Saturday, March 14, 2015

Osian Roberts on Pepper Adams

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Welsh born tenor saxophonist Osian Roberts 
has arranged for big band the two Adams ballads "In Love with Night" and "Civilization and Its Discontents." (See Stay tuned. His long-term goal is to write big band charts of Pepper's entire oeuvre. Besides running Hard Bop Records and co-leading a quintet with trumpeter Steve Fishwick (recently augmented to a sextet with the addition of Frank Basile), Roberts has also recorded in Prague several Adams tunes with a small group featuring Pepper's first-call bassist George Mraz. Roberts' comments about Pepper Adams were originally posted at on 8 October 2010, Adams' 80th birthday. He's agreed to write a guest post sometime in the future, when I hope he'll elaborate on some of the points made below. By then, his recordings of Pepper tunes should also be available at

I don't think I could overstate my love of Pepper Adams' music. He's one of the greatest jazz musicians and saxophonists (not just baritone) in the history of jazz. Not only did he have his own sound and vocabulary but he had a unique way of using that vocabulary--which was direct but, at the same time, highly sophisticated and completely devoid of any bullshit. That places him on the same level as Charlie Parker and John Coltrane in my opinion. Also, like Bird and Trane, his compositions seem to be an extension of his improvising concept. That he was held in such high regard by his fellow musicians isn't surprising to me in the least. His music conveys so many things: excitement, beauty, passion, humour, pathos, joy, sadness, urgency ... it's all there, which is why I find myself listening to his albums almost every day.

I was very fortunate last year to do some gigs with a former associate of Pepper, Hod O'Brien, who, incidentally, is one of the nicest people I've ever met. I took the opportunity to quiz him about Pepper Adams the man. You won't be surprised to hear that Hod thought the world of Pepper, saying that he was an incredible musician, an intellectual (the phrase "Renaissance Man" occurred) and great company. He also said that he was very funny and recounted a story of when he was sitting outside a cafe somewhere with Pepper. Across the road was a hardware store. They noticed a couple of kids hurry out the door, looking rather suspicious. Sure enough, when the boys approached Hod and Pepper's table, they offered to sell them some decorator's paint brushes. Pepper immediately replied, "No thanks, I only paint miniatures"--which completely cracked Hod up (he was in tears of laughter as he told the story!)--and sent the boys away looking nonplussed. It's always nice to hear that your musical heroes are also witty, nice people. I also recorded a couple of albums with Pepper's former bassist George Mraz recently but I didn't manage to prize out any P. A. anecdotes out of him in the brief time we had to talk. I'm hoping to work with him again so I'll keep trying!

Osian Roberts

Prague, 2010