Saturday, March 28, 2015 Improvements

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Dan Olson, my trusty webmaster since's inception, has been visiting this week. Apart from four rounds of golf in wonderfully balmy Georgia weather, we've spent time making refinements to the website. The main issue is's compatibility with iPads and laptops or desktop computers. Over the last year we've found that newer versions of popular browsers don't support some of the older features of Quicktime that we used to build out the site. Because of that, our links, mouse-overs and other "cool" features aren't working as originally intended. Over the last few days we've fixed typos and repaired captions. Text has been rewritten, dead links have been removed and other tasks are ongoing. You can expect more improvements in the coming weeks. 

A long discussion ensued yesterday about what to do about Pepper's compositions. For quite some time I've been eager to correct the total number of Adams compositions from 43 to 42 but Dan has resisted. Without belaboring the point, from a technical point of view it's very involved to change the Composition List without having to update scads of other pages linked to it. A seemingly simple task, as it turns out, isn't simple at all. Moreover, all sorts of philosophical issues regarding the nature of research are involved. Is it best to retain a record of what was once thought to be correct or is it better to reveal newly discovered information and expunge the old information entirely? For us, a New Yorker article (see "Discards" by Nicholson Baker, 4 April 1994; describing the wholesale destruction of card catalogs about 20 years ago was a chilling reminder of how important it is to show the progression of knowledge. Much like the Nazis burning books, the New Yorker piece described how card catalogs were destroyed when libraries transitioned to the digital age. But the rush to embrace the new technology was done without care to preserve all the research contained in those card records and much information, such as handwritten notations, was lost in the process. It reminds me of America's urban renewal movement in the 1960s and the ensuing loss of many great public buildings.

Ultimately, we decided to keep the Compositions page as is but append it with a new mouse-over explaining how 43 Adams compositions became 42. For those not aware of the need for the revision, see "Like . . . What Is This." It's written by Kiane Zawadi (formerly Bernard McKinney), not Pepper. Nevertheless, where appropriate, we've also decided to change "43" to "42" throughout the site.

Another thing Dan and I discussed was how to reconstitute Solos of the Month. No longer should we update the page every month, we agreed, or scramble to catch up because it wasn't updated in time. We've decided instead to post all of the samples, rename the page "Rare Performances" and add new things as we go. Stay tuned for that update.

"Audio from 2012 Tour" is a work in progress. It will take some time before that's repaired. "Dedications" will also receive a make-over soon. We have music samples and lead sheets to add. 

"Pepper Adams and John Coltrane" is due for a major overhaul. That will wait until Osian Roberts and John Vana share their insights in this blog. Also, an old thread about "Mary's Blues" will be appended. So much to do!

                    (Kiane Zawadi and Howard Johnson,1966)

                             (Kiane Zawadi/Bernard McKinney)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Lost Detroit Session

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

For years I've wondered about the eighth entry in Pepper Adams' Joy Road. I first learned about that mysterious 1955 live recording from a concert program I found in Pepper Adams' materials. Program notes written by drummer Rudy Tucich referred to a live recording with a numbing array of Detroit's finest musicians. What happened to it? Now, thanks to Tucich, I finally have some news.

On 28 March 1955 the New Music Society produced a spectacular concert at the Detroit Institute of Arts to showcase its members. Tucich and singer/vibist Oliver Shearer, co-officers of the Society with Kenny Burrell, invited many of the greatest players then living in Detroit to participate in the concert, including Burrell, Tommy Flanagan, Pepper Adams, Barry Harris, Curtis Fuller, Elvin Jones, Yusef Lateef, Bernard McKinney and Sonny Red. Detroit elders Sonny Stitt and Milt Jackson, not Society members per se, were invited as very special guests. "This concert," wrote Tucich, "is being recorded and will be the first release on our own label, Free Arts Records. Your cooperation in the recording will be greatly appreciated. We would also like to have you give us your suggestion for the name of our first concert album." 

In 1955 most of the musicians at the concert performed on Monday and Tuesday nights at the World Stage. The World Stage was a theater above Paperback Unlimited at the northwest corner of Woodward Avenue and Davison. On weekends, World Stage put on plays. Lily Tomlin was one of its actors. Early in the week, however, the theater was dark, so a perfect venue for the New Music Society's members to have sessions.

The Society recorded the 28 March concert on three ten-inch reels. A quintet comprised of Pepper Adams, Kenny Burrell, Tommy Flanagan, Billy Burrell and Hindall Butts opened with a tune based on the changes of Undecided, then performed Afternoon in Paris. After Flanagan's trio feature on Dancing in the Dark, the quintet returned to play Someday, If Not in Heaven (with Kennny Burrell singing!) and Woody'n You.

A local group, The Counterpoints, performed three numbers before Sonny Stitt's quintet (with Curtis Fuller, Barry Harris, Alvin Jackson and Elvin Jones) performed Loose Walk, a ballad medley (I Can't Get Started, If I Should Lose You, Embraceable You and Lover Man) and a closing blues.

After a likely intermission, Oliver Shearer gave a speech about the New Music Society, then Kenny Burrell introduced Yusef Lateef's ensemble. Lateef, Bernard McKinney, Sonny Red, Barry Harris, Alvin Jackson and Elvin Jones played four tunes: Wee, Three Story's, a ballad medley (This Love of Mine, But Not for Me and Darn that Dream) and a closing blues. 

After two tunes by pianist Jerry Harrison and three by pianist Bu Bu Turner, Sonny Stitt returned with Milt Jackson, Kenny Burrell, Barry Harris, Alvin Jackson and Elvin Jones to finish out the show. They stretched out on Billie's Bounce, then did Stardust and an ending blues. 

Oh, to hear this music! What happened to it? Tucich told me a week ago that he and Barry Harris decided to mail the tapes to a guy in Los Angeles, who would edit the tapes and transfer them to LPs for release. Did they think to make a backup copy? No. "It never occurred to us. We were naive," admits Tucich. Woefully, the engineer went backrupt and, after a concerted attempt to track him down and rescue the tapes, Tucich and Harris finally admitted that the material was lost. "I've waited 60 years to find out about them," said Tucich. Hopefully, it will turn up. Weirder things have happened.

DETROIT, 1958, courtesy of Lonnie Hillyer. Barry Harris (fourth from left), Rudy Tucich beside/behind him, Charles McPherson at far right. Others include Donald Walden, Lonnie Hillyer and Ira Jackson. Three are unidentified.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Osian Roberts on Pepper Adams

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Welsh born tenor saxophonist Osian Roberts 
has arranged for big band the two Adams ballads "In Love with Night" and "Civilization and Its Discontents." (See Stay tuned. His long-term goal is to write big band charts of Pepper's entire oeuvre. Besides running Hard Bop Records and co-leading a quintet with trumpeter Steve Fishwick (recently augmented to a sextet with the addition of Frank Basile), Roberts has also recorded in Prague several Adams tunes with a small group featuring Pepper's first-call bassist George Mraz. Roberts' comments about Pepper Adams were originally posted at on 8 October 2010, Adams' 80th birthday. He's agreed to write a guest post sometime in the future, when I hope he'll elaborate on some of the points made below. By then, his recordings of Pepper tunes should also be available at

I don't think I could overstate my love of Pepper Adams' music. He's one of the greatest jazz musicians and saxophonists (not just baritone) in the history of jazz. Not only did he have his own sound and vocabulary but he had a unique way of using that vocabulary--which was direct but, at the same time, highly sophisticated and completely devoid of any bullshit. That places him on the same level as Charlie Parker and John Coltrane in my opinion. Also, like Bird and Trane, his compositions seem to be an extension of his improvising concept. That he was held in such high regard by his fellow musicians isn't surprising to me in the least. His music conveys so many things: excitement, beauty, passion, humour, pathos, joy, sadness, urgency ... it's all there, which is why I find myself listening to his albums almost every day.

I was very fortunate last year to do some gigs with a former associate of Pepper, Hod O'Brien, who, incidentally, is one of the nicest people I've ever met. I took the opportunity to quiz him about Pepper Adams the man. You won't be surprised to hear that Hod thought the world of Pepper, saying that he was an incredible musician, an intellectual (the phrase "Renaissance Man" occurred) and great company. He also said that he was very funny and recounted a story of when he was sitting outside a cafe somewhere with Pepper. Across the road was a hardware store. They noticed a couple of kids hurry out the door, looking rather suspicious. Sure enough, when the boys approached Hod and Pepper's table, they offered to sell them some decorator's paint brushes. Pepper immediately replied, "No thanks, I only paint miniatures"--which completely cracked Hod up (he was in tears of laughter as he told the story!)--and sent the boys away looking nonplussed. It's always nice to hear that your musical heroes are also witty, nice people. I also recorded a couple of albums with Pepper's former bassist George Mraz recently but I didn't manage to prize out any P. A. anecdotes out of him in the brief time we had to talk. I'm hoping to work with him again so I'll keep trying!

Osian Roberts

Prague, 2010

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Sublime and Neglected Wardell Gray

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

How many have heard Wardell Gray's magnificent opening solo on the Count Basie 1950 small group Snader transcription "I Cried for You?"


I can't think of a more perfect one-minute introduction to the swinging and sublimely beautiful playing of little known tenor master Wardell Gray. Wardell Gray's tone, time and lyricism was a huge influence on Pepper Adams in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Gray grew up in Detroit, attended Cass Tech and often returned to Detroit to play gigs there, including gigs with Pepper, where they traded horns. Apart from Sonny Stitt, Pepper cited Wardell Gray as the best baritone player he ever heard. Gray had a distinguished career in the bands of Earl Hines, Benny Carter, Billy Eckstine, Benny Goodman and Basie. He's particularly known for his tenor duels with Dexter Gordon. With lots of work experience, he served as a strong role model for younger players in Detroit, and in Los Angeles where he lived for a time. Pepper and Wardell were very close and Pepper was a pallbearer at Wardell's funeral in 1955. Wardell, like Bird, died in 1955 at the age of 34.

Read Pepper's description of Wardell and his death here:

The Basie performance above plays a prominent part in Abraham Ravett's 1994 documentary Forgotten Tenor. 

See excerpt here:

Interviews with family members, Clark Terry, Eddie Bert, Art Farmer, Buddy DeFranco and especially Teddy Edwards are extremely illuminating in the film. They give an account of his death, true, but also a character portrait that will help me explain Pepper and Wardell's friendship in my forthcoming biography. Others have very interesting points here and there to make about Wardell's personality and musicianship. Basie bassist Jimmy Lewis, for one, says about Wardell, "On the bandstand he was very serious about his music."Another noted that Wardell sometimes would exhort the entire band to dig in when it was his time to solo, saying things such as"C'mon! Let's go!" Another interviewee pointed out that Wardell enjoyed quoting in his solos and once played Dvorak's Humoresque on the bridge of Honeysuckle Rose. Pepper became a great paraphraser himself and might have been inspired early on from Wardell's use of musical quotation.

Wardell Gray was very bright, very funny and he could be sarcastic at times. Generally speaking, he was a happy-go-lucky guy and extremely friendly. Yet his letters late in life to his wife reveal his loneliness on the road and his frustration with not be able to send home enough money for the family. Imagine if a letter or two he might've sent to Pepper would turn up somewhere? Pepper, too, became a voluminous letter and postcard writer. Maybe another Gray influence?

Because my copy of Hampton Hawes' very fine autobiography Raise Up Off Me is packed, I can't cite parts of it. But I understand that Hawes writes about Wardell's influence on the young players like himself on the West Coast. Art Farmer said in the film that Wardell was more of a big brother than a father figure. Farmer said, "He was an excellent example for us in Los Angeles because he was doing what we wanted to do." We can probably safely assume the same with Pepper, though Pepper was fatherless at age 9 and Wardell may have filled in other gaps for him. After all, when Pepper was 17 or 18 in Detroit, attending college and mastering the baritone sax, Wardell Gray was 28 and had traveled widely in name bands.

Like Pepper, Wardell Gray was funny, studious and a sports nut. Wardell liked doing practical jokes, unlike Pepper, who preferred puns and subtle humor. Unlike Pepper, too, Wardell was very emotional and could cry easily. You kind of get that sense in his playing--so emotional--but especially in the poignant recitation of letters that his widow reads in the film.

Pepper has said that the hallmark of Detroit jazz playing is the time feel. Perhaps best embodied by Elvin Jones, you know where the beat is but Detroit musicians imply it and have a sophisticated plasticity in respect to the beat. According to DeFranco, Wardell had a natural way of swinging. He could fool with the time--play behind or forward or on it. I suggest that, apart from Wardell's behind-the-beat lyricism that Pepper adopted, Wardell's time feel was a huge influence on Pepper's solo conception. John Vana and I will explore Gray's influence on Pepper in our forthcoming study.

As Art Farmer said in the film about Gray, "He influenced my playing in striving for excellence. He was 
very strong in melodic content and very strong in rhythm. . . . I loved the way his lines just flowed."
Pepper felt the same way.

Listen to Wardell's great feature on Little Pony, that Pepper mentioned to me when I interviewed him in 1984:

Anybody think that Pepper's great 1968 date Encounter with Zoot Sims (see photo below) is kind of a second coming of Pepper and Wardell?