Saturday, January 24, 2015

Prologue to Pepper Adams Biography

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Prologue: I Carry Your Heart

On September 28, 1986 I drove three hours from Boston to New York to attend Pepper Adams’ memorial service at St. Peter’s Church. Adams had waged a courageous battle against an aggressive form of lung cancer that was first diagnosed in early March, 1985 while touring in northern Sweden. St. Peter’s, with its modern ash-paneled interior and large multi-tiered sanctuary, is tucked under the enormous 915-foot-tall Citicorp Center at East 54th Street and Lexington Avenue. On that somber but bright Sunday afternoon, St. Peter’s chapel was packed with musicians, friends and admirers. Reverend John Garcia Gensel presided over the service and many jazz greats—Tommy Flanagan, Elvin Jones, Frank Foster, George Mraz, Roland Hanna, Barry Harris, Louis Hayes, Sheila Jordan, Gerry Mulligan and others—performed and paid their final respects. 
For over a year Adams’ plight had galvanized the jazz community, who heard varying stories about his wife leaving him, his declining health and his dire financial situation. Between September, 1985 and March, 1986 two benefits had been organized to raise funds for Pepper’s medical care. One at the 880 Club in Hartford, Connecticut was organized by alto saxophonist Jackie McLean and Adams was able to attend. The other took place at the Universal Jazz Coalition on Lafayette Street in New York and featured performances by Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, Tommy Flanagan, Louis Hayes, Frank Foster, Kenny Burrell, Jerry Dodgion and the entire Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. Pepper, gaunt and bald from chemotherapy treatments, was out of town for that one, working a weekend gig in Memphis. He sent a letter of gratitude that was read to the audience by singer Lodi Carr.
At Pepper’s memorial service it seemed ironic that this brilliant musician’s musician, so admired by his peers, was receiving such a fond farewell. He had fans, I was sure, but you’d never know it by the indifference he received from the jazz press, the few gigs he did in New York or the small audiences I was fortunate to be a part of near the end of his life. While his predicament likely drew more attention to him than previously, I had the impression that an accreted, long overdue realization of Adams’ musical accomplishments had finally coalesced in the public’s mind. How strange it was that, at his death, it felt like his ascendant hour.
  Pepper Adams was a friend of mine, but, sadly, I knew him only during the last two tumultuous years of his life. During that time, only partly recovered from a horrible leg accident that had kept him bed-ridden for six months, Adams was separated from his wife and had been diagnosed with the cancer that would, in short order, kill him. 
I’ve been wanting to tell Pepper’s story since June 28, 1984, the memorable day I conducted the first of several lengthy interviews with him. I promised Pepper that I would complete his biography and a 350-page transcript of my interviews was stacked high on his nightstand the morning he died. After his death, I interviewed many of his peers. For them, Pepper Adams was a complex figure: a hero, a model of grace, a virtuoso musician and stylist, a composer, an intellectual. Adams was also an unworldly looking sophisticate; a public person yet emotionally guarded; a full-throated, exuberant saxophonist who was mild-mannered and soft-spoken. In short, a brilliant artist full of interesting ambiguities and contradictions.
After so many years of living with his music and researching his life, in 2012 I produced a five-volume CD box set of Adams compositions that was co-branded and released with my book Pepper Adams’ Joy Road: An Annotated Discography. Now, with this companion work, I fulfill my promise to him and myself. 
I’m especially pleased that John Vana agreed to co-author the book. John’s an alto player on the faculty at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois. I first met him when he invited me to speak at WIU in late 2013. That’s when I toured the Eastern half of the U.S. and Canada for a month with British arranger Tony Faulkner. 
John is a huge Pepper Adams fan. Soon after my visit he agreed to write a major piece on Pepper’s early style (to 1960) for a possible Adams anthology. Not long after that, John started asking me to send him, bit by bit, every Pepper Adams tape, LP and videotape that’s listed in Pepper Adams’ Joy Road. Clearly, “Up to 1960” wasn't enough for him. He wanted to hear it all and consider Pepper’s entire oeuvre.
Eventually, it occurred to me that John’s piece on Pepper’s style would likely cover much of the same terrain that I’d be exploring in the second half of this book. Considering the demands of my day job, perhaps it would be better for me to write the biography and have John (with my input, additions and editorial oversight) write the second section? Wouldn’t it move up the timetable? I got John on the phone and he agreed. He thought it was a really good idea. The anthology might not even happen, I pointed out, so what better place for his study? 
For those either already hip to Adams’ life and recordings or encountering him for the first time, it’s our sincere hope that we convey his extraordinary contribution to the history of Twentieth Century music and inspire readers everywhere to listen anew to his glorious work.

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