Saturday, May 3, 2014

Lost in Translation: A New Review of Pepper Adams' Joy Road

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Below is David Demsey's review of my Pepper book for the e-magazine Saxophone Today. He originally wrote it some time ago for Saxophone Journal but the magazine went through a reorganization and the piece was orphaned for a while.

Gary CarnerPepper Adams’ Joy Road: An Annotated Discography [Scarecrow Press, $57.95].  Recommended for: jazz fans and teachers, libraries.

This is, on the surface, a book-sized discography, a listing of all known recordings of the great baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams. Butthe academic-sounding “discography” category does not adequately describe the exhaustive work that author Gary Carner has done to tell the story of Adams’ life in what amounts to a gig-by-gig, session-by-session biography.

Park “Pepper” Adams, one of the greatest jazz baritone saxophone voices since bebop, grew up in Detroit and there had instruction from Wardell Gray, undertook early collaborations with fellow Detroiters Barry Harris, Billy Mitchell, then in the bands of Lucky Thompson and others.  By his late twenties, he was a member of the house band at the famous Blue Bird jazz club, and there became close musical associates with one of the great “royal families” of jazz: Thad, Elvin and Hank Jones. He worked endless gigs with them, in their own band as well as accompanying major soloists as they came through town. Later, he became a member of Stan Kenton’s band and with Benny Goodman, and co-led groups with Donald Byrd and others. Perhaps his most well-known association was with Thad Jones, as a member of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra from its inception through 1977, and also recording in small groups with Thad, including the historic “Mean What You Say” LP.   Baseball fans will love the fact that Adams got his nickname from St. Louis Cardinals Gashouse Gang ballplayer Pepper Martin because of his uncanny physical resemblance to Martin as a kid.

Author Carner spent decades devoting his life’s work to gathering information on every performance recording that existed on Adams – not just his many studio sessions, but also hundreds of live performance tapes. With discographical precision, each of these concerts and recording sessions is painstakingly chronicled in terms of exact date, personnel, and pieces recorded. But, what makes this book into a virtual biography is the number of interviews with other members of those ensembles that accompany many entries, often discussing not only that particular date but also other anecdotes and aspects of membership in that group, including tour details, stories of other sessions and engagements that were not recorded, etc. There are interviews with nearly every surviving member of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, and with dozens upon dozens of other musicians, record producers and concertgoers.

The reader’s first reaction to this book is to seek out some of Adams’ wonderful compositions, and recordings of these gigs; Carner has done that work as well, with the same energy that created the book, through his beautifully assembled website,  This first-rate site can act as a companion to this book. For example, the “Compositions” section shows a complete list of Adams’ compositions; clicking on each composition brings up audio of each of the recordings of that composition, and passing the arrow over the entry shows the album cover.

Also now available is The Complete Works of Pepper Adams, Volumes 1-5, recorded by contemporary artists including Gary Smulyan, Frank Basile, Eric Alexander, Alexis Cole and others.

All information and huge Pepper Adams resource:


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