Saturday, April 26, 2014

Double Trouble: Alan Grant, George Klabin and Thad Jones-Mel Lewis'First Gig

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Since the 2012 publication of Pepper Adams' Joy Road, the first of three books I'm doing on Pepper Adams, a controversy over what constitutes the first performance by the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra has remained. My information was based on Pepper's itinerary, interviews with musicians in the band and also what I could infer from the CD "Opening Night." At the very least I wanted to know if Pepper Adams or Marv Holladay was playing baritone, since both are listed on the cover as participating musicians. Thanks to new information from my recent interview with engineer George Klabin, plus the efforts of saxophonists Frank Basile and David Demsey, I'm able to report some changes to the historical record.

First a little background. In 2000, DJ and impresario Alan Grant released a CD called "Opening Night" that purported to be music from the incredibly important first appearance of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra at the Village Vanguard on 7 February 1966. But others, such as saxophonists Jerry Dodgion and Bill Kirchner, contested that what Grant suggests (and partly what I wrote in my book) about the gig is not entirely true. Dodgion was in the band from its inception and Kirchner has been researching a book about Thad Jones with fellow saxophonist Kenny Berger. Detroit journalist Mark Stryker, too, in his research for his forthcoming book on Detroit jazz, also takes issue with Grant and some of my assumptions. Like Dodgion and Kirchner, he disputes that all the tunes on Grant's CD are from 7 February and says there are two separate dates. The reason for the discrepancy mostly stems from them having heard recordings of the band made at the Vanguard that exist at the Thad Jones Archive at William Paterson University. 

In Joy Road (pages 150-52) I discuss the situation as I saw it just prior to publication in 2012. At that time I hadn't known about the two CDs at the Archive but only had the Alan Grant CD. Based upon the excellent recording quality of Grant's CD, the fact that Grant had a show on WABC-FM that routinely broadcasted live performances in New York City clubs, and that Grant was also actively promoting at that time on his show Pepper, Thad and Mel, I felt that the music likely emanated from ABC Radio. It turns out, however, that a nineteen-year-old self-taught engineer, George Klabin, who at the time (1965-69) had an evening jazz radio show on WKCR, recorded Thad and Mel's performance at the Vanguard. 

I interviewed George Klabin on 23 April 2014 to find out more about the recording's pedigree and to once and for all try to solve the riddles that remain about this great music. Klabin now lives in Los Angeles and runs Resonance Records ( His company specializes in releasing historically important jazz recordings, many that Klabin recorded live in clubs and for which he still retains legal ownership. Klabin developed a reputation around New York in the mid-60s for recording jazz musicians well and affordably. He would lug his own equipment into nightclubs, record musicians, then play some of it on his radio show. Klabin promoted these recordings to his listeners as music they'd never hear anywhere else. One of the first things he recorded was Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden for George Avakian that became an important early Jarrett demo. Another is a Bill Evans date. See the label's site for a roster of recordings.

Alan Grant and George Klabin were DJ colleagues in New York City. One day in early 1966 Grant called Klabin. He told him there was a new all-star big band that was playing their first gig at the Village Vanguard. Grant needed a recording. Would Klabin do it? Sure. Klabin brought six mics and was given two cocktail tables near the pole where Pepper Adams sat (at the far stage-left side of the club) to set up his Crown two-track stereo 7.5 ips recorder. He mixed everything live in his headphones. After the gig, he gave Alan Grant a copy and that was it. I doubt Klabin played any of the music on his own radio show. Klabin did confess that he was "completely blown away" by the band. He knew right away that this was a band unlike any other. 

A few weeks later Grant asked Klabin to return to the Vanguard on 21 March to record the band a second time. For that gig Klabin used 10 mics. Klabin said the band sounded even better. More polished, for one thing. For both gigs Klabin ended up with several hours of music.

Fast forward 34 years. To make a fast buck Alan Grant decides to bootleg a bunch of tunes from these two nights. Although Klabin owns the rights, Grant never got permission from Klabin to release it, never credited Klabin as the engineer and never paid the musicians. Essentially, Grant did an end run and went to BMG/New Zealand to print 2,500 copies. Jason Blackhouse (from Auckland), not Klabin, is credited as the engineer and liner note verbiage throughout only trumpets the 7 February recording date. As David Demsey, director of the Thad Jones Archive has pointed out, the implication is that Blackhouse was the engineer on hand at the Vanguard. Moreover, misleading listeners into believing that all the material derives from the first gig was equally duplicitous.

When Klabin learned about the release he was furious. He hired a detective to find Grant, who was living in Florida. Klabin telephoned Grant and said bluntly, "What's going on here? How can you do this without giving anyone credit?" Grant replied contritely, "I know, it wasn't a good idea." Klabin left it at that.

Grant's bootleg is long sold out but a copy exists at William Paterson. Two CDs worth of Klabin's original tapes, presumably given to Thad Jones by Alan Grant, have been transferred from reel-to-reel and are there as well. A third reel may be missing, says Klabin, but he believes he still might have even more material. Fortunately, personnel for each night is specified on Klabin's tape boxes. 

Thanks to the work of David Demsey, who meticulously compared all the recordings, here's what's on the two Klabin CDs versus Grant's bootleg (see parenthetical comments):

7 February 1966
CD #1:
1. All My Yesterdays (unissued)
2. All My Yesterdays (released by Grant)
3. Back Bone (unissued)
4. Big Dipper (unissued)
5. Big Dipper (unissued)
6. Mean What You Say (released by Grant)
7. Mornin' Reverend (released by Grant
8. The Little Pixie (released by Grant)
9. Willow Weep for Me (released by Grant)

21 March 1966

10. Once Around (released by Grant)

CD #2:
1. A--That's Freedom (unissued)
2. All My Yesterdays (unissued)
3. Back Bone (unissued)
4. Big Dipper (unissued)
5. Don't Ever Leave Me (released by Grant)
6. The Little Pixie (unissued)
7. Lover Man (released by Grant)
8. Low Down (unissued)
9. Mornin' Reverend (unissued)
10. Willow Weep for Me (unissued)

What else does Klabin have and did a third reel he recorded get lost? What's the derivation of three tunes from Grant's CD--Big Dipper, Polka Dots and Moonbeams, and Low Down--that Demsey asserts is neither on Grant's or Klabin's CDs? What's the complete personnel of each date? Klabin has promised to clear up the remaining mysteries. Fortunately, since our interview he's already had the time to look at his tape boxes from 7 February and 21 March to at least confirm that Marv Holladay, not Pepper Adams, was on the 7 February date. Conversely, Pepper appears on the 21 March date in place of Holladay. 

I'll write about any new discoveries in a future blog post, then list the new entry at "Joy Road (Discography) Updates" ( at According to Jerry Dodgion, Klabin has wanted to produce these important recordings since Grant's release to correct the historical record and get the music out the right way. Hopefully Klabin will release his definitive version soon, in its original running order, especially with Thad's announcements, and maybe even with Alant Grant as emcee? For Klabin, these brilliant Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra performances remain the greatest recordings he's ever made.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Day the Earth Stood Still for Thad and Mel

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

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

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

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

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

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.