Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Life and Music of Pepper Adams?

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

I've been reading Halsey Stevens' The Life and Music of Bela Bartok (revised, 1964). I've had a paperback copy in my library for over twenty years. Its cover price is $4.50. Remember that? That's when a gallon of gas in the U.S. was 25 cents. 

What I especially like about the book is the way it's organized. The first section is a 100 page biography, followed by a 200 page section about Bartok's music. The second part is subdivided into seven chapters: Piano Music, Vocal Music, Chamber Music (2 parts), Concertos, Orchestral Music, Dramatic Music. I'm seriously considering doing my second Pepper book this way. For one thing it places far greater emphasis on Pepper's place as an original soloist, influential stylist and fine composer. It also allows those who want to read the bio separately to do so. A shorter biography allows me to get it done much sooner and a section on Pepper's music lets me cover in great detail his extraordinary achievements. 

How should I segment the second section? Maybe by dividing his recordings up as I have in the Chronology and in Pepper Adams' Joy Road?: Early Years, Donald Byrd-Pepper Adams Quintet, Journeyman, Thad, International Soloist? That might work. I'd also add separate sections on his compositions and arrangements. I could even discuss his commercial work: all those overdubs he did for CTI, Atlantic, etc. from around 1968-1975. 

Then again maybe a more thematic approach might be better? I could do separate discussions of his dates as a leader, his work with big bands (Kenton, Shorty Rogers, Maynard Ferguson, Lionel Hampton, Quincy Jones, Duke Pearson, Dizzy Gillespie, Thad Jones-Mel Lewis), his small group work, his dates as featured soloist, and so forth including commercial work, compositions/arrangements, etc.

As for the biography, the plan was always to zig-zag thematically, using fictional devices such as flashbacks, flash-forwards, etc. Pepper hated cliches so why treat his life in a trite manner?

I remember telling Martin Williams in the late 1980s--who first contracted the biography for publication by the Smithsonian Institution in 1990--that I liked Steven's approach. It seems I've come full circle! I welcome your suggestions on what you think I should do.


  1. Sounds like you've got this figured out. The fact that Pepper's music CAN (and almost must) be presented chronologically is in conflict with the use of "thematic zig-zags" in bringing to "life" someone's life (in the biography). Your proposal seems like the ideal workaround.

    1. Thanks for your feedback. I think the music section of the book will sort itself out once I begin writing. I'm more in favor of a thematic approach for this part that doesn't ape my book or website. For example, I like doing an assessment of the totality of Pepper's big band work--Kenton, Benny Goodman, Shorty Rogers, Maynard Ferguson, Quincy Jones, Woody Herman, Thelonious Monk, etc as one chapter, with Thad Jones-Mel Lewis as an obvious second part to pull all that work together. It could run somewhat chronologically but who knows. Another section could be Pepper as a featured soloist, Pepper's commercial work, Pepper's dates as leader, and so forth.