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.