Sunday, June 6, 2021

Additions to Pepper's Biography


In terms of moving ahead with Adams’s biography, May was quite a productive month and June has started with a bang. The three most important things that occurred were author Mark Stryker reviewing and improving Chapter Four, the discovery of Marc Vasey’s 1985 interview with Adams, and the emergence of Pepper’s cousin, Sandra Adams. Stryker was for years the jazz and arts writer for the Detroit Free Press, who in the last few years of his gig also covered for the newspaper local Detroit politics. Stryker is a wonderful writer who has many years of experience with Detroit’s jazz scene. Last year he published Jazz from Detroit, his account of Detroit’s jazz history. The book includes a number of vignettes about legendary Detroit musicians, though he told me he chose not to cover Pepper in a separate chapter because of restrictions on the length of the book and because of my work on him. Stryker had much to say about my chapter about Pepper and Detroit from 1953 through 1955, and his observations led to some significant corrections. Many thanks to him for improving the manuscript.

For sixty years trumpeter Marc Vasey was involved with jazz, most notably in the Edmonton, Alberta area. During that time, he became very friendly with Pepper, producing many concerts of his there beginning in 1972. In 1985 he sat down with Adams and conducted a far-ranging interview with him, intended for broadcast. I’m only a third of the way through the conversation but it’s already sent me back to the manuscript to add new info and alter some of my text. More, I’m sure, will be added in the next few weeks.

Lastly, thanks to webmaster Dan Olson, only in the last few days I’ve been put in touch with Sandra Adams, Pepper’s cousin. Sandy is the grandchild of Harry Albert Adams, Pepper’s uncle. She has done considerable genealogical research about her family, and, like Vasey, her recollections sent me back to the manuscript to add color to the text. In the weeks to come, we do hope to post the Adams genealogy that Dan and I have been assembling for some time.

Notes from the first 25 minutes of Marc Vasey’s interview with Pepper Adams, November, 1985. Quotes are from Adams:

Little John and His Merrymen: Essentially, the house band at Club Valley was John Wilson’s band. Wilson was a good lead player who played with Lunceford, though not much of a soloist. 7 pieces: tp, as; ts; bs; plus three rhythm (p; b; dm). Alto was mostly Cleveland Willie Smith, a disciple of Tadd Dameron, who wrote most of the arrangements. Adams wrote a few and Frank Foster wrote some, once he joined the band. Tenor at first was Warren Hickey, who was in one of Gillespie’s first big bands. Yusef Lateef replaced him, then Foster. James Glover was their bassist, who had played with Dinah Washington.

1950s Detroit club scene: “It was then in the process of changing, in that the money was fleeing downtown for the suburbs, and once it got to the suburbs it stayed there.”

On moving back to Detroit after discharge from the army: “It seemed like a good time to accumulate a little money, not a great deal, but enough to get a start going in New York.” Clarinet: “I actually continued playing clarinet much longer than I really wanted to because Thad wrote a few things in my book calling for clarinet. And I hated it. As much as I loved to play clarinet, when you have a baritone book there with about five or six pieces calling for clarinet, no matter how well you warm up at the beginning of the evening, the first piece isn’t going to be called until about three hours later, and the reed has now become corrugated, and the instrument is cold and out of tune. And so that’s no fun at all. Fortunately, clarinets are pretty small and are easy to steal. By the time about the third one got stolen, I convinced Thaddeus it just wasn’t worth it. So since that event, I have happily subsisted with only the one instrument to worry about.”

Leo Parker: “. . . Leo Parker, who I heard live a couple of times. I think he played better than the records tend to indicate.”

Tate Houston: “. . . Tate Houston in Detroit, who was a fine baritone player, a fine soloist. . . .Tate was not very much into harmonic exploration, but just playing the simple changes and playing with good time, which, in itself, was extraordinary on the baritone.”

About his NYC union-card transfer: “For six months you were not supposed to take more than two jobs a week and you’re not supposed to travel at all.” Because he joined Stan Kenton’s band before the six-month period was over, he gave the union Elvin Jones’s address of 202 Thompson Street and asked him to cover for him if and when the union’s representative came around to verify Adams’s whereabouts. On one day, Elvin signed for Pepper when an out-of-shape, exasperated union rep looking for Adams trudged too many times on the same day up to Jones’s apartment on the top floor of a five-floor walk-up.

First NYC gigs: Some were small-group things with Oscar Pettiford.

Charles Mingus: “I would go and work with him for a week or two if he had some extra payroll and could squeeze another horn into a gig and make it a sextet rather than a quintet. I would often get the call because I knew at least some of the music and could figure out enough so I wouldn’t be totally out of place. . . . Some of the bands were fun and some of the music was good, but some of the 45-minute speeches from the bandstand were rather embarrassing. . . . He could be a difficult man to deal with at times.”

Byrd-Adams recordings: “Some of them are not up to the standard that the band played night after night. . . . Blue Note seemed to want to add another horn, so of course it’s not the band that’s working all the time. So we had to write new arrangements and change everything. Blue Note always wanted some things a shuffle, no matter what, on every album, which we were able to avoid on the live album [from the Half Note] . . . to make it commercial. They were very interested in trying to get something that was saleable.”

Duke Pearson Big Band: “Duke Pearson had a really nice band. . . how ill-served that band was by Blue Note. The band only made two albums and neither one really showed how really musical that band is. Each one did have its boogaloo attempt in it, and one of them is really poorly recorded. . . Although each album does have some terrific things in it, neither one shows what a good band that band was.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Pepper Doings, April 2021


Before signing off on Chapter Three, my account of

Adams’s experience in the US Army, I decided to send

my final draft to a reader for his feedback. Although this

is one of my shortest chapters, I think I’ve been dealing

with this material for such a long time that perhaps I’ve

lost some perspective. Hopefully he’ll agree that it’s in

OK shape and, apart from some minor changes, I can

finally put it to bed.

I started a demanding full-time job five weeks ago and

my progress on the book has been slowed down. I still

think I’m on track to publish in September, but the most

important thing is to ensure that it’s in the best shape

that I can muster.

I’m excited to report that a very significant cache of

Pepper tapes and interviews have recently been trans-

ferred to a producer/musician who is restoring them,

releasing some of it to the public, and making all of it

available to me for study. Although I can’t yet reveal

the source of the material or its newfound recipient,

I’ve been aware of the collection for over thirty years

and am so excited that I’ll soon have a chance to

analyze the material and consider it for inclusion in

the biography. Typically, all of Pepper’s interviews

yield gems, so it’s likely that I’ll discover something

new for the book. 

The Adams discography has been updated with new


Yesterday I had a wonderful conversation with the

eminent blogger Michael Steinman. He’s perhaps the

first person who really understands what I’ve tried to

do with the narrative structure of the biography, and

who has the breadth of knowledge about the subject

to truly grasp how I tried to diverge from the typical birth-

to-grave, tragedy or romance, cliched approach. After

our call, he wrote this wonderful blurb that I’ll be using

as advance praise


Most jazz biographies are predictable chronologies of gigs

and recordings, friendships and rivalries, kindness and cruelty.

We know how they start; we know how they end. Carner’s

admiring multi-dimensional portrait of Pepper Adams is a

delightful corrective. Irresistibly, it floats from story to story.

I couldn't wait to find out what happens next. Even if readers

know Pepper only as a bracing, lovely sound, before we are

ten pages in we are happily encountering him as a fully-

rounded person, reading Yeats, eating ribs, impatient with

cliche, searching and finding wherever he goes. It takes lung

power to play the baritone saxophone: this biography has the

breath of life.   


Michael Steinman

Author, Jazz Lives blog


Next weekend I’ll get a jump on Chapter Four corrections.

Happy springtime. 

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Audiobook Anyone?


After a year of pleading, I finally acquired five tunes from

Adams’s November 16, 1985 gig from the Bassment (yes,

that’s the correct spelling) in Saskatoon, Canada. Already

deep into his cancer, Adams sounds tremendous. That

further suggests to me that he played superbly throughout

at least February, 1986, after which his illness and

medical treatments appreciably wore him down. Unfortunately,

there are precious few Adams audience recordings after that

time, though the few that exist suggest a lessening of his

powers in his last eight months of life.

Earlier in the month, I decided to pour through one last box of

notes, sorted as “Analysis,” that I had been saving. I wondered

if I made any observations that might be germane to the

biography, whether overtly or even obliquely. I turned out that,

yes, I had a few scraps of paper with notes on them that I could

actually use. Some regarded comments I scribbled about certain

recordings. I also discovered at long last three missing pages from

my Adams interview transcript in which he talks about his fondness

for Francis Poulenc and William Walton. I was able to add that, as

well as some notes about the diminished scale and Clark Terry’s

comment to me about Ellington’s “Jack the Bear” and how that’s

the likely source for Pepper's composing for bass and baritone as

two voices. 

Lastly, I received from one of my final readers a few minor corrections

regarding the biography's front matter. I’m awaiting his critique of

Chapters 1-4 (1930-1955), plus another reader’s critique of Chapters

5-12 (1956-1986). Work still continues on the book’s directory of 450

tunes. It’s really incredible to have a kind of “Best of” collection all in

one place, without having to scramble for tracks on an LP, cassette, or

CD. I think you’re going to be amazed by this addition to the eBook.

I’m still on track for a September, 2021 release.  

To that aim, in the last week I tightened up my Prologue and first

chapter with some editorial improvements. I’ve also decided (I had

forgotten about it) to produce an audiobook version of the biography.

Perhaps that will take away some of the sting of it only at first being

released as an eBook? Can anyone advise me on how to go about

this? Is iTunes or Amazon the preferred vehicle? Any idea on pricing? 

I’ve got some upcoming Zoom lectures at Ball State University, the

University of Wisconsin, Appalachian State, and the University of

Missouri. If any are recorded, I may share them at

All the best!


Sunday, February 28, 2021



I’m in the homestretch before beginning to format the eBook. I only have two more readers remaining. The esteemed Brian Priestley just sent me about forty corrections regarding my second half of the bio. Although most are typos, a few are very astute historical corrections, such as the date Birdland stopped promoting jazz and identifying Kenton’s “Intermission Riff.” I'm awaiting one more critique, then I pass it on to my penultimate reader. Once done with any corrections, it’s passed to my final reader to double-check I didn’t screw up anything.

Priestley mentioned that my reverse chronology was a little hard to follow in Ch. 5. I’ve since reconfigured the chapter, subdividing it into two, and moving some of the text to another chapter. 

My webmaster is building a 450-tune directory for the final eBook. Half the tunes have never been heard; some amazing music. That’s hundreds of new Pepper Adams, mostly from audience recordings. About this, see:


Monday, February 1, 2021

Reflectory due in September


The improved hi-def version of Pete Lukas’s Reflectory book cover has been

finished and it looks great. Other last-minute details are shaping up before

publication of my 400-page Adams biography. I’ve gone through a final editing

pass of Chapters 1-3, with 4 awaiting. After that’s done, “Ascent,” the first half

of the biography will be done, though I’ll likely read it one last time as a hard


I’m awaiting one reader’s comments, who will soon be starting his look at my

second half. Then I’ll  incorporate his recommendations, send it off to another

reader, then read through them twice before printing it as a hard copy and

making my absolutely final pass.

Two other things need to be done before publication. First, I have to embed

all the music links in the text. Before they’re active, they have to be posted at

in a directory, only available to future purchasers of the book. Lastly, the text

needs to be formatted as per Lulu’s instructions to produce their version of an

eBook. A summer or September publication date is starting to look likely. 

Here’s some advance praise:

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Blowin' Hot and Cool


© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Happy New Year everybody! We made it through 2020. A few days ago, on

New Year’s Eve, I sent my final draft of the first part of the Adams bio to two

readers for final comments and edits. After emailing them, in a rush of excite-

ment, I commanded my new Amazon Echo to play Pepper Adams, and, lo

and behold, the first tune it played was “Time on My Hands.” How prophetic!

In recognition of finally concluding my work on the biography, last week I de-

cided, as a kind of rite of passage, to finally read John Gennari’s exhaustive

study of jazz criticism that he published in 2005. I figured it’s the least I could

do, considering all the time he spent reviewing my Adams manuscript. If

nothing else, I thought, I could catch up on various topics, such as gender,

black, and literary studies, or the vicissitudes of the various culture wars, that

have ensued since I walked away from academia in the nineties. Maybe, too,

I could use snippets here and there as a clever way to do some fact-checking

on my bio, or even buttress some of my commentary with a few of his pithy


I say pithy because I’ve known John since around 1990, when I invited him to

write an article on the history of jazz criticism for an anthology of articles about

jazz literature I was editing for the Black American Literature Forum. Pithy, also,

because his keen intellect, expansive knowledge of jazz and American culture,

and wonderful prose style, I felt, was bound to reveal some clever turns of

phrase I could grab, or interesting perspectives to reconsider, for my bio at the

eleventh hour. 

Since the publication of his terrific article, Gennari spent the next fifteen years

researching the field, reading widely, and writing about his many observations.

The result is Blowin’ Hot and Cool: Jazz and Its Critics, one of the most

important books ever written about jazz. Jazz fans love to talk about “desert

island records,” the handful of indispensable recordings they would want with

them if they got marooned on a desert island a la Tom Hanks in Cast Away,

Similarly, Gennari’s book is definitely one of a handful of books that I’d want

with me if I was washed up somewhere. I recommend it to anyone who wants

a much fuller appreciation of the art form.

What Gennari has achieved is no less than a dazzling literature review of

jazz’s history, but as seen through the writings of many of its most distinguish-

ed English-language commentators. So many of the early jazz histories that

he discusses and comprised my very large and now defunct jazz library (that

I donated to Georgia State University) are books I’ve never had a chance to

read. Gennari summarizes each work with depth, showing how they in-

fluenced jazz discourse, commerce, and subsequent generations of writers.

Written with wit, unprecedented erudition, and an impressive command of the

subject, I was blown away by its breadth. To his credit, this monumental book

is not a history of jazz’s recordings or musicians per se, though the author

discusses many. Instead, unlike all other studies of jazz, he has moved the

focus from musicians to, as he writes, “the channels of distribution to make a

less static model of jazz.” In this manner he discusses how jazz critics served

as middle-men arbiters between the musicians and their audience, and he

analyzes their many sectarian arguments and how they influenced the history

of the music, all the while bringing to bear his deep understanding of gender,

literary, political/historical, and American cultural studies. 

Thumbing through the book, it’s amazing how much ground Gennari covers,

and it’s clear why he needed fifteen years to finish his exhaustive study.

There’s just nothing like it. Here’s someone who has listened widely, thought

deeply, and probably read more thoroughly about jazz than anyone before or

since. With his singular focus, he’s certainly a man after my own heart.

As a biographer, I greatly enjoyed all of the biographical portraits in the book.

Some, such as the ones about Leonard Feather and John Hammond, for

example, are rendered at considerable length and crafted with tremendous

grace. In the great Whitney Balliett tradition, they give the book a real sense

of immediacy, and nicely counterbalance some of his more weighty intellectual

forays. Further, they served as a source of nostalgia for me, rekindling my past

associations with a number of prominent jazz writers, most notably Martin

Williams, Nat Hentoff, Dan Morgenstern, Gary Giddins, Stanley Crouch, and

especially Albert Goldman, but also others I’ve come in contact with over the

years, such as Barry Ulanov, John Szwed, Bob Blumenthal, and Francis Davis.

It made me recall the time John Hammond popped in one day as a guest of

John Lewis’s, who was teaching the jazz history survey class I took at City

College of New York in the early 1980s. It also rekindled my memory of the

only experience I had with Nat Hentoff, when I needed to get his permission to

republish a piece he wrote on Miles Davis. How cranky and miserable a person

I felt he was; what a difficult shit, I was left thinking.

In Gennari’s description about record collectors’ zeal for hunting down obscure

recordings, I remembered those times in my teens when I took hour-long bus

rides from the northern New Jersey suburbs to the Port Authority bus station,

then walked to 42nd Street to comb record stores for obscure blues records

recorded by Arhoolie, Delmark, and other independent labels. In the 1970s,

42nd Street was really dicey. I always walked the streets really quickly and

moved with a palpable unease until I reached my destination.  

In the end, yes, Gennari’s book did help me ground some of the comments I

made in Reflectory, my forthcoming Adams bio. I added a few new quotes to

further contextualize my points, some regarding “The White Negro,” and how

the rock/youth culture affected jazz after Pepper Adams moved to New York


As I get my ideas together for a six-week jazz history class for college edu-

cated Georgian adults, I wonder how Gennari’s book will inform me. The class,

“Jazz Lives,” borrows its title from Michael Steinman’s blog, in which he says

that “lives” is both a verb and a noun. Will I lean towards the deification of four

or five jazz figures I’m covering? Will I present portraits of their lives? Maybe I

will come up with my own synthesis? I’m not sure, though the class begins on

January 13. One thing that still sings for me, and will serve as a kind of mantra

for the class, is this from Blowin’ Hot: “Because jazz demands that musicians

find their own sound and stamp their performances with a singular individuality,

those who succeed in music tend to be distinctive, singular individuals.”