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.