Friday, June 19, 2015

The Early Rochester Jazz Scene

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Why hasn't anyone written about Rochester's early jazz history? During the last few weeks I've been corresponding with reference librarians at the Eastman School of Music and the University of Rochester. Nothing has been written about pre-1950s Rochester jazz, at least that they can locate. Lewis Porter suggested I contact Eastman because the most likely place for any work on early Rochester jazz would have been done by an Eastman student. As it turns out, if a paper or thesis on the topic was ever done at Eastman, it hasn't been saved by the library. For that matter, nothing in the way of pertinent clippings or articles at any library has turned up. Why?

As far as I can put it together, it's a multifactorial issue, although, admittedly, I'm still early in the gathering process. I do know that Eastman professor Everett Gates only established the very first jazz workshop at Eastman in the summer of 1959, one year after returning to Eastman after ten years (1948-58) of teaching at Oklahoma City University. He established his Eastman jazz arranging workshop in the midst of a fair amount of indifference (or should I say "hostility?") against jazz. Since that pioneering two-week class (at which Pepper Adams was the guest soloist), Eastman's jazz program has grown into one of the finest jazz programs in the world, graduating countless outstanding musicians, such as Ron Carter, Bob Sheppard and John Fedchock.

As a Rochester institution, The Eastman School goes back to 1921, when it was established by George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak. According to Wikipedia, "After a one-year interim under Acting Director Raymond Wilson, the young American composer and conductor Howard Hanson was appointed director of the school in 1924. Dr. Hanson is credited for transforming the Eastman School into one of the most prestigious music conservatories in the world." Hanson retired in 1964, after running the school for forty years. He still ran Eastman when Gates arrived. As I see it, Eastman set the tone for music performed in Rochester and Hanson set the tone for Eastman. Clearly, jazz wasn't part of the agenda under his watch. Eastman's summer session, however, was less restrictive. As Everett Gates told me, jazz, to some degree, was at first snuck in during the summer, when Hanson was out of town.

Apart from institutional indifference towards jazz, in 1935-47, when Pepper Adams lived in Rochester, the makeup of Rochester's black population was another mitigating factor in jazz not being embraced. As Rochester resident and University of Rochester sociology professor Raymond Murphy explained to me, African-Americans in Rochester comprised only 1% of the city's population. As a very small subculture of around 3,400 people, Murphy said, they were mostly well-educated, middle-class citizens that historically regarded jazz quite poorly. That's not to say that black clubs didn't exist or thrive in Rochester. It's just that blacks in Rochester who supported the music were, in Murphy's view, very few in number.

How did Eastman's curriculum and the prevailing sentiments of Rochester's black community in the 1940s affect coverage in the press about jazz? Was it an anomaly as compared to other cities of its size at that time? Perhaps this is a question for cultural historian John Gennari, who has written extensively about the history of jazz criticism in America. To what degree did local Rochester black newspapers cover jazz? At this point, I don't know, though it doesn't appear to be extensive. Interestingly, from 1847-72 Rochester was home to Frederick Douglass. A newspaper named in his honor, The Frederick Douglass Voice, was established in 1934. How did that publication treat Rochester's music, if at all, and were there others, perhaps regionally? 

I've seen announcements for dance bands and entertainment of all sorts in the 1940's Rochester mainstream press. Several examples are posted here: But until some advocate for the music emerges in the Rochester press of that day, or until I see reporting that's respectful of the art form, it's hard to explain the absence of concert reviews, appreciations and biographical portraits of famous touring musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Count Basie as anything other than a barometer of America's pervasive and shameful disregard of African-American culture.

It's understandable that Rochester jazz would not necessarily be one of the more obvious places to research, especially as compared to the enormous amount of activity that took place in New Orleans, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Kansas City and other large cities. That's not to say that some diehard fan, journalist or disk jockey couldn't have written something about Rochester or broadcasted a retrospective. So far, however, nothing has shown up, and that still strikes me as odd. 

In 1940, Rochester was America's 32nd largest city. Befitting a city of its size, Rochester had a local entertainment community. Rochester did lose many of its players over the years to touring ensembles, to the draw of big cities such as New York and Chicago, or, during Pepper's time growing up there, to World War II. Pepper told me that, during much of his time in Rochester in the 1940s, many of the established Rochester musicians had left to fight in World War II. Acccording to Wikipedia, "Some 29,000 Rochester-area men were drafted into military service." The exodus of male Rochesterians created an opportunty for young players such as Adams to perform with much older musicians who remained. At the Elite Dance Hall, where Adams played in 1946 and half of 1947, that's precisely how it went. The band included former Jimmie Lunceford trumpet player, Ben "Smitty" Smith, and a cigar chomping pianist, Jimmy "The Lion" Stewart. Smith was 62 and Stewart, by all accounts, was close in age. Pepper liked to joke about his time in Rochester doing gigs at age 14-16. "If you could see over the bar," said Adams, "you could get a gig."

A little over an hour away from Rochester is Buffalo. In 1940, Buffalo was America's fourteenth largest city, bigger than New Orleans, Kansas City, Newark or Indianapolis. The US Census for 1950 puts Buffalo's population at 580,132, as compared to the other New York cities of Rochester (332,488), Syracuse (220,583) and Utica (101,531)all dwarfed, of course, as compared to America's largest city, New York, then at 7,891,957. Buffalo was for many years, through at least the mid-1960s, an important part of the touring circuit that musicians regularly visited. In that way, Buffalo was a ribbon that connected cities of the Great Lakes with those on the East Coast. Rochester partook of musicians who toured through the larger cities into secondary- and tertiary-sized ones. At slightly more than half Buffalo's size, Rochester was not a small town. Just prior to America's involvement in World War II, as Wikipedia points out, "by 1940 the population had decreased to 324,975, the first drop since Rochester was founded. It was still the 23rd largest city in the United States."

I knew very little about Rochester in 1988, when I first stepped into the early-Rochester jazz history vacuum. My early moves were a flurry of interviews with people who knew Pepper in the 1941-47 war and postwar period. Much can be learned about that time simply by peeking at the "Early Years" chronology at I'm currently in the process of adding a wealth of new information to it. An update will be posted next week.

As for existing information about Rochester jazz, there is an important collection of material at the University of Rochester. The Hoeffler Collection is comprised of materials from Paul Hoeffler, an avid jazz fan and photographer who lived in Rochester and documented Rochester jazz from about 1955 until the mid-60s. (See His work roughly corresponded with the early growth of Eastman's jazz program. Hoeffler was a very gifted photographer, trained by Ansel Adams, Minor White and others at Rochester Institute of Technology. Hoeffler went on to photograph musicians for Verve, Prestige, Blue Note and Mercury. His stills were used to a great extent in the Ken Burns multi-volume PBS documentary Jazz. Nevertheless, Hoeffler's Rochester work begins about eight years after Pepper moved to Detroit. I can't use it, except maybe to check on a few Adams gigs. As a corollary to Hoeffler's collection is the ongoing research being done by drummer Noal Cohen, who performed in Rochester from 1955-1961. He's assembled this site:

As I wrote last week about pre-1950s Rochester jazz, during the mid-1940s Pepper Adams and trombonist and future sociology professor Raymond Murphy were the best of friends, practicing once a week for more than three years and sharing many experiences around town. I've since learned much more about Murphy from Paul Remington, who serendipitously stumbled upon last week's blog post. It turns out that Remington and Murphy were very close friends too, and Remington wasn't aware, until he read my post, that Murphy had passed away in January, 2015. Remington was trying valiantly to locate Murphy and somehow my piece fell into his lap. 

In not too different a way from how Murphy befriended Pepper Adams, here's Remington's account of Raymond Murphy:

"I was rather curious why this older man would accept me. I was just a twenty-three year old, working as an electrical assembler at the time. He never differentiated people based on status. It all came down to interests and commonalities. I was a fierce music lover with very ecumenical tastes. From 1987 to about 1998 we met weekly for dinner, then a night of jazz listening in his home. He had the largest music collection I have ever seen. I would guess he had close to 100,000 LPs and CDs. I was like a kid in a candy store every time I went in his basement, which is where he had everything very carefully stored and cataloged. It was amazing! Ray taught me the world of classical music, including opera. I would spend forty hours a week working on the line listening to classical stations, then write down every composer I liked. On Friday I would head to his home with the sheet of paper and show it to him. I remember one time he looked at it, his face stretched a wide grin, and he said, 'You have very esoteric tastes!' We’d head to his basement, and of course he had everything on my sheet of paper. He’d pull out things and play them for me, teach me, share material… It was fabulous! I’d come over on Saturday and we’d spend the entire day together, go to music stores, book stores, out to dinner, back to his place and play jazz and classical all night, sometimes into the early hours of the morning. Absolutely wonderful! He was a best friend, mentor, and a father figure all rolled into one. A wonderful man!"

Obviously, Raymond Murphy played a huge role as a mentor to both Paul Remington and, much earlier, Pepper Adams. I'll go into much more detail about Murphy vis-a-vis Rochester's early jazz scene in my Adams biography.

Despite my handwringing about the dearth of information about 1940s Rochester jazz, I'm relieved to say that several key musicians have emerged from my own research who would have been on the scene when Pepper was evolving in Rochester as a young musician. The most important of these, so far at least, are pianist Herbie Brock, trombonist/pianist Dave Remington and organist Doug Duke. Brock, a blind pianist and part-time tenor saxophonist, was arguably the dominant small-group musician in town. He was, according to Raymond Murphy, an Art Tatum disciple who was finally recorded first by Savoy in 1955. A piece done by Marc Myers on Brock (see Brock's recordings and his adoption of a Bud Powell type of pianism. From the little I've heard, Brockmuch like Hank Jones, Barry Harris and other Detroit pianists of that periodmoved away from an overt Tatum sensibility to a more streamlined, less orchestral, swinging, right-hand-dominated approach more akin to Powell. I'm looking forward to hearing more Brock soon.

As for Dave Remington, I've learned much about the Remington family just in the last few days from Paul Remington, his cousin. The Remingtons are a very distinguished Rochester family of musicians, going back to Emory Remington. A fascinating Wikipedia piece discusses Emory Remington's role as a pioneering trombone teacher at Eastman for some sixty years. One of his greatest pupils is jazz trombonist Jim Pugh. Obviously, Dave Remington had as a father the ultimate trombone teacher and I'm eagerly looking forward to hearing recordings that Paul will be providing of Dave Remington in action, including Chicago Shouts and Live at the Abbey. There's nothing at Google about either recording, nor, I'm afraid, much about Dave Remington.

This from Wikipedia about Papa Remington (see

"Emory Brace Remington (1892–1971) was a trombonist and music teacher. His unique method made him one of the most well-known and influential trombone educators in history. He was a member of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra from 1923 to 1949, and on the faculty of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY from 1922 until his death in 1971."

This about Emory and Dave from Paul Remington:

"Emory taught Dave early in his life but Dave was a bit of a rebel. He didn’t want to be confined in the bowels of an orchestra all his life. His sister, Janet, took a different approach. She became a very successful harpist and was a staple of the Pittsburgh Symphony, which was, at one point, under the direction of Andre Previn. She embraced life in an orchestra. But Dave was a bit of a disappointment to Emory. He didn’t want to see Dave live the jazz lifestyle. Dave wanted the freedom that jazz offers. So he left Rochester. I’ll never forget seeing, at Emory’s funeral—which was massive, by the way—David sitting in the pew down from me with tears streaming down his face. I always wondered if he regretted the estrangement he had with his mother and father. I suppose we’ll never know. But he did receive his early training from Emory.

Dave started with trombone and moved to piano later in his life. He was a very good piano player—very talented. He could cross over from trombone to piano quite easily, so on some recordings he's playing piano while on others he's playing trombone. The other aspect of Dave you should know about is his abilities as a leader. He was a natural born leader with a vibrant personality. He could also be very opinionated. In his lifetime, he alienated many people, including three of his four sons. But in terms of musicianship, he had a triune of talents: piano, trombone and band leadership.

The Remington Exercises, developed by Emory, are taught in conservatories all over the world as standard trombone pedagogy. Emory also helped to redefine the physical instrument. He had a different vision for the trombone, and this vision formed a sensibility that was the bedrock of his teaching at Eastman. He wanted to see it elevated as a serious instrument, not just a circus instrument (as it was popularly used in the 19th century). He invented the trombone choir, which is a standard arrangement for trombone formations that is stunning to listen to (in my opinion). Emory was a brilliant man with a natural gift for teaching."

As for Doug Duke, I've learned that Pepper sat in with his band c. 1947 at Squeezer's, a club in downtown Rochester. "Doug Duke," a stage name for Ovidio Fernandez, was Argentinian by birth and came to Rochester in 1920. He was a gifted organist in a Swing Era, pre-Jimmy Smith, Wild Bill Davis kind of style. Duke at one time toured with Lionel Hampton. In the late 1960s, years after Pepper left town, Duke ran The Music Room, a Rochester jazz club in suburban Charlotte, that brought in many great Swing musicians, such as Roy Eldridge and Coleman Hawkins. An informative site explains Duke's life and work:

                 (Emory Remington)

                    (Doug Duke)

                                           (1953 Doug Duke date for Regent)

                            (1961 Herbie Brock date for Art)

                                                    (Herbie Brock c. 1956)