Saturday, December 27, 2014

Looking Ahead to 2015

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas (that ever so conveniently rolled into the weekend). 2015 looks like an exciting year for my Pepper Adams work. As always, I continue to revise the Chronology and Discography whenever new information presents itself. As it turns out, some new data has surfaced recently. Now that all the databases are in PDF format, I'll be updating quarterly. The next update will take place in January.

I continue to look for lecture opportunities. If anyone works at a college and is interested in having me give a talk on Pepper, please let me know. Since the 2012 publication of Pepper Adams'Joy Road I've done about fifty such talks. I love doing them because most students don't know anything about Pepper. Such is the state of jazz history survey courses and textbooks to this day. Because Pepper remains an historical footnote, I always get out to spread the word.

The biggest project of 2015 is the CD issue of Ephemera. Although available on iTunes, it's amazing that the date has never been issued on CD. Tony Williams of Spotlite recently sent the original master to Robin Springall at Repeat Performance in London and the date sounds magnificent! I think it will sound even better if Mel Lewis' drums are brought up in volume. His brushwork is too low and his toms need more definition.

As I wrote a few weeks back, Pepper asked that all alternates from the first day be destroyed, due to some ridiculous antics that took place in the studio. Hence, everything on the date is a first take from Day Two. I hadn't heard Bouncing with Bud, Jitterbug Waltz, Quiet Lady or Hellure in years. What a joy to hear this great music again, especially Quiet Lady. I completely forgot what a brilliant performance this is, right up there perhaps with Day Dream and I've Just Seen Her as one of Pepper's greatest studio ballad performances. Roland Hanna steals the show with his unaccompanied intro, solo, and spectacular unaccompanied coda and Pepper really lays way back in his time on the theme and in his solo.

Bouncing with Bud brings tears to my eyes. It so perfectly captures the language of the 1950s and is played so well by the ensemble. Adams' arrangement of the tune is quite daring. Mel Lewis takes an unaccompanied solo after Hanna's, then George Mraz solos before Pepper. The delay of Adams' solo builds tension, released by Pepper's dramatic entrance. The tune, almost eleven minutes long, feels like a club date performance.

Ah, how about that Adams ballad atmosphere? Is there anything else like it? Civilization and Its Discontents is such an amazing thing, isn't it?

Mel Lewis' driving percussion on Jitterbug Waltz is just wonderful. How about his unaccompanied intro to the tune? What a fine arranging decision on Pepper's part, as is the terraced dynamics in the theme. As I wrote a few weeks ago, Ephemera is one of Pepper's masterpieces. I eagerly look forward to writing new liner notes.

I'll let you know about the timeline of Clarion Jazz reissue. Early September still looks reasonable at this point but no word yet about that from Dale Fielder. Happy New Year everybody! 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Word About Mean What You Say

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

On a long drive this morning I listened to Mean What You Say, the only studio recording ever made by the Thad Jones-Pepper Adams Quintet. Although the group (with Mel Lewis) continued to work throughout the '60s and '70s, much to Pepper's disappointment the group was eclipsed by the establishment of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra.

Mean What You Say is a record that I've always held in very high esteem, one that I've heard thirty or more times though not recently. What struck me today is just how spectacular a recording it is, how fresh it still seems, how original Thad Jones' small group arrangements are, how wonderful the tunes are (with two waltzes and no ballads) and how great Thad's soloing is throughout. Actually, everyon e plays brilliantly, including Duke Pearson, who, despite his Blue Note A&R gig was still a very strong soloist in mid-1966.

This is a recording of historic proportions on so many levels. It's one that should be dissected in jazz texts and wildly appreciated as one of the seminal recordings of the 1960s and in jazz history, just as Kind of Blue or A Love Supreme are discussed. Woefully, it's completely overlooked by critics, authors, jazz fans and even musicians.

First, the personnel: Thad Jones flh; Pepper Adams bs; Duke Pearson p; Ron Carter b; Mel Lewis dm.
Three Detroiters plus one honorary Detroiter in Mel Lewis (though from Buffalo, but with that wide Elvin Jones kind of beat). Add Atlanta's Duke Pearson, a close friend of Pepper's. What a band, all playing at their best! In fact, for those very familiar with Thad Jones' playing, has he ever sounded better? It's certainly the best Thad playing I've heard! With his performance it's easy to understand how revered he is by brass players, who have placed him firmly in the trumpet lineage right in there after Dizzy, Clark Terry and Miles, and before Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw.

The next thing that struck me about Mean What You Say is Thad and Pepper's phrasing. Their dynamics and time feel lock up as if they were together for many years. In fact, the band was only playing gigs on and off for about a year, but it shows.

The tunes? The title tune should be a standard of the jazz repertoire. Why aren't musicians besides Peter Leitch and Gary Smulyan playing it? Thad's "Bossa Nova Ova," one of the hippest bossas I've ever heard, is a spectacular Thad arrangement with a dazzling soli. Why isn't this being played? Can you believe Mel Lewis' amazing Latin playing on this tune? 

The uptempo Burt Bacharach waltz "Wives and Lovers?" What a great tune. Musicians are asleep on this one too. Duke Pearson's great tune "Chant," better know and which Pepper had recorded twice before with the Byrd-Adams Quintet (once with Pearson at Live at the Half Note), is another tune that should be a standard. How about Thad's outlandish arrangement on this version? 

For those who think Pepper was an extreme double-time player who couldn't play with sensitivity, check out his (and Thad's) beautiful, behind-the-beat, amazingly poignant solos on Ron Carter's "Little Waltz?" So much for that stereotype.

Thad's hip "H and T Blues?" (Does that stand for Hank and Thad, by any chance?) Thad's swinging "No Refill." Que pasa? Why aren't musicians playing these tunes? 

And how can you top the wonderful slapstick rendition of "Yes Sir, That's My Baby?" Here Thad and Pepper hilariously deconstruct the tune as if they're 11-year-old struggling jazz soloists, then re-equilibrate, as a startling contrast, and completely tear it up. Dick Katz, who was Milestone's A&R man, told me that Thad's solo is "historic." Milestone's Orrin Keepnews was horrified by the band's approach but what a way to evoke musical satire!

The only flaw I can speak to on this dazzling landmark recording is Pepper's sound on the Fantasy digital remaster. Like the original it still has far too much reverb. I'm surprised it's not repaired but, again, another lame decision made about the date without understanding its real significance. 

Significance? Yes, five of the greatest musicians of their time playing absolutely unique and brilliant arrangements by one of jazz's greatest arrangers, with soloists all at the top of their game. I want to hear from you about this recording. Isn't it a "dessert island recording" and one that's been completely overlooked?

Photo by Rick Mattingly
Mel Lewis

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Ephemera to be Reissued in 2015!

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Just a few minutes ago I awoke to an email from Tony Williams, owner of Spotlite Records. Williams wanted to let me know that he transferred from the original master all seven of the magical tracks from Pepper Adams' date Ephemera that he produced 41 years ago. Williams is mailing me a copy of the CD today. What a Christmas gift!

Many of you know that Ephemera is one of Adams' greatest achievements. It was recorded at a time when Pepper was out of fashion and couldn't get a recording date as a leader. It had been five years since his Encounter session was recorded. Even though that date was eventually sold to Prestige, it was independently produced by Fred Norsworthy and funded by Norsworthy's girlfriend. The intent was to sell it to an interested party but no one was interested! Eventually, Don Schlitten at Prestige took it, which of course meant for virtually nothing and with limited distribution.

If you consider the stretch of time between Ephemera and when Adams was last recorded by a commerical entity, it had been eight years since the Thad Jones-Pepper Adams Quintet date Mean What You Say was done for Milestone and eleven years since Adams' last date for Motown. That one remains unreleased and in Universal's vaults.

Ephemera is significant on several levels. For one thing it includes four original compositions by Pepper Adams. He had never written more than two tunes for any of his previous dates. Those tunes--Patrice, Hellure, Ephemera and Civilization and Its Discontents--stand as some of Pepper's greatest achievements as a composer. In fact, Adams felt that Ephemera was his greatest piece. I'm inclined to agree, though Patrice and Civ is right up there with it. Additonally, the quartet plays the standards Bouncing with Bud and Jitterbug Waltz, plus the Thad Jones ballad Quiet Lady. The playing is outstanding!

The date, recorded in London on 9-10 September 1973, uses the extraordinary rhythm section of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra: Roland Hanna, George Mraz and Mel Lewis. All tracks are from the 10th because the first day was marred by all sorts of bizarre technical difficulties. Because of that, Adams asked Williams to destroy everything from the 9th. 

Jones-Lewis was on tour of Europe at the time. As some of you know, Adams was right at home with the rhythm section and visa versa. Pepper and Mel were very close musical buddies since 1956. Mraz was Pepper's all-time favorite bass player. And Roland was a Detroiter. Need I say more? 

How can it be that this date has never been issued on CD? Well, saxophonist Dale Fielder and I are correcting that injustice. Fielder, based in Los Angeles, operates Clarion Jazz. He'll be putting the date out, we hope in early September in time to celebrate the 42nd anniversary of the recording and in time for Christmas sales. Fielder will be repackaging and mastering the recording, possibly with the help of engineer Jim Merod (a passionate Pepper Adams fan). I'll be writing a new essay and providing photographs, never before seen, that were taken by Jill Freedman at the London photo shoot.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Shopping with Harry Carney

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Not long after Pepper Adams' death on 10 September 1986, his old college roomate from Wayne, Bob Cornfoot, prepared a remembrance for radio play of almost an hour in length to commemorate both Pepper and Thad Jones. Both Detroiters died within three weeks of each other. One of the things that Cornfoot discussed was the time when Adams replaced his student model Bundy baritone sax with a Balanced Action B-Flat Selmer. The Bundy was Adams' first baritone saxophone. He discovered it by chance while working as a Christmas extra at Grinnell's in 1947. His Selmer is what he used on all of his historic recordings from 1956-1978. Ultimately, metal fatigue made some of the keys unfixable. 

Cornfoot pointed out that Adams brought Harry Carney with him to Ivan C. Kay so the master could check out the instrument for the acolyte. Who better to check it out? The Duke Ellington Orchestra was in Detroit, playing the Paradise Theater from 15-30 October, 1948. Some of you would've read in an earlier post my account of Rex Stewart befriending Pepper in early March, 1944 at the RKO Temple Theatre. Pepper also met Carney at that time and it's presumed that Pepper stayed in close contact with the Ellingtonians.