Sunday, July 2, 2017

Pepper Adams, 1947













© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.




I stepped back from writing this week, partly because I wanted some perspective, mostly because I attended a training program for work. I did read Chapter 2 in my down time and made some minor changes. One of my readers looked it over and made some important suggestions. More work to do, as always.

I'm posting the last section of the chapter below (without corresponding footnotes). Also, as of today, because of the new demands of my day job I will be moving to monthly posts, done on the first Sunday of each month. Thanks for your continued interest!



       From the mid-1940s through the mid-1950s pianist Joe Strazzeri ran Squeezer’s, his club at 420 State Street across the street from Kodak. Typically, gigs were followed by open jam sessions with white and black musicians alike. “Pepper used to stop in there and just get on the stand,” said  trumpeter Leo Petix. “He was around town. He was looking to get with a group and get on the road.”106 Even though he was far from being an accomplished player, pianist John Albert heard him once in a Rochester club and felt that he had a conception of what he was doing as a soloist. “He played quite well and for a person his age (middle teens) he had already developed a style, certainly different than anyone there that day,” said Albert.107

 

He was playing a soprano sax. The rhythm section (I don’t recall who they were) responded to his playing. He was a good “time” player and left holes they could fill in. That’s what I remember most about his style. He would blow a single note or a phrase and then wait for the rhythm to come to the next change or even go by it, and then he would dig in and catch up with great time and ideas. This to me was different than the other horn men; they seemed to stay on top of the beat and didn’t seem to use the rhythm [section] to their best advantage or let them have some fun too on the chorus. So I guess what I heard that made him different and new was a thinner, biting sound. [He] played more notes and more interesting melodic flights and used the rhythm section like Miles Davis.108

 

“The musicians were half and half in their comments,” added Albert. “The horn men weren’t that 

‘gassed’ but the rhythm section was impressed. I know that later when other horn men were changing 

their ideas and sound I thought back to that day and I wondered if any of them remembered where 

they heard it first.”109






Sunday, June 25, 2017

Pepper Biography News












© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.



Somehow this past week I wrote a complete first draft of Chapter 2 of Pepper's biography. I had so many pages of notes from other times that I wrote about him or prepared college lectures. The chapter covers the period 1930-1947 and also dives into (as I discussed last week) Adams' parental genealogy. On the genealogy, I added more details about the derivation of the Adamses, all the way back to the Eleventh Century, and some more information on just how tough a dude his sixth great-grandfather, James Adams, was: how he survived the Battle of Dunbar, his march and incarceration, the voyage to the New World and his servitude. James Adams' grit and determination is part of Pepper Adams' DNA.

Here's how the chapter falls:

1. Father's history
2. Genealogy
3. Family music history
4. History of Rochester, New York
5. The move to New York, 1931-1935
6. Pepper, 1935 to his father's death in 1940
7. Rochester war effort
8. 1940s Rochester jazz scene
9. Pepper, 1941-1944
10. Duke Ellington and Rex Stewart at the Temple Theatre; its many implications
11. Raymond Murphy taks about Pepper
12. Jack Huggler talks about Pepper
13. The Elite
14. Isolation
15. John Albert talks about Pepper Adams


Here's an excerpt from the chapter (without footnotes):


Although Adams was still playing in the New Orleans style, his taste in music was already very well developed in 1944.

I was studying more classical music at the time. Although I enjoyed jazz, which I listened to on the radio, which is what you did in those days, it was really classical music which interested me first. Then, when I started to hear Ellington and all those chords and voicings I knew immediately: . . . Debussy, Ravel, Elgar, Delius, the tonal palettes of twentieth-century music were all there. You know, the rough kind of excitement of the Basie band could be a lot of fun and I certainly liked them as soloists but Duke’s band was an entirely different ball game.”63

“Don’t put them next to nobody else,” cautioned Skippy Williams about the Ellington band.

That band, you couldn’t touch them! [Duke] would go back and get some old tricky things like “Caravan” and those kinds of things. He could put some chords on you. They would put some double augmented chords on you, six-note chords, and they would stretch it out in such a way, man, it would sound like five bands were swinging. He would change the chords and make them much heavier. Say, for instance, if you’re making C double augmented it would be C-D-G flat-A flat-B flat and he knew just where to put them to broaden the sound.64

“I was at a restaurant next door to the theater there downtown in Rochester,” said Williams. “Pepper came in and he told me he had heard me play and he liked my playing. He said he played tenor sax. . . . Back when I met him,” Williams continued, “I had taken Ben Webster’s place in Duke’s band. He was very enthused about that.”

I spent as much time as I could. He was working at a shoe store or something. . . . He was asking me about my tone and I told him some certain tricks, how to build his chops up. Well, see, a lot of guys, they try to use their lip a certain way. They don’t let the horn get the right, true sound. You got to let the reed do more vibrating. You have to know how to blow and how to use your belly. . . . He said, “Can I bring my horn by?” I said, “Sure. You can come by any time. . . .” He asked me, “How do you memorize all those things? I never see you looking at the music.” I said, “Next time, come up and look.” He looked up there. They had comic books. We carried about thirty or forty comic books at the time. People think, well, we’re reading Duke’s music but we’d be up there playing like hell and everybody’d be reading comic books.65






















Sunday, June 18, 2017

Paternal Genealogy









© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.



Happy Father's Day to everybody in the U.S. I wasn't anticipating starting Chapter Two of the Pepper Adams biography this past week. I started organizing some of my materials for it after I finished Chapter One. But then I found myself finding, much to my delight, all sorts of previously written text. When I starting piecing things together I began to write and refine. Now I have six pages written and probably another twenty pages worth of notes that I need to rework. It includes a great deal of transcribed interview material from several people who knew him well as a child, specifically Raymond Murphy and Jack Huggler.

Essentially, Chapter Two is in place. It discusses the period 1930-1947, from the time Adams was born through the time he returned from Rochester, New York to Detroit. One section, already done is his father's genealogy. It wasn't until two days ago through today that I fit it all together. I was helped immeasurably by Pepper's cousin, Joie Gifford, who lived in the Seattle area (Whidbey Island) and who I presume passed away a few years ago. All my emails to her have bounced back and phone numbers are no longer of any use. Gifford did the pioneering research with another family member on the Adams line and handed it to me years ago on a silver platter. I only had to figure out what I had, then follow her lead to fit in a few extra pieces. I'll share it with you here.

What follows is one section of Chapter Two, with some footnotes beneath it. One discusses the presidential Adams family and its relationship to Pepper's line. How appropriate for Father's Day that I would post this about Pepper's dad and his family! Enjoy!


The paternal Adams line in the United States stretches back eight generations to James Adams, Pepper’s sixth great-grandfather.2 James Adams, of Scottish origin, was captured on September 3, 1650 by Oliver Cromwell’s forces at the Battle of Dunbar. Only fifteen years old at the time, Adams was fighting for the monarchy on behalf of Scotland during the final years of the English Civil War. A few months after his capture he was ordered as a prisoner of war to board the Unity for passage across the Atlantic Ocean to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, arriving in Charlestown in December, 1650. Adams was sentenced to seven years of labor at the Saugus Ironworks in Lynn, Massachusetts.3 An indentured servant at Saugus, Adams lived in a four-man-to-a-house dwelling, was allowed to work the land four days a week, and was mandated to spend the other three days toiling at the Iron Works. Once obtaining his release in 1657, Adams founded with a few others in Boston the Scots’ Charitable Society, the Western Hemisphere’s oldest charitable organization.4 Five years later he married a Puritan, Priscilla Ramsdell, in Concord, Massachusetts who bore him seven children.

One of his sons, James Jr, moved his family to nearby Rhode Island, where his son Nathaniel was born in 1708. Nathaniel, Pepper’s fourth great-grandfather, likely died in Groton, Connecticut, where his son James III, one of ten children, was born in 1732. James in turn moved his family inland to Upstate New York, where it would be based for the next four generations.

By the mid-nineteenth century, Pepper Adams’ ancestors had settled near Rome, New York. Pepper’s grandfather, Nathaniel Quincy Adams, married Alice Frances Cleveland there in 1879 and they had five children: Mina, Harry, Rita, Marguerite, and Pepper’s father Park. The youngest of five children, Park was born in Rome on January 19, 1896. Nathaniel Quincy Adams’ obituary goes into considerable detail about the clan:

Nathaniel Q. Adams, 71, former Rome hotel man, died suddenly at his home in Oriskany yesterday afternoon. He was in the garden when taken ill and died before medical aid could be given.
Nathaniel Quincy Adams was born in Westmoreland [on] April 15, 1858, son of the late Nathaniel Q. and Angeline Eames Adams. His father, who was a contractor and builder, invented and patented in 1828 certain new features of the threshing machine which later were used with success. The elder Adams at one time owned the old Verona Spring House. When Mr. Adams was four years old the family moved to Verona Mills where he learned the wagonmaker’s trade, which he followed at that place until he was 28 years of age. He then located in Rome where he was a resident for more than a quarter of a century. In the latter city he at first pursued his trade and subsequently bought a hotel on South James Street, then known as the Temperance Hotel, which he conducted for ten years as the Adams House.
Ill health compelled him to sell out and retire in 1913. He then moved to Utica and for several months lived on State Street, near Court Street. In 1914 he bought a home in Oriskany.
Starting as a lad in modest circumstances, Mr. Adams gained a reputable place in business. He was a member of Waterbury Memorial Church, of which he was a trustee for several years. For more than 25 years he had been a member of Fort Stanwix Lodge 63, IOOF. Mr. Adams was also a member of Oriskany Lodge 799 F & AM.
He was married at Verona Mills in 1879 to Miss Frances Cleveland, who survives with two sons and three daughters: Harry A. of Chicago; Park of Detroit, Michigan; Mrs. Frederick Weaver of Hollywood, California; Mrs. Allen B. Head of Tallahassee, Florida; and Mrs. Leroy Johnston of Los Angeles.5

The 1880 census lists Nathaniel Adams as a boat builder. His trade at that time was no doubt influenced by his proximity to the nearby Oneida Lake and the Erie Canal that passed directly through Rome. Some 23 years later in an entirely different line of work, you still couldn’t get a shot of whiskey at the Adams House hotel but you could get a meal for a quarter. At that time electric streetcars traveled between Rome and Utica through Oriskany, the halfway point between both cities. Its train stop was directly across the street from Adams’ Oriskany home. Mercifully, Pepper’s grandfather died just a few months before the Stock Market Crash of 1929. He would be spared the misery that his wife and children would endure for the next decade.


2The authors acknowledge the pioneering genealogical research done by Pepper’s cousin Joie Gifford. According to the site http://en.geneanet.org, “the surname of Adam is of great antiquity in Scotland. Duncan Adam, son of Alexander Adam, lived in the reign of King Robert Bruce, and had four sons, from whom all the Adams, Adamsons, and Adies in Scotland are descended.” (In the twelfth century Robert the Bruce led Scotland during the First War of Scottish Independence against England. He regained Scotland’s independence and is still revered as a national hero.) Pepper’s sixth great-grandfather, James Adams, may have been born in Carlisle, Cumberland, England, just over the Scottish border, around 1635.  He died in Concord, Massachusetts on December 2, 1707. Although Pepper Adams believed that he was 100% Irish, the evidence points to him being at least half Scottish and half Irish. Furthermore, it’s unclear if the Adams line that produced two American presidents (John and John Quincy) is in any way related to James Adams and his family. Whereas James Adams was Scottish, though possibly being born in Northern England, John Adams’ second great-grandfather’s family was English, born in Somersetshire, 300 miles away, west of London in the southern part of the country. A more detailed genealogy of both Adams families in England in the 1600s and earlier and would be needed to see if they were related.
3Saugus, a subsidiary of The Company of Undertakers of the Iron Works in New England, was founded by the Colonial Governor John Winthrop and several other entrepreneurs.
4The Society awards undergraduate scholarships to the Scottish-American community and provides relief to individuals and Scottish families in need. The Society also seeks to promote Scottish and Celtic heritage through education, participation in highland games, parades and other cultural events throughout the Greater Boston area.
5June 22, 1929 edition of the Rome Sentinel.




Sunday, June 11, 2017

Detroit Groove: Al McKibbon












© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.



I'm very pleased and genuinely excited to report that I've finished the first chapter of Pepper Adams' biography. I've been building to this moment for 34 years so for me it's very gratifying to be at long last getting my thoughts about Pepper down on paper.. Some of you might not know that I first conceptualized this project in 1984. I wanted to write a biography of a jazz musician. Somehow, really quite miraculously, Pepper became my subject. What a blessing!

Entitled "What Is It?" the twenty pages cover 1947-1951, the period of Adams' life in or transitioning to Detroit. The chapter is divided into sections in this order:

1. Adams seeing Charlie Parker live for the first time. 
2. Why Adams moved from Rochester NY to Detroit, and its many implications.
3. Taking a month of saxophone lessons in New York City with Skippy Williams.
4. The racial climate in Detroit.
5. The influence of Grinnell's Brothers Music House.
6. Mentorship with Wardell Gray, the talent show with Lionel Hampton, meeting Charles Mingus.
7. Adams goes to Wayne University, he buys his Berg Larsen mouthpiece and his first Selmer horn.
8. Gig with Little John and His Merrymen, first gig with Donald Byrd and Paul Chambers, mentorship with Beans Bowles, enlisting in the Army.

Chapter Two will be called "Inanout." It will explore Adams' early life, moving around a great deal from Detroit to rural Indiana and to various places in Upstate New York. Much of his time, from about three years old until sixteen, was spent in Rochester, New York. Rochester's history, especially its World War II climate and jazz scene, will be examined. The effect on him -- of not being grounded, of having attachment and intimacy issues -- will be discussed. 

Because I spent much of the week wrapping up Chapter 1 and then organizing 150 pages of notes for Chapter 2, there's not anything else to add. I do have some "outtakes" that I won't be using for the biography that I hope you find interesting. What follows are some notes and quotes from my 1988 interview with the great Detroit bassist Al McKibbon that likely won't make the Pepper biography. In addition are some notes from his interview for the Smithsonian.

My interview with McKibbon:
Lanny Scott was a fine pianist from Cleveland who played around Detroit. According to McKibbon, he played like Art Tatum.

"When I was 16 or 17, I worked at a place called the B&C. That was a place that had an old-time vaudeville format. They had a bunch of singers, male and female, and they would do what they called "ups." They did turns, coming up to entertain. We had a five-piece band behind them. They would play and the girls would go around to the different tables and pick up the tips, sometimes not with their hands! We played whatever were the popular tunes of the day, and blues, of course. I never played rock 'n' roll. That was never a part of it when I was a kid, never. Even before that, I played with a dance band. They had two or three or four dance bands around there. We tried to play like Basie or Jimmie Lunceford or Duke Ellington."

Cut Collins was Ocie's husband and drummer. Another band was Hal Green. Another was Gloster Current. His brother, Lester, played trumpet. He had a good band and later became known for his work with the NAACP.

Today it's thought of as a suburb but, in the 1930s, Pontiac was another town a long way away from Detroit. 

McKibbon never played Hastings Street. That's where all the "joints" were based. In McKibbon's view, they were scuzzy, rough-and-tumble places. In the twenties, Hastings Street "had a good theater over there that had vaudeville. I saw the first sound movie over there: Al Jolson, The Jazz Singer." This is where he saw Butterbeans and Susie, Ethel Waters and others.

Peers in Detroit: Saxophonist Ted Buckner, drummer Kelly Martin (who played a long time with Errol Garner). McKibbons' group at the Congo Club included Howard McGhee and Matthew Gee (trombonist; though from Newark, he was in Detroit for a long time), Kelly Martin, Wardell Gray, Teddy Edwards. It was about 10 pieces--a killer band, led at first by Martin, then co-led by McGhee and another. Their guitarist, Ted Smith, went with Andy Kirk: "Good guitarist." Fantastic band. In 1940, "Lionel Hampton came through there with his first big band. Carl George, his lead trumpeter, said, 'Hey, I'll come down and play some first with you guys.' 'Oh, fine,' McKibbon related sardonically. He came in the door and Howard McGhee was hitting altissimo something. He never took his horn out! Two sets, he listened to us."

Around 1940: "The Paradise Theater used to feature New York shows. I remember one show was going to hang over there, so the chorus guys and girls came into the [Congo] club where we were playing and we had to play for them. We played for Una Mae Carlisle, Billie Holiday."

"The Cozy Corner had a five piece group in there that was really swinging! J.C. Heard played in there."

About Detroit: "There were all those people there, all playing good. They had some tenor players and piano players that used to wipe everybody out! There was one tenor player named Lorenzo Lawson. He went to audition for Basie's band. The rehearsal was late and he said, 'The hell with them,' and went home. . . Trombone Smitty. I thought he was fantastic! He used to take his horn out of pawn and play the job and put it back. There was another guy there by the name of 'Cubby' . . . He played the Cozy Corner with J.C. Heard. Bill Johnson played trumpet."

Lawson was fantastic, but likely never recorded. He played like Prez. Julius Watkins came from there. Major Holley was younger. So was "Bags."

"There used to be a guy around there, when I was really not playing too well. His name was Frank Fry. He was a hell of a trumpet player! There was another name, Buddy Lee. He used to teach a lot of trumpet players that came through there. In the thirties, yeah. Lannie, the piano player. There was Maurice King, the saxophone player. I used to be in his band.”

Smithsonian interview with Al McKibbon:
In the early 1930s, McKibbon played with Milt and Teddy Buckner (alto, originally with Lunceford), and later with drummer Freddie Bryant.

At the Graystone Ballroom, depending on the weather, they had either inside or outside dancing. Fletcher Henderson, McKinney's Cotton Pickers, Luis Russell (with Louis Armstrong), Ellington and Cab Calloway played there. McKibbon's older brother, Alfonso McKibbon, played guitar and banjo with McKinney's Cotton Pickers and encouraged his brother to play bass, thinking string bass would be the new thing. Ted Smith, guitarist, played like Charlie Christian. He, McKibbon, and a saxophonist had a trio. Milt Buckner, not George Shearing, invented the locked-hands style of piano, he pointed out. He played the Congo Club, then the Three Sixes with Teddy Buckner's band--Kelly Martin on drums (who played with Erskine Hawkins). Wellman Braud was McKibbon's first influence. He had a big sound and McKibbon strove for that big, strong sound. He also liked the way Walter Page walked. After them, Blanton and Pettiford were an influence on his playing.



                                   (Al McKibbon, Bud Powell's favorite bassist)



Sunday, June 4, 2017

Detroit Cats and Clubs









© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.




Here's some random historical information about Detroit's jazz history that I've collected from my many Pepper Adams interviews. It pertains mosty to Detroit in the 1940s and '50s. Because it's not likely to be used in my Pepper Adams biography, I'm posting it here to make it available to researchers.


Elvin Jones:
"I used to peep in the window [at the Blue Bird] and watch him. I always used to tell him, 'Keep the curtain open so I can watch you and see what you're doing.' And he did. I was watching him because the drums were right there by the window. (Roy Brooks used to stand out there sometimes.) I think he was playing more then than he was later on in life. He didn't have more chops. He had more swing and more drive. He began to get it together there. Billy Mitchell told me that when Elvin came out of the Air Force, his right hand was weak. When he'd be playing the ride cymbal, instead of getting a clear ti-ti-TING, he'd get a ti-TING, ti-TING. So Billy Mitchell told him, 'Look, your right hand is weak. Fill in with your left hand.' And that's what he would do. Elvin, and all of the Jones', had an uncanny sense of time--like Thad. So, Elvin too, it seemed like he was playing in three a lot, but you don't know that because the four is there too! Elvin was dynamite!" - Frant Gant


Clubs/Regions:
"The Paradise Valley was a cluster of many clubs. . . A gorgeous place to be, safe, everybody had a ball going from place to place. It was downtown, about four or five blocks from the heart of town. All the entertainment was there. That's where all the big stars went. Hastings Street bordered it. It was between Hastings Street and Brush Street, bordered by Adams and St. Antoine and Gratiot Avenue, that whole area of six or eight blocks square." - Maurice King

The Valley was really buzzing before 1938, when Maurice King arrived in town. It stayed that way until 1943, when the riot broke out. After that, wealthy whites stopped visiting. Then, the clubs moved north, closer to Wayne University, such as the Flame Showbar, which looked like a Las Vegas club. Two others within a block or two were the Frolic Showbar and Chesterfield Lounge.

"In the early '40s, there were many clubs in The Valley: small clubs where there was music, all up and down Hastings Street, extended all the way to the north end, which became Oakland Avenue. Later on, the clubs started moving to the west side, like the Blue Bird, like Klein's on Twelfth Street. Hastings more or less died. In fact, there is no more Hastings now. It's the Chrysler Freeway. City planning changes the complexion of cities. That's what happened." - Yusef Lateef

“The Valley was only maybe two or three or four blocks long, from Hastings Street and Adams to, say, John R and Adams.” - Charles Boles

"There were many bars, all of which had live music. The first beginning of it was the Sportree's, a club. It started from The Valley, going up Hastings Street. The most famous place on Hastings Street was the Cozy Corner. That was the most plush nightclub. It had a Copa atmosphere. Just a place where people would go to dance. They had a cover charge and had dinner. It was a supper club." - Maurice King

Hastings Street had prostitution. “It had all the evils that any major city had.” - Charles Johnson

The Club Sudan was downtown. Kenny Burrell played there.

The Flame was on John R and Garfield.

The El Sino and The Three Sixes (666) were near each other in The Valley.

When Thad and Billy Mitchell had their band in 1949-1950 or so: "The jazz scene was hot during that time. The Blue Bird was going six nights a week and it was packed every night." - Bob Pierson

"I got into Bizerte and Royal Blue occasionally when underage. - Bob Pierson

The Pine Grove, the Black Hawk: little bars on the Near West Side; Clarence Beasley and Pepper Adams played at these clubs after 1948.

"We first began to hear Sonny Stitt when we were still going to dances as teenagers." -Clarence Beasley

Sonny Stitt's father was a minister and he allowed all these aspiring youngsters to jam at his church. At that time, Stitt played the Iragon Ballroom on Woodward, near the Mirror Ballroom (where Bird played). Beasley and his cohort hung out at the Iragon from their middle teens until around 19 years old, when they started branching out and getting their own gigs and moving away from the dance scene.

The Brady Bar was going on the East Side in 1955. Barry Harris played there, as did Pepper Adams.  Harris' nickname was "Little Bud."

Gigs in Detroit took place from 9-2. After the gig, all the musicians in town used to congregate across the street from the Bowl-o-Drome (12707 Dexter Blvd. near Davison or Burlingame) at the Esquire Restaurant for breakfast. Roland Hanna, Barry Harris and Harold McKinney, however, didn't hang out. They were very studious.

The Paradise Theater in Detroit: "They had the best black talent in the world. It was another Apollo. In fact, it might have been a couple degrees above it. You go see a movie and then you stay and see the stage show. You could stay as long as you wanted." - Oliver Shearer

Local musicians:
Eddie Jamison, a great local alto player, "had a distinctive sound," according to Clarence Beasley. "It was soulful."

Willie Anderson: "So many big names tried to get him out of Detroit and he would not go. He never had the confidence in himself because he never had the formal training, the building blocks that he could use. He simply refused to go out of town with these bands. He didn't want to be pigeonholed or whatnot, but, my God, did he have a reputation for being one of the finest pianists locally. He was a fantastic jazz player." - Clarence Beasley

"Hugh Lawson had a very fine, strong left hand." - Clarence Beasley

Tim Kennedy was a very fine Detroit drummer, about five years older. He played with Illinois Jacquet.
- Clarence Beasley

"Johnny Allen was a really good pianist on the scene and a fantastic arranger. He was from Chicago and went to school with Nat Cole but relocated in Detroit. He played the Silver Slipper with Tate Houston when Eckstine worked there."  - Clarence Beasley

Willie Wells dissipated with drugs, and was sad to see, but a great player on the scene.

Joe Brazil hosted jam sessions at his house that Wells and a lot of the youngsters played.

Jimmy Glover, a real good bass player out of Detroit. - Bob Pierson

"A lot of guys never made it. There was Will Davis, a real good piano player, and Bu Bu Turner, another good piano player. . . . There were some real good tenor players. Tommy Barnet, and Lefty Edwards--they were a little bit older, more mature." - Bob Pierson

Abe Woodley: "Abe was something! I'll tell ya, next to Milt, he had the best feel I ever heard on vibes and he could play some great bebop piano too!" - Bob Pierson

Bu Bu Turner: "Great player, great accompanist, too, for a horn player, and he could burn his ass off playing jazz." - Bob Pierson

Art Mardigan sound: "He had a great feel and you could hear the beat of the stick on the cymbal. He had the best sound out of the cymbal I've ever heard and I've heard them all. Art had that, and a lot of guys that played around Detroit got that from him. They all got the nice sound out of the cymbal." - Bob Pierson

Warren Hickey: "A tenor player. A wonderful player." - Bob Pierson

Other fine Detroit players, as per Bob Pierson: Leon Rice (dm), Willie Wells (before junk got to him), Gus Rosario.

Tate Houston had a nice sound.

Lefty Edwards was a good tenor player.

Claire Roquemore: “couldn’t stay out of jail.” - Charles Johnson

Roquemore: "He was a wonderful, young, Caucasian-looking trumpet player. He was very fair-skinned, blonde-haired. He probably had a white mother and a mixed father. He looked white but he wasn't white. He was mixed. Whenever Claire had a gig, he'd use Pepper." - Roland Hanna

“The great Claire Rocquemore? He could play anything. He’d wear Miles out. He’d wear anybody out. Donald didn’t want to get on the bandstand with him. He ended up being strung out. And he didn’t go anywhere. He would always be around, when he could keep it together, and kick everybody’s butt. He was at Barry’s house all the time.” - Charles Boles

"There was a guy named Benny Benjamin. He was a guy that went with Motown. He was a bad sucker! He could play in any kind of groove--bebop, or the blues. He had the feeling. He was a bitch! Wilbur Harden, this trumpet player [moved to Detroit in 57 and played with Yusef, was sick for four years then played with Curtis], and Teeter Ford [in Barry Harris' group in the early 50s, replacing Claire Roquemore, with Sonny Red.] - Frank Gant

                                              (Elvin Jones)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Love Letters









© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.


Much of my week was spent reading hundreds of letters that Pepper Adams kept and I scopped up at the time of his death. Many of them are from women--I guess you could call at least some of them groupies--who are enthralled with Pepper and are somehow hoping to inspire him to write them back. Others are from longtime Detroit friends of his, such as Frank Foster, Bob Pierson, Sheila Jordan, Rudy Tucich and Tommy Flanagan, or from various Korean War buddies. I can't begin to say how happy I am that I got through them. Most of the letters were tediuos and felt utterly interminable!

One letter, though, from one of Adams' admirers, cut through the rest. It was an undated letter from the late '60s or early '70s, judging from the date of some of her other letters. At one point she writes to Pepper, "Golly, you must like me! Do you like me as a person and not just as a woman? That would be nice." It's not known if Pepper ever responded to her question, or if he even gave it a minute's thought. Her question for me cuts to the core of Pepper's intimacy issues with women, something I'll be writing about in the biography. This little moment stood out from all the chatty letters, mostly informative in nature, always with the request that Pepper please write back and show some interest in them.

I've retained a few piles of letters from a handful of women who were significant in Pepper's life. I'll be consulting them later on as I get deeper into the biography.  The rest are going in a bin with other estate materials.

A few of the letters, despite the tedium, helped me pinpoint some Adams gigs. That's always helpful and it helped sustain my interest throughout the process. I made the corresponding updates to the Chronology. They will be posted at pepperadams.com on the next round of updates.

In a few cases I did find some of the correspondence significant enough to post at my Instagram site. One was a postcard from Blue Mitchell.

Another was a letter from Transition owner Tom Wilson.

Still another was a letter from Kenny Davern.

Another one was a letter from Pete King at Ronnie Scott's.

Still another was a letter from Friedrich Gulda's office.

Here's a letter from Chick Corea. Or a letter from Tommy Flanagan and Frank Foster.

One thing I did learn is that Pepper took an active role in trying to obtain overseas gigs for himself as early as 1961. That flies in the face of one of Pepper's outer myths: that he didn't know how to promote himself. True, he wasn't aggressive about it, but, as the letters show, he wasn't passive either.

I also spent time looking at about 500 Kodachrome slides that Pepper took in Korea while serving in the U.S. Army. I found three really nice candid shots of Pepper at age 21-22 that I'm transferring to digital images. From the many others I did get a sense of the terrain and experience. It was rocky, mountainous and cold.

As for last week's concern about my Pepper Adams biography, all is OK. I stated the core tension--becoming a virtuoso on the baritone-- in the very first sentence of the book. It's something that he's working on at least until he gets to New York in 1956 and that I'll be discussing. Conflicts, self-doubts, and the like are being developed too. I'm still happy with it thus far and I will return to writing.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

To Write or Not to Write: That Is the Question







© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.



I hope everyone had a great week. I took the week off from writing the Pepper Adams biography to catch my breath, instead go through scads of Adams material, and assess how things are going. I have much of Adams' pre-Korean War life sketched out already and I'm poised to move ahead. Nevertheless, I decided to step back and question a few things. First, am I zipping through his life too quickly, without exploring any core tension and building the book around it? In other words, am I sufficiently writing about Adams in conflict with himself, society, or both? Has the book suddenly become too much of a chronicle without enough interpretation? Yes, sure, I do have wonderful first-hand interview material that I'm using, but has the book suddenly become too dominated by long quotations? Pepper's intelligence and ambition stand out but what about his self-doubts? Biographers are supposed to keep their hero in trouble to sustain the narrative and function dramatically. Am I doing that?

Biographers are advised to write with the ending in mind. I still don't have one. I'm improvising as I go. Although I'm happy with it thus far, where is the book going? When will I infuse it with narrative devices, such as flashbacks or flash forwards? When will I introduce Adams talking about himself and in what fashion? Am I too focused on his quest to become a great player and not enough on what made him such a unique human being? 

So far, lots of questions and no answers. That's because up until yesterday I had two gigantic piles of notes, clippings, reviews, articles, memorabilia--basically, 35 years of stuff-- that took over my week to sort. Much was discarded, much became useful scrap paper, some helped me with future writing. I sorted it into three categories: Pre-1956 Detroit, Pre-1948 Rochester, and Other. That way I'd have all the materials ready to use for my first two chapters on the period 1930-1955, with the rest saved for later. 

Additionally, I've been going through everything in my Adams archive, including several other buckets of stuff, sorting it into my things and other stuff that belongs to Adams' estate's. Over the years, everything has become commingled but I'm in the process of moving to a much smaller place and I want to keep my own things intact and be able to get the estate's stuff to an archive so others can use it. Better to do it now, while I can make sense of it and before any of it gets lost.

John Vana and I have gotten all of Pepper's music digitally preserved. I've done the same with some of my interview material. The long-term plan is to post everything we discuss in our book on YouTube, with links to it in the book so the music we discuss can come alive for the reader. As for some of the photographs and documents, they too can be linked to things at pepperadams.com. I've been active yet again this week posting more things on my Instagram site. Please take a look. Many other things, such as Pepper Adams' 8-track and cassette tapes, 78rpm records, photographs, letters, and various ephemera I no longer need. Where should this stuff be housed? The Institute of Jazz Studies? William Paterson University? Let me know if you have a good suggestion.

As for pepperadams.com, I'm pleased to report that much new material has been posted in the last few weeks. The most significant update is the overhaul of "Complete Compositions." All 150 or so samples of every commercial recording of Pepper Adams' compositions are once again available. Also, I decided to give Pepper's autobiography its own identity. It used to be subsumed by "Reminiscences." Now "Adams Autobiography" is available at the top of the site for those who need a biographical alternative to Wikipedia. A significant update of about 10% more data has been posted to "Early Years," one of the five sections of the "Adams Chronology." Some minor updates have also been made to "Dates as Leader," "Videos" and Photos (the same as Instagram; see above link). 

By next week at this time I hope to have some answers for you about the direction of the Adams biography.









Sunday, May 14, 2017

Pepper Adams Biography









© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.



Happy Mother's Day to everyone in the U.S. Woefully, mine passed away seven years ago. Life hasn't been the same since, but it rolls on nonetheless. 

For me, the biggest thing now in my life is writing Pepper Adams' biography. After many fits and starts over the last five or so years, about two years ago I finally completed the book's Prologue after wrestling with it for over a year. I had concluded that I needed an argument to present to those who didn't know anything about Adams. Why should they care to read a book about this guy? I wrote the Prologue in two parts. The first section was about Adams in crisis, giving notice to Thad and Mel, then going out on his own as a "single." It turned out to be a great decision for him. From 1977-1983 Adams wrote nearly 20 compositions, made a number of superb recordings as a leader, toured the world, was nominated for four Grammy Awards, and essentially burnished his legacy. Then came the fall: his bizarre car accident, his cancer, the dissolution of his marriage, and his death at age 55.

The second part of the Prologue discusses my personal association with Adams. How I met him, the work we did together on his memoirs, what I witnessed, and so forth. I figured the reader would be interested in that and I wanted to, in a sense, get me out of the way of the book. Nevertheless, I wanted to further my case for how important Adams is, listing a few additional reasons why I feel he's a worthy subject and to set up a few themes in the reader's mind.

Now, several years after writing the Prologue, I'm finding that the writing is really flowing out of me, that I'm on a roll. I've written the first 5-10 pages of Chapter 1. It may not seem like much production but it takes so much time to polish and fully refine each point. I begin with Pepper seeing Charlie Parker for the first time in Detroit at the Mirror Ballroom in 1949. For him, it was a magical moment. Then I write about the transition from Rochester to Detroit: how his relocation came to be and why it was so life-altering. Then, I include a section about Adams' pivotal four-week experience in New York City studying with Ellington tenor saxophonist Skippy Williams. 

My first chapter is entitled "What Is It?," taken from one of Pepper's compositions (from the arcane 1969 MPS date Muses for Richard Davis). Chapter 1 is all about Pepper's Detroit experience. That's the core of his being and where he became a great musician. I just now decided that I'll have a separate chapter on his Korean War experience, unless I feel there's not enough material to make it into a full chpater. Continuing the concept of using Pepper's colorful compositional titles as chapter headings, for the Korea chapter do you prefer "Witches Pit" or "Etude Diabolique?" 

That presupposes a separate chapter for his return to Detroit, 1953-55, before he leaves for New York City. Since I like the title "Urban Dreams" for the New York City chapter, what should I call his three-year period in Detroit? "Joy Road?" "Excerent?" Twelfth and Pingree?" I kind of prefer the third one. As it stands, there will also be a separate chapter on his experience growing up in Rochester, New York. That will be entitled "Inanout."

Working on the Detroit chapter, I've had to go through a ton of material I've accumulated over the years. The last few days I've been sorting stuff germane to Detroit from the rest of it. While doing so, I've found some things worthy of posting on my Instagram site. Have any of you seen it? There's a wealth of material there. You can always get to it by clicking the Instagram icon at the top of pepperadams.com.

For those of you who didn't see the following posted on my Facebook page a few backs ago, here's a quote from Detroit pianist Willie Metcalf (brother of Freddie "Freddie Froo" Metcalf) about Pepper and Sonny Stitt. 

"From roughly 1953 to 1955, Stitt was traveling with three horns including baritone sax. At the Blue Bird one night, Stitt was the featured soloist with a local rhythm section and Pepper Adams. Clarence Edding, the Blue Bird owner, preferred having local horn players, along with the house rhythm section, perform with a guest soloist. This gig would have likely been in the second half of 1953 or 1954, after Adams was discharged from the Army and returned to Detroit for two and a half years. Metcalf said to me in an interview, "Sonny was playing the baritone then, and Pepper was giving him so much static on the baritone. Sonny said, 'Shit, I better put this motherfucker down and pick up my alto!' I heard that [Metcalf said, laughing]. Pepper is just so fluent!" Can we assume that Pepper is one the reasons Stitt dropped the baritone and reverted back to just tenor and alto?"

To a question I asked Metcalf in my interview with him about whether it was ever awkward for Pepper as a white guy in the 1940s and 50s to play in Detroit almost exclusively with black musicians, Metcalf said, "Not the fellas, but more so on the white musicians, because they would comment. I never heard it personally but people have said that some of the white musicians have said 'he played too black.'" About Pepper, Metcalf said, "He was a for-real cat."

Sunday, May 7, 2017

50 Years at the Village Vanguard, Part 2






© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

On March 6 I began writing about 50 Years at the Village Vanguard, Dave Lisik and Eric Allen's extraordinary contribution to jazz literature. My tour of Utah intervened. As I told Eric Allen a few weeks ago, I needed cover to take the time to give the book the attention it deserves. On my Utah trip and soon thereafter, I wrote most of four blog posts to do just that. Now, finally, is my chance to discuss the guts of this amazing book.

The book's cover gives a sense of what's to follow. It features a patchwork of more than 100 photos,  mostly of musicians that performed with the orchestra.

Apart from front and end matter, the book is organized into fourteen chapters, summarized as follows:

1: A History of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra
2. A History of the Mel Lewis Orchestra (after Thad left)
3. A History of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (after Mel's death)
4. Thad Jones' Life and Influence
5. Mel Lewis's Life and Influence
6. Portrait of Bob Brookmeyer
7. Portrait of Jim McNeely
8. Life on the Road (what traveling with a big band is like)
9. The Small Group Within (how the band functioned as a small group)
10. Compositional Legacy
11. The 50th Anniversary Celebration (February, 2016)
12. A Brief History of Max Gordon and the Village Vanguard
13. Discography (with solos identified!)
14. Biographies of current VJO members

Although I've read and enjoyed the entire book, and now have renewed appreciation for the contributions of Jim McNeely, Bob Brookmeyer and other musicians that contributed after Adams left the band in mid 1977, I will focus here mostly on what is germane to Pepper Adams' experience. The first three chapters are compelling, well-written histories of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and the two successor orchestras that Mel Lewis ran until his death in 1990 and that the trio of Dick Oatts, John Mosca and Douglas Purviance run to this day. It includes a lot of fascinating interview material with band members and it describes the impact on the band of Jones' and Lewis' death. Additionally, there are discussions of the loss of other members, such a bassist Dennis Irwin.

Wanting to know who did what on the book, on Apr 20, 2017 I wrote Allen this email:

I'm two chapters away from finishing the book. It's really a terrific contribution to jazz literature! I congratulate you and Dave for persevering. The division of labor: Please refresh my memory. Was Dave the lead writer, in charge of the text, while your main role was in organizing the pictorial aspect of the book?
Gary Carner

Eric's response:

Gary: Thanks for the compliments! Dave and I co-wrote the entire book, sharing and editing documents online. We both conducted interviews. I took the lead on taking photographs and obtaining vintage photographs and other archival materials, but that’s only because I’m in the US and Dave is in New Zealand.

Best,
Eric

It's exciting for me to learn new things about Thad/Mel as it relates to Pepper Adams. As I've been studying Adams and his role in the band for over thirty years, to learn anything new is thrilling. I learned (or relearned?) that Mel Lewis met both Thad Jones and Pepper Adams for the first time at Detroit's legendary after-hours jam session at the West End Hotel. Only a few hours beforehand, Thad and Mel had met for the first time at a "Battle of the Bands" gig for both Basie and Kenton at the Graystone Ballroom. 

Although the authors weren't precisely sure when this took place, I needed to know for my Pepper biography! I turned to jazz research maestro Mike Fitzgerald. He was able to pin down the actual date of the first meeting of Pepper and Mel Lewis through this newspaper ad:




Accordingly, here's the new 1955 entry in my Pepper Adams Chronology:

Aug 30: Detroit: At the early morning jam session at the West End Hotel, Pepper Adams meets Mel Lewis for the first time. Lewis and Thad Jones, too, had first met a few hours earlier at the Graystone Ballroom "Battle of the Bands" between Count Basie and Stan Kenton. (See http://theconcertdatabase.com/sites/theconcertdatabase.com/files/1955-08-29graystone.jpg.)

What else did I learn? For one thing, that Carol Sloane was one of the very first vocalists with Thad/Mel. Info about her allowed me to further refine the date of Sloane's gig with them.

I learned that Alan Grant took Thad/Mel practice tapes done at A&R Studios so he could play excerpts on his WABC radio program and thereby promote the band for their upcoming opening engagement at the Village Vanguard. Whether any collectors recorded these things off the air, and whether the tapes still exist in the Mel Lewis or Alan Grant Archives is unknown.

I didn't know that Thad/Mel got a 10-record deal with Solid State (a brand new subsidiary of United Artists), beginning so soon after their opening at the Vanguard. What were the ten recordings? It's a trick question because in 1969 United Artists (Solid State's parent) merged with Liberty Records (Blue Note's parent). As the authors point out, "Executives felt that one jazz label under the United Artists umbrella was enough and Solid State was soon absorbed by Blue Note Records. This reorganization voided the remainder of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra's contract with Solid State (p. 17)."

Ultimately, six Solid State dated were released, though the band did record one date, Consummation, for Blue Note after the contract was null and void.

1. Presenting Thad Jones/Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra 
2. Presenting Joe Williams and Thad Jones/Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra 
3. Live at the Village Vanguard
4. The Big Band Sound of Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Featuring Miss Ruth Brown 
5. Monday Night
6. Central Park North

There are many things in the book that tickled me. About Pepper Adams' solos on "Once Around," "Balanced Scales = Justice," and "Three and One," Down Beat reviewer Don DeMichael wrote (p. 17), "His work, as always, churns with heated intensity."

Eddie Daniels, about that first reed section, said about Pepper, "Nobody had a voice like Pepper's. He was the only one who could ever play the baritone like that. Pepper was great as a person. He was very warm and friendly. I loved watching him with his eyebrows shooting up when he played a high note."

As for some of the Pepper photos in the book, there's a great shot on page 9 of the band that shows Pepper's Princeton haircut, a wonderful shot of Pepper and Thad in Denmark (p. 16), and a shot of Pepper playing clarinet in 1972 (p. 27). It wasn't long after that date that his clarinet was stolen and he never played clarinet again.

The authors have done an extraordinary job of pulling together from disparate sources important anecdotes about Thad/Mel that contextualize the band. I especially love Jerry Dodgion's comment about A&R engineer Phil Ramone (p 13):

"I must have known hundreds of engineers over the last fifty years but he had something special. We used to rehearse at A&R Studios on 48th Street with Thad and Mel and it turned out to be one of the places we started recording. At the first session, Thad was rehearsing the band and Phil was in the control room. Then Phil came out into the room and said, 'I know how we're hearing it in the control room. Play something for me out here in the studio.' He was the only engineer who did this. . . He would take the time to get the sound he was hearing from the band in the studio identical to what he was getting in the booth. That set Phil Ramone apart from all the other engineers." 

As many of you know, I've done five recordings of Pepper's music. Perhaps technology has changed some but I haven't seen that practice among engineers either.

I love the pictorial range of the book, with all sorts of different documents, such as a page of 45s that the band released, Down Beat Readers Poll results, ads, record reviews, etc. The authors really strived for breadth, to break up what is the general monotony seen in many picture books. In their pictorial of 45 rpm singles released by Thad/Mel, I learned of three new ones: "A' That's Freedom," "Don't Git Sassy" and "Night Time is the Right Time." From David Demsey I learned that "Night Time's" flip side is "Evil Man Blues," not included in the book due to space limitations. Yet another update to my Pepper discography!

While the book was being readied for publication, I was happy to send the authors numerous photos and documents from my archive, all noted by "Courtesy of the Estate of Pepper Adams." Particularly iconic is the shot of Pepper soloing on p. 22 with Thad looking on in the shadows.

I learned for the first time about Pepper Adams' farewell party. That led me to email Allen, Ed Xiques and Dick Oatts about its whereabouts. I assume it took place after their final gig of the 1977 tour, Restaurant Victoria, in Stockholm. Allen wrote me that he learned about it in Will Campbell's Ph.D. dissertation of Dick Oatts. I've written Will for more info and Oatts, who thinks it took place just prior to their flight back to the US. He's been asking around for confirmation.

I like this quote from the book's Introduction (viii): 

"Despite being one of the music's best writers and improvisers, Thad Jones demonstrated great humility and selflessness. Thad was a people person. His insight and genuine interest in his musicians drew their love, loyalty and admiration, and made him one of the most effective bandleaders in jazz history. He encouraged his musicians to write and, rather than using the band to showcase himself exclusively, routinely gave his soloing opportunities to other musicians instead."

This, the authors point out, was the antithesis of the situation for both Thad and Mel in the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band in 1963. The authors point out that "Mulligan's tendency to keep solo space scarce" was a frustration for them as well as the others in the band.

The highlight of the book is Chapter Four, "Thad." Rightfully so, I think, because Thad Jones--his playing, his writing, his conducting, his personality, his spirit-- is central to the band's essence even to this day. Go to the Vanguard on a Monday night and you will always hear Thad's music. 

Apart from Charles Mingus' famous letter to Down Beat gushing about Thad's genius (and about his brother Elvin, too), there are several wonderful quotes from band members that stand out amidst the discussion of Thad's career and his great contribution to jazz. Here's lead trombonist John Mosca's take on Thad's big band arrangements:

"The rhythmic content of his writing is unique and very sophisticated, just as it was in his playing. It all works together and it's hard to isolate one thing. It's melodic, and, at the same time, so dense harmonically. And it all happens in this matrix of great swing and rhythm. He also writes a lot of 'drum work' for the horns; so much of what we play is like drum fills."

"Sanctified" is the way trombonist Benny Powell once described Thad's music and the utter joy it conveys. Pianist and arranger Jim McNeely said (p. 90), "Thad's music has a sense of joy and a sense of swing first of all. . . There was a built-in swing in his writing that, to me, was just overpowering and incredible." As others have recognized, and as I can attest to, Thad's music makes you want to dance. Just listen to "Low Down" and tell me you're not moved.

Then there's Thad Jones' shout choruses, those amazing moments for full ensemble that he writes to conclude his works, such as his utterly brilliant and utterly overwhelming conclusion to "My Centennial" (begin at the 9 minute mark). Says McNeely (p. 92), "The shout choruses get applause from the audience the same way a soloist gets applause. It's remarkable. I've never heard that with anyone else's music. It's because they swing so hard." Baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan said playing them (p. 92), even after many times over the years, still "make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. . . It's indescribable if you've never had a chance to sit in the middle of all that sound." 

The authors give a wonderful sense of what it was like to play Thad's music, with Thad leading the band, and why it was such an amazing experience for the audience. As trumpeter Marvin Stamm said, "Watching Thad lead the band, whether you were playing or in the audience, was just amazing! It was like watching a sculptor; he would mold the music with his hands. Watching him conduct was as much fun as playing the music. He was such as presence--something quite special." 

Says Dick Oatts (p. 92), "There was something magical when he was leading the band. The music was in front of us but anything could change at any moment. . . When he would count off the band, he was as much an improviser as when he was playing. . . . What he had on the page was just an example. He would take it each night and make it something different." Said bassist Rufus Reid about Thad, "He was very dynamic--an imposing figure in front of the band and visually very exciting. The band would roar and his hands would reach to the heavens."

As the authors point out, Thad Jones' magical alchemy--as a soloist, as a composer and conductor, as a leader and inspirational figure, and as a spirit--moved everyone in the band. Says saxophonist Jerry Dodgion (p. 92), "I know that I played over my head for him more than I did with anybody else."

The story (p. 96) told by Dick Oatts about how Thad Jones inspired the band to play an incredible set after a ten-hour exhausting bus ride by getting everyone in the band to first scat to a blues in F is magical. (Gosh, to hear Pepper scat would be incredible, wouldn't it?) The authors really capture Thad's true essence as a leader.

Trumpeter Scott Wendholt's anecdote about Thad inspiring Jerry Dodgion to write arrangements is yet another aspect of Thad's influence:

"When he told Jerry Dodgion, "I want you to write for the band," and Jerry said, 'Oh, but I don't write,' Thad responded with, 'No, I don't accept that. I want you to write for the band.' With anybody else, it would have been easy for Jerry to stick with, 'I don't do that.' But when someone like Thad, with that kind of presence, said it . . . I believe what he was saying was, 'I see something in you that I want to investigate. I want you to write, so I'm not taking no for an answer.'

Jerry Dodgion would go on to write several arrangements for the orchestra, some that the band would record.

The story of how Thad Jones got trombonist Quentin "Butter" Jackson back into playing again after his stroke is just one more amazing example of Thad's profundity as an inspirational figure. As Jerry Dodgion said to the Village Vanguard audience in 2016 during its 50th Anniversary celebration (p. 96), "Thad could get people to do things that they didn't think they could do. He was a giving person, he was a good person and I never saw ego involved in anything he did." 

Thad's willingness to not solo that much, and offer solo space to those in his band, was another way he gave selflessly to his band and drove loyalty. As a soloist, Thad Jones is still vastly undervalued. Pepper Adams told me Thad was his favorite trumpet player because he surprised him the most. Mingus said Thad was the greatest in history, at least up until that point in time. Miles Davis famously said, "I'd rather hear Thad miss a note than Freddie Hubbard hit twelve." Mel Lewis told me in 1988 that Pepper and Thad were the greatest soloists in the band. Said Marvin Stamm (p. 98), "Everyone waited for Thad to pick up his horn, because when he did, he humbled everyone in the room. It wasn't like he was trying to do this; he was just so musically creative that hearing him create these solos made your jaw drop in amazement."

Yet, for some reason Thad wasn't as sure about his trumpet playing as were his peers. The extraordinary story the authors capture of Jerry Dodgion speaking with Thad Jones after a lackluster performance in San Jose (p. 98) is fascinating in this regard:

"Thad came by my room and he said, 'Dodge, we didn't sound so good tonight.' I said, 'Yeah, I know. And I know why, too.' He said, 'Do ya? Tell me.' I said, 'You hardly played any solos tonight. You don't think that's important, but it's very important. You don't see this but I see it and I hear it. When you play, everyone in the band listens. After you play, we sound better.' He said, 'No, that's not possible. .'
Ask anybody who played in the band. When we sounded good, it was because Thad played. Thad was the true improviser in the band. He had the magic and we were his followers. It was unbelievable that he didn't realize he was so good."

Scott Wendholt's story of Jerry Dodgion in tears talking to him on a plane ride about how important Thad Jones was to him is another beautiful moment in this chapter. It puts into perspective the "almost mystical regard," as Wendhold put it, that musicians have for Jones. 

One of the wonderful things about this book, especially in this chapter, is that it conveys Thad Jones' greatness and, in retrospect, how greatly overlooked Thad's profound contribution to jazz has been in the history of this great music. As I've found with Pepper Adams, sometimes one's legacy is so profound that it takes several generations to catch up to it. Thankfully, with this book, Thad Jones scholarship is just beginning to emerge. I hope one day it fills a bookshelf! Lisik and Allen deserve much credit for bringing Thad Jones' amazing legacy to life and elevating it to the exalted place where it belongs.

Just as Thad Jones is underrated as a soloist, so too has Mel Lewis been underrated as a drummer. With Chris Smith's book, The View From the Back of the Band: The Life and Music of Mel Lewis, that status is also beginning to change. The portrait of Mel Lewis in Chapter 5 gives a real sense of his stature. Did you know that Count Basie offered Lewis a gig in 1948, when Mel was nineteen? Because the band was touring the Deep South, Mel was advised not to take the trip. Did you know that Lewis turned down a gig with Basie two years later because he was getting paid more playing with Tex Beneke? Did you know that Duke Ellington tried to hire Lewis in 1960 to temporarily replace Sam Woodyard? Lewis declined because he was already committted to Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band. How about Ellington hiring Mel Lewis permanently in 1963? He was to begin with a State Department tour of Africa that was cancelled due to the assassination of John F. Kennedy.


I spent a very memorable day with Mel Lewis in 1988. I took him out for an al fresco lunch on Broadway near his house on a beautiful, crisp, sunny day. I found him to be forthcoming, gracious and a wonderful raconteur. Although we met to discuss Pepper Adams, his observations ranged all over the place. I plan to blog about that experience, sharing with you his many insights. At one point, in the living room of his West End Avenue apartment, Mel told me, after eating more than a pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, "I know I'm one of the best guys out there. There's me, Art and Max." It seemed a little brash at the time, yet no argument from me, now that I'm fully aware of his playing.

I didn't get it the first time I saw Mel Lewis, when he played a quartet gig at the 1369 Club in Cambridge MA in the mid 1980s. It was Joe Lovano's gig, way before he was famous. Just Lovano and the Mel Lewis Orchestra rhythm section (Werner, Irwin and Lewis.) Mel's playing was so subtle and understated. It was something I didn't quite get at the time: A guy so acclaimed yet his playing is so subtle. As Gary Smulyan said in the book about Mel, "The only thing that would move were his arms. There was no excess motion in his playing" (109). That was part of it that fooled me.

I can tell you that Pepper Adams loved Mel's playing. Who else did? Thad, many members of the big band, and countless others. Why? Because he was selfless and supported the soloists and the band, a quality Pepper Adams really prized. I like Jim McNeeley's comment about Mel: "Mel played with a full  sound and with energy, but I could always hear myself well, which often wasn't the case when I played with other drumers. And Mel was always a master of doing so little with the band and playing the perfect fill or set up. He was the Count Basie of the drums. He always knew how to do the most simple thing that was the perfect set up for what was going to happen" (p 113). Marvin Stamm's quote about Mel's playing is on target too: "He was not playing the drums so much as he was playing the music" (p. 109). All this is something that took me years of listening to Thad/Mel recordings and audience recordings to fully appreciate.

Perhaps Ed Neumeister put it best: "It was really kind of like riding on a magic carpet. You could say he was handing the figures to us on a silver platter. Never overplaying and just laying down the foundation of a groove and setting up what the big band needs without any flash whatsoever. It was really an amazing experience. I didn't truly realize how great he was until he was gone and there was that vacuum there."  

One of his great attributes was his ability to set up figures and always indicate where in the arrangement the band was at the time. I was struck by the comment in the book that Mel would read a chart once, then have it. The charts Thad/Mel, etc played were extremely complex, yet he knew all the parts and how to accentuate each one and set up figures for the band. Ed Neumeister said, "Mel was a great reader but he rarely read. He would normally only read something the first time through" (p. 109)." That possibly suggests a photographic memory. 

I'm pleased that the authors have a chapter dedicated to Thad and Mel's small group concept. It shows that they fully understand how the band was conceptualized. Pianist Kenny Werner's quote about the band's uniqueness as a small group vehicle really puts this in perspective. While he echoes others, who say that the ability for musicians to stretch out in Thad/Mel was totally unique, Werner goes further: "It didn't happen before Thad and Mel and it really didn't happen after Mel. So you'd have to say that type of small group play is unique to this particular band" (p. 198). 

Also in this chapter, Gary Smulyan describes how satisfying the Thad/Mel book is for baritone saxophone, unlike most bands, where "the tenor players play, the alto players play, and, once in awhile, the baritone player gets thrown a bone":

"There's a lot of opportunity to play in this band. Thad framed a lot of his arrangements around Pepper's sound and Pepper's concept of harmony. As a baritone player, I feel very fortunate to be able to play this music because we do get a chance to stretch out and there are a lot of tunes written that feature the baritone. In that sense, it's an unusual situation."

In Chapter 12, musicians and fans remark about how unchanged the Village Vanguard is, how as a jazz shrine it evokes in its sameness the essence and aura it had when Rollins, Coltrane, Bill Evans and so many others recorded there. That's true. I feel the same when I go there. At the risk of quibbling, though, there are two things I would point out that have changed. One is trivial, actually. There used to be a kitchen. You used to be able to order hamburgers. If I recall, Elton was the guy in charge. That was phased out I believe in the 1970s or 80s. I don't care that much about it. I don't go to the Vanguard to eat! 

The thing that is a change that I don't like is amplification. In a small room with great acoustics, why amplfy a big band? Perhaps it's necessary for a small group but a big band doesn't make sense. Some of my greatest moments as a listener was sitting on the banquet next to the pole where Pepper Adams sat all those years. Whether it was for the VJO or a small group, I was three feet from the band. Now, due to the volume level, I sit in back. The banquet now, with amplification, would cause hearing loss.

Ch. 12 also reminds me that there's no photo on the Vanguard walls of Pepper Adams. I wrote to Dick Oatts about it. He pointed out that, while Pepper is certainly worthy, there are hundreds of musicians that don't have framed photographs at the Vanguard. Moreover, it's not something he can suggest. It's decided on by management. Better for me to focus my energies on a more worthwhile pursuit, like the Pepper biography.

This from Eric Allen: "Since we are self-publishing the book, would you please mention our website as the only place it can be purchased?": ThadMelVJOBook.com

My advice?: BUY IT!