Sunday, January 29, 2017

Biography Update

Here's my first post of 2017. I caught the flu in late December while on vacation, then got blogged down in catch-up activities for much of the new year.

Apart from my day job, I'm happy to report that things have been moving ahead on my Pepper Adams research. My focus throughout 2017 is researching and writing the section of Adams' biography regarding his time in Detroit. Pepper considered himself a Detroiter through and through, so this is a very important part of the book. In order to make sense of it, I've had to read several books and articles, and comb my notes for things germane to that experience. I've also been listening again to all the personal interviews I conducted with Detroiters.

A few weeks ago I conducted an hour-long interview with Bennie Maupin. That was quite interesting. Maupin came of age in the fifties and was influenced by Adams, Yusef Lateef and Joe Henderson, among other Detroit musicians. Generally speaking, I've stopped doing interviews about Pepper, except those related to the Detroit experience. A forthcoming interview with Detroit pianist Charles Boles will likely be my last one this year.

It's not just the world Adams inhabited that intrigues me. It's also the music culture of Detroit. How did it come to be? How is it that so many great jazz musicians (and musicians of all styles) come from that city? No one has really pinned it down. Additionally, what was it about Pepper's amazing generation of musicians that brought it to fruition? How unique in jazz history is it? I'm pleased to say that a picture is beginning to emerge.

In the great biographies, I commonly see some kind of sweeping historical context conveyed about why and how its subject fits into its milieu. There's an explanation of the city he grew up in, for example, and how that informed his experience. It's this kind of narrative that I'm after for Pepper's biography, and he certainly deserves no less. That's why I've been reading all these books. Here's the ones most important so far:

Austin, Dan. Lost Detroit: Stories Behind the Motor City's Majestic Ruins. Charleston SC: History Press, 2010.

Bjorn, Lars; Jim Gallert. Before Motown: A History of Jazz in Detroit: 1920-1960. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2001.

Goldstein, Laurence, editor. "Detroit: An American City." Michigan Quarterly Review, Spring, 1986

Lemann, Nicholas. The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America. New York: Vintage, 1991.

Lewis, David L.; Laurence Goldstein, editors. The Automobile and American Culture. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1991.

Martelle, Scott. Detroit: A Biography. Chicago: Chicago Review, 2012.

Sugrue, Thomas J. The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. Princeton: Princeton University, 1966.

I'm currently reading my last book about Detroit: The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit: Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor by Nelson Lichtenstein. I was very impressed by, and highly recommend, the documentary film Brothers on the Line (2012), directed by Sasha Reuther.

During the last month or so I also took two left turns to read Michael Segell's wonderful The Devil's Horn: The Story of the Saxophone, From Noisy Novelty to King of Cool and Vladimir Simosko's Serge Chaloff: A Musical Biography and Discography.

For context, I also watched again two TV shows about Pepper's friend, the great American poet Phil Levine. He's interviewed by Bill Moyers here:; and by Jeffrey Brown here:

I'll be summarizing my observations about Pepper Adams' great generation of postwar musicians in a few lectures I'll be doing in Utah in March and early April. Maybe I'll see you there? I'll be at Utah State in Logan for a few days as part of a residency, and also at Westminster College and Salt Lake Community College. A few other schools are possibilities too. At Utah State, the university big band is performing big band charts of Pepper's music, arranged by Tony Faulkner, featuring guest soloist Jason Marshall.

For those of you who haven't seen my recent Facebook posts, these two amazing Lionel Hampton videos were just posted on YouTube:

Both are from 1964, Pepper's first trip to Europe. They include two magnificent solos and are his earliest known videos (at age 34).
                                                            (Bennie Maupin)