting with Dr. Haugstød.
In the morning he woke me up and we went to the Thorax Clinic. I just lived a few blocks from the hospital. I worked there. I left him there and went home. I took a cup of coffee and half an hour later Pepper showed up and said, “I have cancer in my left lung.” I’ll never forget the reaction I had. I went to the fridge, took a few export beers and drank them down and took a few other beers and drank them down. I didn’t know what to say. He looked at me in a way I had never seen before. The whole thing was terrible. I was supposed to take him to the airport. He was supposed to go to Stockholm and be in a program for the Radio there with just Hans Fridlund and then I think he went to Malmö. I don’t remember exactly what was going on. I was too drunk to get him to the airport so I put him in a taxi. That was the last time I saw Pepper Adams, my old friend. I paid the taxi in advance and ordered the driver to help him with his instrument. He sat laughing in the back seat, not very much alarmed on the surface at least. But I was alarmed. I’m not a medical specialist but I have a lot of friends who are and I knew time was short. In my drunkenness I called Fridlund in Stockholm and told him that Pepper had cancer.
I think when he was in Malmö I talked to Pepper. I was crying on the telephone. I was still drunk. He said, “Pull yourself together, Gunnar. I’m not dead yet.” But I said, “You are my friend and this is terrible.” “You haven’t got a cold,” I told him. “This is serious.” He had the x-rays with him to show his doctors in the U.S. I got in touch with Claudette and she was stunned. I was a mess.
He called me back a month later from the U.S. and wanted to give a report to Haugstød of what they had found in the U.S. I tried to write down all the Latin words. Once I said, “I didn’t catch what you said. I didn’t catch it, Pepper.” “Don’t catch it, for heaven’s sake, don’t catch it!” he said. He was funny. “No, no, I won’t catch it,” I promised him.
When I went to Doctor Haugstød, my friend, and told him that they found oat cell cancer, he shook his head and said, “They shouldn’t treat that. Put him on a steamer to the South Sea where he can play and enjoy some women or something.” He told me, “You can never cure that.” Of course I was very sad about hearing that. I read a lot about that kind of cancer. It’s a diffuse kind of cancer. No one recovers from it. They started the hard treatment in the U.S. We phoned each other now and then. Mostly, I phoned him: “How are you, Pepper?” He said, “Fair, fair.” He was not exaggerating. Once I called him and he was heavily drunk or sick.
He tried to cheer me up all the time. I couldn’t conceal that I was very sad about everything. I was a very close friend. Pepper once told me that I was his closest friend, as close as Elvin Jones was. He had very tender feelings for Elvin. He mentioned him many times. But I think he was disappointed with Elvin too, that Elvin left him and never hired him for a gig. He never told me that but I could read between the lines.
Pepper wrote me a letter then that he was supposed to perform in Zurich a half a year later. I had difficulty getting free to go to Switzerland and meet him. I phoned and said, “Maybe I’ll show up, maybe not.” Pepper tried to persuade me, that this was a fantastic place to play, that they have very good food and so on. I had a lot of things to do and it was not that easy to leave patients and people behind. But of course I should have gone. I regret every day that I didn’t go there because I think he needed me. But I wasn’t strong enough to go. When he came back to the U.S. he wrote me a letter and I could see that he was disappointed with me that I didn’t show up.
One of the last calls I had with him he told a story of a man who left a scribble of paper on his end table. The man was found dead in the morning but the bit of paper said, “I didn’t wake up this morning.” He told such jokes. It was marvelous. He wrote me with a lot of stories. I think I tried to hide them because it was touching to read them and I’m not good at that. The last time I heard him on the phone was just three or four days before he passed away. Claudette answered the phone and then Pepper tried to say something brief. There was not much left and I didn’t know what to say. I just said, “I can’t do anything for you, Pepper.” “I know that. I know that, Doctor Deep. Thank you for calling.” That was that and a fortnight later, I think, I called Claudette and she said that Pepper had passed away very quietly. I had plans to go overseas for Flanagan’s memorial concert in September ’86 but, again, there was something preventing me from doing that. I don’t know what. It was too much, I think.
He didn’t complain during this time. He said sometimes it was terrible. He had a hell of a headache. But he was marvelous, I think. He never complained and I felt very much ashamed when I couldn’t put myself together and was crying a bit. But he was firmer. I think he was stronger. Claudette told me that too. He was really brave.
I warned him many years ago of contracting cancer because of his smoking. He did smoke really heavily. He had no filters on his cigarettes. Pepper did have some blind spots. He didn’t like to see that he smoked too much and drank too much. He didn’t take it in. He looked very destructive to an observer.
When it came to admiration, besides Rex Stewart he mentioned very often Joe Henderson, especially the early Joe Henderson on the Blue Note label. For example, Inan’out and Inner Urge were records Pepper liked very much. Of course, I think the musician he most admired and wanted to live up to was Thaddeus Jones. I remember once when he and Thad had left the band—I think it was in Germany—for a few gigs in Malmö and Copenhagen and Claudette had gone back to the U.S. After playing together in Malmö, Pepper and I sat there drinking whisky. Suddenly he confessed that he felt very much a small little boy compared to Thad and he elaborated upon that topic a bit. He often said that Thad was too much for him in a way. Sometimes he was a bit scared of him, I think.
Pepper took up some pieces Thad wrote very early in the ’50s: “Quittin’ Time,” “A Bitty Ditty.” He went back to Thad’s early production, which he considered masterpieces. But there was a tension between he and Thad. Thad admired Pepper too a lot, I know. Thad told me once that he thought Pepper marvelous, very erudite. When Pepper left Thaddeus’ band, on the surface he said that the reason was that he wanted to play, to be on his own. But I think he was a bit disappointed with the band after Roland left. I got the impression that Pepper didn’t like the last two years or so. I think he considered the band degenerating a bit but he wasn’t explicit on this point.
Of course, Elvin Jones meant a lot to Pepper. He considered Elvin a very close friend and admired him very much. He told a lot of jokes—memories from when they lived together in the Village. Pepper told me how he placed any book in Elvin’s hands and he read it without pause. “Read this, Elvin” and Elvin read it! He read everything. When I first met Pepper in the beginning of the ’70s he was a bit uneasy about Elvin’s shyness and considered him drinking too much. He told me that it was very difficult to get in touch with Elvin. He was very withdrawn.
We, of course, discussed Pepper’s records. Reflectory, I think, he thought was his best. He talked about the main title from Ephemera. Pepper once mentioned to me that he thought it was underrated, that people didn’t see that the structure was something like Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” He was very proud of that composition.
In 1982 I was in the U.S. and I showed up at this spot in New York City. Pepper played there with Jimmy Cobb and Albert Dailey. They were very unfriendly with Pepper. I went into the club just before the first gig was about to start with a lot of eminent psychoanalysts from New York City. It was not the regular crowd that evening! Pepper played, unexpectedly, “Doctor Deep” and I was quite taken aback. I didn’t know he had composed it. I think there’s a lot of love in that piece. There I really feel that Pepper loved me. I play it very often. It’s a beautiful thing.
About the name “Doctor Deep,” I met Jimmy Rowles many years ago. When he heard that I was a doctor in philosophy he mentioned a medical doctor in California he called “Doctor Deep” that used to cure tired musicians. I mentioned that to Pepper. I said, “Maybe I should frame myself with that name?” Pepper laughed very much. After that he named me “Doctor Deep.” Whenever he called me up he said, “Is ‘Deep’ there? How are you doing, Deep?” “Deep” was something that caught him.
When Pepper was in the Army, Charlie Parker sent him a telegram saying that his mother had passed away so he must come home for the funeral. It was, of course, a lie. Pepper was supposed to show up and play with Charlie Parker in Saint Louis. When he came there, there was no Charlie Parker. He told me that story very often, especially when he was drunk. He was very proud of that invitation.
It’s strange: Pepper didn’t have a lot of self-esteem. He often named important jazz musicians he had played with and so on. He had played with that one, he had talked with that one. It was almost like a fan. As a clinician I realize that, when he did that, he had no high regard of himself. Yes, he was very uncertain sometimes. He had his funky spells now and then.
I think he never was satisfied with his own playing. We often sat up in the night talking about how to improve. That was something Pepper came back to again and again: “You must improve, you must improve and get better.”
Pepper had no regard for the avant garde. He didn’t like late Coltrane. He resented that kind of music. In a way, his heart was in the Duke Ellington Orchestra, with Harry Carney. Harry Carney meant a lot to him. He mentioned him very often. He thought Cecil Payne was a very good baritone player. He didn’t like Nick Brignola. He was very much dissatisfied with that record Baritone Madness.
One of the last times Pepper was in Sweden with Thad Jones-Mel Lewis I gave him a record, Don Byas Live at the Old Montmartre. I don’t know why. It was a present. He wrote me back very soon after coming back to the U.S. and said what a fantastic record it was. That record really got him excited. It was something he found much joy in. Then I understood that Byas always was very friendly with him and reacted like he had met a long-lost friend when they met. Pepper thought that it was a two-way influence, a confluence, between Byas and himself, and I think there’s something in it. He admired Don Byas very much. We played Don in my apartment and we often talked about Byas. I taped everything I had and sent it to Pepper. I think he admired Byas because he too was never satisfied to be caught or fenced in a certain style. He always improved and developed. And then, I think, Pepper admired his enormous drinking capacity. I’ve seen Byas drink and that’s something out of the ordinary. Ben Webster he liked too, but he had a brotherhood thing with Don Byas. They build up their solos in a very similar way.
To the end Pepper sent me tapes of himself with highlights from his recordings: from Montreal, Holland, and so on, which I’m very proud of. Pepper was maybe the closest friend I ever had. We were not alike but something got us together. I’m awfully sorry that he and Claudette had a bad time those last years. I don’t think one can blame anyone. I think the relationship just broke. Of course Pepper had his “sides.” He was sometimes drinking too much and I think he could be a bit nasty. He was never with me. When we drank together we had a lot of fun. It was never base drunkenness in a bad way. We talked to each other, into the fog. I heard a lot of things then. We always kept in line with intellectual conversation but sometimes you could feel that he was very close to losing control. He was so controlled, otherwise, when he was sober. An introvert.He has given me many good things. I got interested in art and literature thanks to him, the kind of literature I never knew of. He introduced me to artists, painters and so on that I never knew of, so I’m very grateful to him for that too. I think he is very much underrated. I think he suffered a lot from that. He knew that he was number one on his instrument but he had no “elbows.” He wasn’t angry enough, aggressive enough to be in the “front line.”