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

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."

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