Saturday, June 13, 2015

Playing Along with Hawk and the Condon Gang

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

I've begun listening to interviews I did about Pepper's early years in Rochester, New York. I'm preparing for a lecture, "Pepper Adams in Rochester, 1935-1978," that I'm giving on Wednesday, October 21 at Rochester Institute of Technology. I haven't heard any of these tapes since conducting the interviews 28 years ago.

The first one I heard was two nights ago. It was an interview with Raymond Murphy. Ray was four years older than Pepper. During the summer of 1944, between high school and college, Murphy worked at Columbia Music Store, a jazz-specialty record shop in downtown Rochester. Sometime that summer Pepper stopped into the store. Pepper, thirteen years old and between 8th and 9th Grade, was introduced to Ray because Pepper said he was really interested in jazz and Ray was close in age and was managing their mail-order jazz record business. Ray and Pepper, it turned out, were equally enthralled with and totally dedicated to jazz. A fast friendship ensued. Ray, in a big-brother-kind-of-way, took Pepper under his wing. Murphy had already collected a number of records--far more than Pepper--particularly of the early New Orleans clarinetists, the Condon Gang and Coleman Hawkins. In fact, it was Murphy who first got Commodore and Blue Note records into the Rochester market. Almost every week for the next three years (until mid-1947 when Pepper left for Detroit), they would get together to play along (either trombone/clarinet or trombone/tenor sax) with Murphy's records. 

They were best friends and attended performances together, such as the time when pianist Joe Sullivan appeared at a piano bar on Rochester's East Avenue. They would discuss things they read in the jazz press and other things they found amusing in The New Yorker. Murphy said that Pepper at thirteen didn't know very much about jazz but was totally focused on learning about it. He had just gotten his tenor and was beginning to get around on the instrument. When Murphy, as an undergraduate at the University of Rochester, hosted an evening commercial jazz radio show on WRNY, Pepper, then in high school, was an eager listener and made suggestions to his friend's playlists.

As you can imagine, I went to bed pretty excited about everything I relearned about Pepper's experience with Murphy. The following morning I wanted to know more about Murphy. I did a Google search for "Ray Murphy/trombone/Eastman" but kept getting data on Rayburn Wright, the very distinguished arranger, pedagogue and trombonist. What about Murphy? Why nothing on him? For much of the morning I wondered if maybe I interviewed Wright and not Murphy. Did I somehow write down the wrong name on my tape box? I read about Wright's amazing career, in which even Duke Ellington was a student! I had to find out what was going on! I emailed arranger Bill Kirchner, who studied with Wright. About an hour later I played him an excerpt from my interview. He didn't think it was Wright but suggested I contact trombonist and bandleader John Fedchock, who studied with him as a graduate student.

While waiting to hear from Fedchock, I tried again to find data on Murphy. Finally, I found a few citations that confirmed many of the things Murphy mentioned in my interview, such as his 1926 birth, that he entered the University of Rochester in 1948, and that he was a professor at the University of Rochester, of which the Eastman School of Music is one division. It turns out that Murphy returned to Rochester in 1968 to run the University of Rochester's sociology department. He also taught one course at Eastman. It seemed that it was Murphy after all, and just a weird confluence of facts. Woefully, I also learned that Murphy died earlier this year. Then I heard from Fedchock, who asked me to call today. A few hours ago I played some of my interview for him and he confirmed it definitely wasn't Wright on my tape.

Oh, well. No matter, really. Just the emotional rollercoaster process that biographers sometimes work their way through. I'm certainly happy to get to the bottom of that. Murphy's three-year friendship with Pepper Adams paved the way for Adams' immersion into the big league jazz world of Detroit. One could also say that the Murphy-Adams practicing team presaged the Adams/Curtis Fuller duo of 1955, in which Adams tutored Fuller in not a dissimilar way as what Murphy did for Adams. I'll be discussing the Murphy-Adams friendship in greater detail in the biography. For those who want to know more about Rayburn Wright, read this:

Now, off to another interview.

                         (Rayburn Wright)

No comments:

Post a Comment