Sunday, December 3, 2017

Bird and Herbie

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and that you are anticipating a great Christmas season and new year. In the last few weeks one of my readers suggested that I open my Pepper Adams biography with the story of when Pepper heard Bird at Detroit's Mirror Ballroom in 1949. I end the opening section of Ch 1 with it, in a way building to it. He felt that, because it's about Bird, it would create far greater interest among readers than what I have now. Back to the drawing board, as they say.

I've been rereading the very fine biographical primer The Biographer's Art, written by Milton Lomask. One of the things he recommends is for an author to conceive of an ending well in advance, then work your way there as a destination. I'm toying with ending my biography with Pepper's appearance on the Grammy Awards telecast. It seems to me that the way the New York chapter of NARAS rallied behind Pepper when his appearance on the show was threatened with cancellation is a metaphor for much that occurred in New York when Adams got ill. Maybe I don't need to worry that much about the ending? The way the book is set up, the second section of the book (analysis) follows mine. Is it perhaps more appropriate to have John Vana's work summarize the entire book?

Over the last few weeks I also came across this great piece about Herbie Hancock:
Hancock discusses how he joined the ByrdAdams Quintet. Here's his only mention of Pepper:

"In December of 1960, a couple of months after the Coleman Hawkins gig, I got a call from John Cort, the owner of the Birdhouse, a small club in a second-floor walkup on Dearborn Street, on the North Side. ‘Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams are playing in Milwaukee this weekend,’ he told me. ‘You want to play with them?’ "‘Are you kidding?’ I said. ‘Yeah, I want to play with them!’ I couldn’t believe it – I’d just been invited to gig with one of the best jazz trumpeters around. Donald Byrd was a veteran of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and he’d earned a master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music. He’d performed with many of the jazz greats over the years, including John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, and in 1958 he’d started a quintet with the baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams. That was the group I was being invited to play with."

This piece is the most in-depth one I've read about Hancock and his "discovery" by Donald Byrd. It turns out that John Cort deserves much of the credit for recommending Hancock to Byrd.

One thing that has always surprised me is how little Pepper Adams is mentioned by Hancock over the years. I know that Byrd is the one who met with Hancock's mother and assured her that young Herbie would be fine living with Byrd in New York once the band left Chicago. With that in mind, it seems likely that Pepper didn't have the same degree of responsibility for Hancock as Byrd. Still, you would think that Herbie would have absorbed some influences from Adams, perhaps his harmonic usage? It sure would be fascinating to know what kind of conversations the two of them had during the year that Herbie was in the Byrd-Adams Quintet.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

New Pepper Adams Archive

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

I'm pleased to tell you that I've decided to donate all of my Pepper Adams materials to William Paterson University. How can I not make these important materials available near New York City, where so many researchers and musicians can use them? Moreover, how can I not add Pepper's materials to the archive where Thad Jones' materials are held? That's almost as silly as establishing a Harry Carney archive apart from Duke Ellington.

I've been in touch with curator David Demsey, and I've already boxed up twelve cartons of Pepper's material from his estate. All of the packed stuff is material that I eagerly scooped up after Pepper's death to protect it from destruction, when his widow was disposing of the contents of his house in Canarsie, Brooklyn. Much of my own materials that I've collected over the years, such as my many audience recordings, will get there eventually. The trick is figuring out a way to transport these things from Atlanta to West Paterson, New Jersey. The plan is to move everything there in phases as I finish the biography.

Some of the things that I saved from destruction that amazing day in late 1986 were Pepper's copies of alternate tracks that he recorded for Reflectory, The Master, Urban Dreams and Live at Fat Tuesday's. I've just gotten them digitized for posterity. Pepper's original cassettes will be going to William Paterson.

David Demsey and I have been discussing the provenance of the charts on the Ruth Brown/Thad/Mel date. In a private interview that Pepper did with Albert Goldman (discussed last month in this blog), Pepper mentioned that not all of the charts on the date are Thad's. Pepper affirmed that his feature on "Trouble in Mind" was written by Thad. Demsey told me that "Bye, Bye Blackbird" is Thad's too. They have the score in Thad's hand. Judging from the intro, does anyone have any doubt? We're still figuring out who wrote the other charts. Does anyone have any input on the matter?

I'm also excited to report that I've finally finished Chapter 1 of Pepper's biography. For over a month, the period 1900-1947 was a gaping hole in the chapter. Now it's been closed. It was my overarching aim to contextualize Pepper's experience by writing about the socio-political history of Detroit. Two sections (1701-1899) were done already, but writing about the first half of the Twentieth Century, so important to Pepper's sensibilities, lingered for quite some time. So much happened in Detroit then that affected the course of American history. Furthermore, Pepper worked in the auto plants, and was an impassioned advocate of social unionism. I needed to explore that to understand that part of him.

That led me to the Reuther Brothers. If you haven't seen the extraordinarily moving documentary Brothers on the Line, I urge you to watch it. Although I knew something about Walter Reuther before I watched it, I left with the strong conviction that Reuther was one of the towering figures of the Twentieth Century. If anyone should be designated for sainthood, it's Reuther. He and his two brothers' courageous work to raise the standard of living of American auto workers, in the face of all sorts of hostility, physical beatings, and assassination attempts, is the thing of legend. Do you know about his work with Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King in helping them advance their struggles for human rights, or his work with the Kennedys and Lyndon Johnson? Now almost fifty years after his death (which I suspect in 2020 will be celebrated), Reuther is far too little known. Please check out the film. Here's the trailer:

Now it's time to finish up Chapter 3, essentially the period 1954-1955 but with some intentional twists and turns added. This will conclude the first half of my part of the book. Part II is being written by alto saxophonist John Vana. He's making great strides with his analysis of Pepper's playing.

For those who like to hear Pepper Adams speak about his life, a whole crop of new interviews with him have been posted at

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Pepper Adams Interviews

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

This month hasn't gone as expected. I developed a case of eye strain from my previous months of writing and editing on my computer. Because of that, I've had to stay away from my manuscript and laptop, and instead fashion other tasks that still allowed me to move ahead with the biography. One of the most important things I've gotten done in September was listening to interviews that Adams did on the radio and in private. Over the years, I've been able to collect these gems:

Peter Clayton: BBC
Alan Stevens: BBC
Alfie Nilsson: Malmo radio
Ted O'Reilly: CJKT, Toronto
Len Dobbin: Montreal radio
Ben Sidran: NPR
Albert Goldman: private interviews
John Reid: private interview

The plan has always been to post some of them at so you can hear Adams speak about his life. While a few are posted there already, technology has changed and it's necessary to use different software and update the site. That's already in the works. Stay tuned for updates.

Besides the fact that I'm taking a necessary break from writing the biography, the main reason I've been working through these interviews is because Adams occassionally says things that were not covered in my interviews with him nor exist anywhere else in print. I've found that some of his comments not only add to the historical record but sometimes alter the way I have written about parts of his early life. 

Although some of these interviews are more entertaining in nature and mostly feature commercial recordings that Adams did throughout his life, those done by John Reid, Al Goldman and Ted O'Reilly are especially poignant. Reid's brief interview was done in Calgary after a gig in August, 1985. Adams was very blunt in his comments about critics, one of his pet peeves. At that time, already quite ill, Adams was far more direct than usual. Speaking privately after hours, he wasn't constrained by the same degree of politeness that he would convey in a radio interview. 

The same holds true to a certain degree with the private interviews done with Al Goldman. I have two of them. The first was done between sets at the Half Note in New York on September 10, 1971. Goldman, at that time a big Elvin Jones and Zoot Sims fan, was just getting to know Adams. 

The far more significant Goldman interview was done on June 19, 1975. Goldman drove from Manhattan to Adams' home in Canarsie, Brooklyn to conduct an extensive interview over several hours for a feature piece that he was writing about Adams for the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Ultimately, the piece was published in Esquire due to the fact that Goldman's editor at the Times left and the piece was orphaned. This is a dazzling few hours, certainly the most in-depth and fascinating interview of the bunch: two brilliant minds ranging over many topics in great length. I'm very excited to post it soon.

Albert Goldman was a brilliant man and quite a controversial figure in the 1980s and '90s, ultimately dying of a heart attack on an airplane flight to Europe. His obituary: 

He left his tenured English professorship at Columbia University to write several best-selling biographies on Lenny Bruce, Elvis Presley and John Lennon. While his work was denounced by some as sensational (see and, I interviewed him several times about his experiences with Pepper Adams. I always found him to be insightful, provocative, very encouraging to me in my early years of the work, and always on target with his assessments about Adams' life and music. All this comes through in his Adams interview. His profound admiration and respect for Pepper Adams is evident throughout their conversation.

The O'Reilly interviews, too, are extremely insightful because O'Reilly, like Goldman, is an adept interviewer who asks probing questions. I have two O'Reilly radio shows for sure, and possibly a third that I haven't heard in years. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Biographical Excerpts

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

It's Labor Day Weekend but it seems that my Pepper work never takes a break. It's what centers me and pulls me through each day. There's just so much work to do! I expect that tomorrow will be no different. Maybe that's a true indication that this project is a real labor of love?

I'm excited to report that I'm on the verge of finishing the first half of Pepper's biography. Since my early April lectures in Utah, I've been on fire, much to my surprise. I wasn't expecting to begin writing upon my return home. The thing that I find so gratifying is that the writing has flowed out of me, sometimes effortlessly. Perhaps it was just the right time to start? That's not to say that writing is ever easy. Much like scupture, the craft of writing mandates the continuous polishing until it reaches its final form. Getting ideas out might be fun but editing is always arduous.

It's because of my extensive reading, writing and note-taking over the last couple of years that I've been able to move so quickly in the last five months. In about a month from now -- hopefully in the next blog installment -- I'll  be able to report that Pepper's life from 1930-1955 is complete. I'm now at around seventy pages and I expect that I'll be at around 100 pages in a few weeks. That implies around a 200 page biography, then John Vana's musicological analysis will make up Part Two. I expect great things from him!

Chapter 3 of my part has several components. The first section is about Pepper's time in the US Army. Then I discuss his transition to civilian life in 1953-54, with sections on the Blue Bird Inn and the World Stage Theater. What follows that is a three-part history of Detroit, then a short history of Detroit jazz (1928 or so through the late 1940s). The chapter concludes with Pepper's time in Detroit in 1955, including a section on his mother, Klein's, and the West End Hotel.  

Once I get the first half done, I'm going to take a break to consider how I want to treat the second half of his life. Pepper hated cliches and I feel that, in respect to him, a chronological narrative is far too predictable. I find it boring too. I've avoided such a rendering thus far by darting around thematically. Yet there's a limit to how much you can move about and not confuse the reader. Some biographical theorists recommend reverse engineering. That is, inventing the ending first, then figuring out how to get there. I didn't need to do that at all because my Prologue in some sense "ruins" the ending. It gives me cover because in it I intentionally divulged the broad strokes of Pepper's life to make a case for why anyone should care to read the book. The Prologue has, in a sense, liberated me to at least consider some kind of experimentation with the narrative. 

Yesterday on my two Facebook pages I included an except from the book regarding Pepper and Charlie Parker. Here's two more excerpts from the book:

Pepper’s bunk was at the edge of the camp. Across the street in an empty lot Adams, Kolber and a few of their buddies planted marijuana. “We set up a schedule,” said Kolber. “We marked down everybody’s name to take turns going out. We had a water can and a big hat. We had a schedule made up to water it.” In the early 1950s, smoking marijuana was still somewhat of an arcane activity. In a glorious touch of irony that created more than a few snickers and knowing winks, the guys in Pepper’s platoon would roll a joint and then ask the military police on the base for a light. The MPs had absolutely no idea what was going on.

“Whenever we took physical training, he was beautiful,” said an amused Kolber.
When we had to jump and meet our hands above our head, he would never jump. He said, “Listen, I can play, that’s what I’m here for in this band, to play, and I can’t do all these other things.” He says, “It doesn’t take that much physical energy to strap a baritone sax around your neck.” He told the sergeant that. The officers always used to call him into the office so I never heard too much about what they did. He always came out smiling, smoking a cigarette, saying, “It’s all straight,” and they never bothered him but they did shake him out. He was too well liked. No one could really dislike him because he was an intelligent man, knew what he was talking about, so people didn’t monkey around with him too much. They knew, whatever he did, there was a good reason for doing it and no one really picked on him.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Pepper Gets His Selmer and Berg Larsen

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Welcome back to the Pepper Adams blog. The reason I moved to a once-a-month posting schedule is because I started a new gig in early July with a steep learning curve that demanded a great deal of my time. It's a challenging sales job that requires quite a bit of travel. Now that my acclimation process is over, I'm happy to be back in the saddle, writing about Pepper Adams again. I hope this new schedule hasn't inconvenienced anyone. Again, postings will be the first Sunday of each month for the foreseeable future.

With the little free time I had left over this month I did manage to get some Pepper Adams work done. Just last night I finished a new draft of Chapter Two of Pepper's biography. It basically covers the period 1930-1947. I say "basically" because I jump around thematically, not adhering to a chronological narrative.

It's now time to turn my attention to Chapter Three, Pepper's experience in the U.S. Army. From June, 1951 until June, 1953 Adams was in the Special Services, a group of musicians that performed nearly every day for troops in Korea to improve morale. Although it sounds like a cushy gig, it was fraught with danger. Typically, they performed near the front lines. Traveling around in convoys in some sense made them a moving target. At least once, Adams' jeep was strafed, flipping his vehicle over on its side. Adams found the entire war experience to be harrowing and wouldn't generally talk with interviewers about his time in Korea. When I interviewed him he did explain some aspects of it. Most of my research is with his  fellow soldiers. I'll report on my progress in September's post.

I had a fascinating email exchange a few weeks ago with a baritone saxophonist friend of mine. He told me that he had done some research on his horn at the Selmer office in Paris, getting a copy of the production log that showed when his horn was built. Some time after that he went to the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University to take a look at Pepper's Selmer, the instrument that Pepper's widow asked me to deliver soon after his death. It turns out that the serial number of Pepper's horn is nearly identical to his, only seven numbers away, meaning that both were produced within a few weeks of each other.

Due to their near identical production date, information about Pepper's horn was on the log sheet that  he was given! It turns out that production on Pepper's horn began on October 14, 1949 and finished four days later. Knowing this necessitated me to go back and change around a few parts of Chapter One of the biography (and it's going to require me making some changes to the Chronology at I originally thought that Pepper got his horn about a half year after he first started playing the baritone sax in December, 1947 because that's the way Pepper remembered it. That led me to research Ellington's Detroit gigs in 1948 because Pepper brought Harry Carney with him to the shop to vet the instrument. My friend's startling discovery changed the timeline that all of this happened and shows how a person with a crystal clear memory can still very easily reorder facts 35 years later.

It now looks like Pepper bought his horn sometime in the period January 20-28, 1950, when Ellington played Detroit's Paradise Theater. The instrument was already destined for the USA upon its completion and it would have taken about six weeks by boat. Adams had almost twice that time to get it and that would have given some extra time for it to move from the distributor, probably on the East Coast, to Detroit. The reason it wasn't purchased later in the year at two other Ellington gigs (Sept 1-3 or Nov 30-Dec 6) is because my co-author, alto saxophonist John Vana, doesn't think that a Bundy could have given Pepper the warm sound that he gets on a recording he made in the summer of 1950.

Once I put all of that in order, I then had to figure out when Adams got his Berg Larsen mouthpiece. Pepper told me that Wardell Gray returned to Detroit with the mouthpiece after his European tour with Benny Goodman. According to research done by Leif Bo Peterson, that tour (BG's only one when Gray was in the band) was cancelled due to labor issues in England. Gray still went east with the presumption that a tour of Europe was in place. I suspect BG's band got stranded in NY; only Goodman, it turned out, went on to London. While Goodman went to London, Gray returned to Detroit and recorded live at the Blue Bird on July 20, 1949. I can only assume that around this time Pepper sat in with Wardell and fell in love with Gray's Berg Larsen when they switched horns on the bandstand. If he ordered it around August 1, then he might have gotten it as early as mid-September, 1949, some four months before the Selmer. Maybe getting the Berg Larsen impelled him to get the new horn? Could it be that he wasn't able to get as good a sound as he wanted on the Bundy that he heard on Gray's tenor and that finally compelled him to buy a new horn?

The end result is that Pepper played his Bundy for two full years before he fully committed to the instrument by purchasing a professional model. Moreover, he did get his Berg Larsen within only a few months of getting his new horn. Learning that Adams got his new horn and mouthpiece by early 1950 makes sense in light of my interview with Detroit baritone saxophonist Bean Bowles. He told me that Pepper came to him a few months later, still struggling to get a big sound on the instrument. Bowles advised him to change his reed set-up and a few other things you'll discover when you read my book.

                (Where Pepper Adams bought his Selmer.)

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Pepper Adams, 1947

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

I stepped back from writing this week, partly because I wanted some perspective, mostly because I attended a training program for work. I did read Chapter 2 in my down time and made some minor changes. One of my readers looked it over and made some important suggestions. More work to do, as always.

I'm posting the last section of the chapter below (without corresponding footnotes). Also, as of today, because of the new demands of my day job I will be moving to monthly posts, done on the first Sunday of each month. Thanks for your continued interest!

       From the mid-1940s through the mid-1950s pianist Joe Strazzeri ran Squeezer’s, his club at 420 State Street across the street from Kodak. Typically, gigs were followed by open jam sessions with white and black musicians alike. “Pepper used to stop in there and just get on the stand,” said  trumpeter Leo Petix. “He was around town. He was looking to get with a group and get on the road.”106 Even though he was far from being an accomplished player, pianist John Albert heard him once in a Rochester club and felt that he had a conception of what he was doing as a soloist. “He played quite well and for a person his age (middle teens) he had already developed a style, certainly different than anyone there that day,” said Albert.107


He was playing a soprano sax. The rhythm section (I don’t recall who they were) responded to his playing. He was a good “time” player and left holes they could fill in. That’s what I remember most about his style. He would blow a single note or a phrase and then wait for the rhythm to come to the next change or even go by it, and then he would dig in and catch up with great time and ideas. This to me was different than the other horn men; they seemed to stay on top of the beat and didn’t seem to use the rhythm [section] to their best advantage or let them have some fun too on the chorus. So I guess what I heard that made him different and new was a thinner, biting sound. [He] played more notes and more interesting melodic flights and used the rhythm section like Miles Davis.108


“The musicians were half and half in their comments,” added Albert. “The horn men weren’t that 

‘gassed’ but the rhythm section was impressed. I know that later when other horn men were changing 

their ideas and sound I thought back to that day and I wondered if any of them remembered where 

they heard it first.”109

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Pepper Biography News

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Somehow this past week I wrote a complete first draft of Chapter 2 of Pepper's biography. I had so many pages of notes from other times that I wrote about him or prepared college lectures. The chapter covers the period 1930-1947 and also dives into (as I discussed last week) Adams' parental genealogy. On the genealogy, I added more details about the derivation of the Adamses, all the way back to the Eleventh Century, and some more information on just how tough a dude his sixth great-grandfather, James Adams, was: how he survived the Battle of Dunbar, his march and incarceration, the voyage to the New World and his servitude. James Adams' grit and determination is part of Pepper Adams' DNA.

Here's how the chapter falls:

1. Father's history
2. Genealogy
3. Family music history
4. History of Rochester, New York
5. The move to New York, 1931-1935
6. Pepper, 1935 to his father's death in 1940
7. Rochester war effort
8. 1940s Rochester jazz scene
9. Pepper, 1941-1944
10. Duke Ellington and Rex Stewart at the Temple Theatre; its many implications
11. Raymond Murphy taks about Pepper
12. Jack Huggler talks about Pepper
13. The Elite
14. Isolation
15. John Albert talks about Pepper Adams

Here's an excerpt from the chapter (without footnotes):

Although Adams was still playing in the New Orleans style, his taste in music was already very well developed in 1944.

I was studying more classical music at the time. Although I enjoyed jazz, which I listened to on the radio, which is what you did in those days, it was really classical music which interested me first. Then, when I started to hear Ellington and all those chords and voicings I knew immediately: . . . Debussy, Ravel, Elgar, Delius, the tonal palettes of twentieth-century music were all there. You know, the rough kind of excitement of the Basie band could be a lot of fun and I certainly liked them as soloists but Duke’s band was an entirely different ball game.”63

“Don’t put them next to nobody else,” cautioned Skippy Williams about the Ellington band.

That band, you couldn’t touch them! [Duke] would go back and get some old tricky things like “Caravan” and those kinds of things. He could put some chords on you. They would put some double augmented chords on you, six-note chords, and they would stretch it out in such a way, man, it would sound like five bands were swinging. He would change the chords and make them much heavier. Say, for instance, if you’re making C double augmented it would be C-D-G flat-A flat-B flat and he knew just where to put them to broaden the sound.64

“I was at a restaurant next door to the theater there downtown in Rochester,” said Williams. “Pepper came in and he told me he had heard me play and he liked my playing. He said he played tenor sax. . . . Back when I met him,” Williams continued, “I had taken Ben Webster’s place in Duke’s band. He was very enthused about that.”

I spent as much time as I could. He was working at a shoe store or something. . . . He was asking me about my tone and I told him some certain tricks, how to build his chops up. Well, see, a lot of guys, they try to use their lip a certain way. They don’t let the horn get the right, true sound. You got to let the reed do more vibrating. You have to know how to blow and how to use your belly. . . . He said, “Can I bring my horn by?” I said, “Sure. You can come by any time. . . .” He asked me, “How do you memorize all those things? I never see you looking at the music.” I said, “Next time, come up and look.” He looked up there. They had comic books. We carried about thirty or forty comic books at the time. People think, well, we’re reading Duke’s music but we’d be up there playing like hell and everybody’d be reading comic books.65

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Paternal Genealogy

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Happy Father's Day to everybody in the U.S. I wasn't anticipating starting Chapter Two of the Pepper Adams biography this past week. I started organizing some of my materials for it after I finished Chapter One. But then I found myself finding, much to my delight, all sorts of previously written text. When I starting piecing things together I began to write and refine. Now I have six pages written and probably another twenty pages worth of notes that I need to rework. It includes a great deal of transcribed interview material from several people who knew him well as a child, specifically Raymond Murphy and Jack Huggler.

Essentially, Chapter Two is in place. It discusses the period 1930-1947, from the time Adams was born through the time he returned from Rochester, New York to Detroit. One section, already done is his father's genealogy. It wasn't until two days ago through today that I fit it all together. I was helped immeasurably by Pepper's cousin, Joie Gifford, who lived in the Seattle area (Whidbey Island) and who I presume passed away a few years ago. All my emails to her have bounced back and phone numbers are no longer of any use. Gifford did the pioneering research with another family member on the Adams line and handed it to me years ago on a silver platter. I only had to figure out what I had, then follow her lead to fit in a few extra pieces. I'll share it with you here.

What follows is one section of Chapter Two, with some footnotes beneath it. One discusses the presidential Adams family and its relationship to Pepper's line. How appropriate for Father's Day that I would post this about Pepper's dad and his family! Enjoy!

The paternal Adams line in the United States stretches back eight generations to James Adams, Pepper’s sixth great-grandfather.2 James Adams, of Scottish origin, was captured on September 3, 1650 by Oliver Cromwell’s forces at the Battle of Dunbar. Only fifteen years old at the time, Adams was fighting for the monarchy on behalf of Scotland during the final years of the English Civil War. A few months after his capture he was ordered as a prisoner of war to board the Unity for passage across the Atlantic Ocean to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, arriving in Charlestown in December, 1650. Adams was sentenced to seven years of labor at the Saugus Ironworks in Lynn, Massachusetts.3 An indentured servant at Saugus, Adams lived in a four-man-to-a-house dwelling, was allowed to work the land four days a week, and was mandated to spend the other three days toiling at the Iron Works. Once obtaining his release in 1657, Adams founded with a few others in Boston the Scots’ Charitable Society, the Western Hemisphere’s oldest charitable organization.4 Five years later he married a Puritan, Priscilla Ramsdell, in Concord, Massachusetts who bore him seven children.

One of his sons, James Jr, moved his family to nearby Rhode Island, where his son Nathaniel was born in 1708. Nathaniel, Pepper’s fourth great-grandfather, likely died in Groton, Connecticut, where his son James III, one of ten children, was born in 1732. James in turn moved his family inland to Upstate New York, where it would be based for the next four generations.

By the mid-nineteenth century, Pepper Adams’ ancestors had settled near Rome, New York. Pepper’s grandfather, Nathaniel Quincy Adams, married Alice Frances Cleveland there in 1879 and they had five children: Mina, Harry, Rita, Marguerite, and Pepper’s father Park. The youngest of five children, Park was born in Rome on January 19, 1896. Nathaniel Quincy Adams’ obituary goes into considerable detail about the clan:

Nathaniel Q. Adams, 71, former Rome hotel man, died suddenly at his home in Oriskany yesterday afternoon. He was in the garden when taken ill and died before medical aid could be given.
Nathaniel Quincy Adams was born in Westmoreland [on] April 15, 1858, son of the late Nathaniel Q. and Angeline Eames Adams. His father, who was a contractor and builder, invented and patented in 1828 certain new features of the threshing machine which later were used with success. The elder Adams at one time owned the old Verona Spring House. When Mr. Adams was four years old the family moved to Verona Mills where he learned the wagonmaker’s trade, which he followed at that place until he was 28 years of age. He then located in Rome where he was a resident for more than a quarter of a century. In the latter city he at first pursued his trade and subsequently bought a hotel on South James Street, then known as the Temperance Hotel, which he conducted for ten years as the Adams House.
Ill health compelled him to sell out and retire in 1913. He then moved to Utica and for several months lived on State Street, near Court Street. In 1914 he bought a home in Oriskany.
Starting as a lad in modest circumstances, Mr. Adams gained a reputable place in business. He was a member of Waterbury Memorial Church, of which he was a trustee for several years. For more than 25 years he had been a member of Fort Stanwix Lodge 63, IOOF. Mr. Adams was also a member of Oriskany Lodge 799 F & AM.
He was married at Verona Mills in 1879 to Miss Frances Cleveland, who survives with two sons and three daughters: Harry A. of Chicago; Park of Detroit, Michigan; Mrs. Frederick Weaver of Hollywood, California; Mrs. Allen B. Head of Tallahassee, Florida; and Mrs. Leroy Johnston of Los Angeles.5

The 1880 census lists Nathaniel Adams as a boat builder. His trade at that time was no doubt influenced by his proximity to the nearby Oneida Lake and the Erie Canal that passed directly through Rome. Some 23 years later in an entirely different line of work, you still couldn’t get a shot of whiskey at the Adams House hotel but you could get a meal for a quarter. At that time electric streetcars traveled between Rome and Utica through Oriskany, the halfway point between both cities. Its train stop was directly across the street from Adams’ Oriskany home. Mercifully, Pepper’s grandfather died just a few months before the Stock Market Crash of 1929. He would be spared the misery that his wife and children would endure for the next decade.

2The authors acknowledge the pioneering genealogical research done by Pepper’s cousin Joie Gifford. According to the site, “the surname of Adam is of great antiquity in Scotland. Duncan Adam, son of Alexander Adam, lived in the reign of King Robert Bruce, and had four sons, from whom all the Adams, Adamsons, and Adies in Scotland are descended.” (In the twelfth century Robert the Bruce led Scotland during the First War of Scottish Independence against England. He regained Scotland’s independence and is still revered as a national hero.) Pepper’s sixth great-grandfather, James Adams, may have been born in Carlisle, Cumberland, England, just over the Scottish border, around 1635.  He died in Concord, Massachusetts on December 2, 1707. Although Pepper Adams believed that he was 100% Irish, the evidence points to him being at least half Scottish and half Irish. Furthermore, it’s unclear if the Adams line that produced two American presidents (John and John Quincy) is in any way related to James Adams and his family. Whereas James Adams was Scottish, though possibly being born in Northern England, John Adams’ second great-grandfather’s family was English, born in Somersetshire, 300 miles away, west of London in the southern part of the country. A more detailed genealogy of both Adams families in England in the 1600s and earlier and would be needed to see if they were related.
3Saugus, a subsidiary of The Company of Undertakers of the Iron Works in New England, was founded by the Colonial Governor John Winthrop and several other entrepreneurs.
4The Society awards undergraduate scholarships to the Scottish-American community and provides relief to individuals and Scottish families in need. The Society also seeks to promote Scottish and Celtic heritage through education, participation in highland games, parades and other cultural events throughout the Greater Boston area.
5June 22, 1929 edition of the Rome Sentinel.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Detroit Groove: Al McKibbon

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

I'm very pleased and genuinely excited to report that I've finished the first chapter of Pepper Adams' biography. I've been building to this moment for 34 years so for me it's very gratifying to be at long last getting my thoughts about Pepper down on paper.. Some of you might not know that I first conceptualized this project in 1984. I wanted to write a biography of a jazz musician. Somehow, really quite miraculously, Pepper became my subject. What a blessing!

Entitled "What Is It?" the twenty pages cover 1947-1951, the period of Adams' life in or transitioning to Detroit. The chapter is divided into sections in this order:

1. Adams seeing Charlie Parker live for the first time. 
2. Why Adams moved from Rochester NY to Detroit, and its many implications.
3. Taking a month of saxophone lessons in New York City with Skippy Williams.
4. The racial climate in Detroit.
5. The influence of Grinnell's Brothers Music House.
6. Mentorship with Wardell Gray, the talent show with Lionel Hampton, meeting Charles Mingus.
7. Adams goes to Wayne University, he buys his Berg Larsen mouthpiece and his first Selmer horn.
8. Gig with Little John and His Merrymen, first gig with Donald Byrd and Paul Chambers, mentorship with Beans Bowles, enlisting in the Army.

Chapter Two will be called "Inanout." It will explore Adams' early life, moving around a great deal from Detroit to rural Indiana and to various places in Upstate New York. Much of his time, from about three years old until sixteen, was spent in Rochester, New York. Rochester's history, especially its World War II climate and jazz scene, will be examined. The effect on him -- of not being grounded, of having attachment and intimacy issues -- will be discussed. 

Because I spent much of the week wrapping up Chapter 1 and then organizing 150 pages of notes for Chapter 2, there's not anything else to add. I do have some "outtakes" that I won't be using for the biography that I hope you find interesting. What follows are some notes and quotes from my 1988 interview with the great Detroit bassist Al McKibbon that likely won't make the Pepper biography. In addition are some notes from his interview for the Smithsonian.

My interview with McKibbon:
Lanny Scott was a fine pianist from Cleveland who played around Detroit. According to McKibbon, he played like Art Tatum.

"When I was 16 or 17, I worked at a place called the B&C. That was a place that had an old-time vaudeville format. They had a bunch of singers, male and female, and they would do what they called "ups." They did turns, coming up to entertain. We had a five-piece band behind them. They would play and the girls would go around to the different tables and pick up the tips, sometimes not with their hands! We played whatever were the popular tunes of the day, and blues, of course. I never played rock 'n' roll. That was never a part of it when I was a kid, never. Even before that, I played with a dance band. They had two or three or four dance bands around there. We tried to play like Basie or Jimmie Lunceford or Duke Ellington."

Cut Collins was Ocie's husband and drummer. Another band was Hal Green. Another was Gloster Current. His brother, Lester, played trumpet. He had a good band and later became known for his work with the NAACP.

Today it's thought of as a suburb but, in the 1930s, Pontiac was another town a long way away from Detroit. 

McKibbon never played Hastings Street. That's where all the "joints" were based. In McKibbon's view, they were scuzzy, rough-and-tumble places. In the twenties, Hastings Street "had a good theater over there that had vaudeville. I saw the first sound movie over there: Al Jolson, The Jazz Singer." This is where he saw Butterbeans and Susie, Ethel Waters and others.

Peers in Detroit: Saxophonist Ted Buckner, drummer Kelly Martin (who played a long time with Errol Garner). McKibbons' group at the Congo Club included Howard McGhee and Matthew Gee (trombonist; though from Newark, he was in Detroit for a long time), Kelly Martin, Wardell Gray, Teddy Edwards. It was about 10 pieces--a killer band, led at first by Martin, then co-led by McGhee and another. Their guitarist, Ted Smith, went with Andy Kirk: "Good guitarist." Fantastic band. In 1940, "Lionel Hampton came through there with his first big band. Carl George, his lead trumpeter, said, 'Hey, I'll come down and play some first with you guys.' 'Oh, fine,' McKibbon related sardonically. He came in the door and Howard McGhee was hitting altissimo something. He never took his horn out! Two sets, he listened to us."

Around 1940: "The Paradise Theater used to feature New York shows. I remember one show was going to hang over there, so the chorus guys and girls came into the [Congo] club where we were playing and we had to play for them. We played for Una Mae Carlisle, Billie Holiday."

"The Cozy Corner had a five piece group in there that was really swinging! J.C. Heard played in there."

About Detroit: "There were all those people there, all playing good. They had some tenor players and piano players that used to wipe everybody out! There was one tenor player named Lorenzo Lawson. He went to audition for Basie's band. The rehearsal was late and he said, 'The hell with them,' and went home. . . Trombone Smitty. I thought he was fantastic! He used to take his horn out of pawn and play the job and put it back. There was another guy there by the name of 'Cubby' . . . He played the Cozy Corner with J.C. Heard. Bill Johnson played trumpet."

Lawson was fantastic, but likely never recorded. He played like Prez. Julius Watkins came from there. Major Holley was younger. So was "Bags."

"There used to be a guy around there, when I was really not playing too well. His name was Frank Fry. He was a hell of a trumpet player! There was another name, Buddy Lee. He used to teach a lot of trumpet players that came through there. In the thirties, yeah. Lannie, the piano player. There was Maurice King, the saxophone player. I used to be in his band.”

Smithsonian interview with Al McKibbon:
In the early 1930s, McKibbon played with Milt and Teddy Buckner (alto, originally with Lunceford), and later with drummer Freddie Bryant.

At the Graystone Ballroom, depending on the weather, they had either inside or outside dancing. Fletcher Henderson, McKinney's Cotton Pickers, Luis Russell (with Louis Armstrong), Ellington and Cab Calloway played there. McKibbon's older brother, Alfonso McKibbon, played guitar and banjo with McKinney's Cotton Pickers and encouraged his brother to play bass, thinking string bass would be the new thing. Ted Smith, guitarist, played like Charlie Christian. He, McKibbon, and a saxophonist had a trio. Milt Buckner, not George Shearing, invented the locked-hands style of piano, he pointed out. He played the Congo Club, then the Three Sixes with Teddy Buckner's band--Kelly Martin on drums (who played with Erskine Hawkins). Wellman Braud was McKibbon's first influence. He had a big sound and McKibbon strove for that big, strong sound. He also liked the way Walter Page walked. After them, Blanton and Pettiford were an influence on his playing.

                                   (Al McKibbon, Bud Powell's favorite bassist)

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Detroit Cats and Clubs

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Here's some random historical information about Detroit's jazz history that I've collected from my many Pepper Adams interviews. It pertains mosty to Detroit in the 1940s and '50s. Because it's not likely to be used in my Pepper Adams biography, I'm posting it here to make it available to researchers.

Elvin Jones:
"I used to peep in the window [at the Blue Bird] and watch him. I always used to tell him, 'Keep the curtain open so I can watch you and see what you're doing.' And he did. I was watching him because the drums were right there by the window. (Roy Brooks used to stand out there sometimes.) I think he was playing more then than he was later on in life. He didn't have more chops. He had more swing and more drive. He began to get it together there. Billy Mitchell told me that when Elvin came out of the Air Force, his right hand was weak. When he'd be playing the ride cymbal, instead of getting a clear ti-ti-TING, he'd get a ti-TING, ti-TING. So Billy Mitchell told him, 'Look, your right hand is weak. Fill in with your left hand.' And that's what he would do. Elvin, and all of the Jones', had an uncanny sense of time--like Thad. So, Elvin too, it seemed like he was playing in three a lot, but you don't know that because the four is there too! Elvin was dynamite!" - Frant Gant

"The Paradise Valley was a cluster of many clubs. . . A gorgeous place to be, safe, everybody had a ball going from place to place. It was downtown, about four or five blocks from the heart of town. All the entertainment was there. That's where all the big stars went. Hastings Street bordered it. It was between Hastings Street and Brush Street, bordered by Adams and St. Antoine and Gratiot Avenue, that whole area of six or eight blocks square." - Maurice King

The Valley was really buzzing before 1938, when Maurice King arrived in town. It stayed that way until 1943, when the riot broke out. After that, wealthy whites stopped visiting. Then, the clubs moved north, closer to Wayne University, such as the Flame Showbar, which looked like a Las Vegas club. Two others within a block or two were the Frolic Showbar and Chesterfield Lounge.

"In the early '40s, there were many clubs in The Valley: small clubs where there was music, all up and down Hastings Street, extended all the way to the north end, which became Oakland Avenue. Later on, the clubs started moving to the west side, like the Blue Bird, like Klein's on Twelfth Street. Hastings more or less died. In fact, there is no more Hastings now. It's the Chrysler Freeway. City planning changes the complexion of cities. That's what happened." - Yusef Lateef

“The Valley was only maybe two or three or four blocks long, from Hastings Street and Adams to, say, John R and Adams.” - Charles Boles

"There were many bars, all of which had live music. The first beginning of it was the Sportree's, a club. It started from The Valley, going up Hastings Street. The most famous place on Hastings Street was the Cozy Corner. That was the most plush nightclub. It had a Copa atmosphere. Just a place where people would go to dance. They had a cover charge and had dinner. It was a supper club." - Maurice King

Hastings Street had prostitution. “It had all the evils that any major city had.” - Charles Johnson

The Club Sudan was downtown. Kenny Burrell played there.

The Flame was on John R and Garfield.

The El Sino and The Three Sixes (666) were near each other in The Valley.

When Thad and Billy Mitchell had their band in 1949-1950 or so: "The jazz scene was hot during that time. The Blue Bird was going six nights a week and it was packed every night." - Bob Pierson

"I got into Bizerte and Royal Blue occasionally when underage. - Bob Pierson

The Pine Grove, the Black Hawk: little bars on the Near West Side; Clarence Beasley and Pepper Adams played at these clubs after 1948.

"We first began to hear Sonny Stitt when we were still going to dances as teenagers." -Clarence Beasley

Sonny Stitt's father was a minister and he allowed all these aspiring youngsters to jam at his church. At that time, Stitt played the Iragon Ballroom on Woodward, near the Mirror Ballroom (where Bird played). Beasley and his cohort hung out at the Iragon from their middle teens until around 19 years old, when they started branching out and getting their own gigs and moving away from the dance scene.

The Brady Bar was going on the East Side in 1955. Barry Harris played there, as did Pepper Adams.  Harris' nickname was "Little Bud."

Gigs in Detroit took place from 9-2. After the gig, all the musicians in town used to congregate across the street from the Bowl-o-Drome (12707 Dexter Blvd. near Davison or Burlingame) at the Esquire Restaurant for breakfast. Roland Hanna, Barry Harris and Harold McKinney, however, didn't hang out. They were very studious.

The Paradise Theater in Detroit: "They had the best black talent in the world. It was another Apollo. In fact, it might have been a couple degrees above it. You go see a movie and then you stay and see the stage show. You could stay as long as you wanted." - Oliver Shearer

Local musicians:
Eddie Jamison, a great local alto player, "had a distinctive sound," according to Clarence Beasley. "It was soulful."

Willie Anderson: "So many big names tried to get him out of Detroit and he would not go. He never had the confidence in himself because he never had the formal training, the building blocks that he could use. He simply refused to go out of town with these bands. He didn't want to be pigeonholed or whatnot, but, my God, did he have a reputation for being one of the finest pianists locally. He was a fantastic jazz player." - Clarence Beasley

"Hugh Lawson had a very fine, strong left hand." - Clarence Beasley

Tim Kennedy was a very fine Detroit drummer, about five years older. He played with Illinois Jacquet.
- Clarence Beasley

"Johnny Allen was a really good pianist on the scene and a fantastic arranger. He was from Chicago and went to school with Nat Cole but relocated in Detroit. He played the Silver Slipper with Tate Houston when Eckstine worked there."  - Clarence Beasley

Willie Wells dissipated with drugs, and was sad to see, but a great player on the scene.

Joe Brazil hosted jam sessions at his house that Wells and a lot of the youngsters played.

Jimmy Glover, a real good bass player out of Detroit. - Bob Pierson

"A lot of guys never made it. There was Will Davis, a real good piano player, and Bu Bu Turner, another good piano player. . . . There were some real good tenor players. Tommy Barnet, and Lefty Edwards--they were a little bit older, more mature." - Bob Pierson

Abe Woodley: "Abe was something! I'll tell ya, next to Milt, he had the best feel I ever heard on vibes and he could play some great bebop piano too!" - Bob Pierson

Bu Bu Turner: "Great player, great accompanist, too, for a horn player, and he could burn his ass off playing jazz." - Bob Pierson

Art Mardigan sound: "He had a great feel and you could hear the beat of the stick on the cymbal. He had the best sound out of the cymbal I've ever heard and I've heard them all. Art had that, and a lot of guys that played around Detroit got that from him. They all got the nice sound out of the cymbal." - Bob Pierson

Warren Hickey: "A tenor player. A wonderful player." - Bob Pierson

Other fine Detroit players, as per Bob Pierson: Leon Rice (dm), Willie Wells (before junk got to him), Gus Rosario.

Tate Houston had a nice sound.

Lefty Edwards was a good tenor player.

Claire Roquemore: “couldn’t stay out of jail.” - Charles Johnson

Roquemore: "He was a wonderful, young, Caucasian-looking trumpet player. He was very fair-skinned, blonde-haired. He probably had a white mother and a mixed father. He looked white but he wasn't white. He was mixed. Whenever Claire had a gig, he'd use Pepper." - Roland Hanna

“The great Claire Rocquemore? He could play anything. He’d wear Miles out. He’d wear anybody out. Donald didn’t want to get on the bandstand with him. He ended up being strung out. And he didn’t go anywhere. He would always be around, when he could keep it together, and kick everybody’s butt. He was at Barry’s house all the time.” - Charles Boles

"There was a guy named Benny Benjamin. He was a guy that went with Motown. He was a bad sucker! He could play in any kind of groove--bebop, or the blues. He had the feeling. He was a bitch! Wilbur Harden, this trumpet player [moved to Detroit in 57 and played with Yusef, was sick for four years then played with Curtis], and Teeter Ford [in Barry Harris' group in the early 50s, replacing Claire Roquemore, with Sonny Red.] - Frank Gant

                                              (Elvin Jones)