Tuesday, June 5, 2018


© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

I'm just back from a vacation in Canada. Sorry for the delay in uploading this post. On my way home I visited with trumpeter Denny Christianson, who was the only musician to ever record Pepper Adams in a big band setting with Adams as the featured soloist. That recording, Suite: Mingus, and its follow-up date, More Pepper (with a few additional cuts from the Montreal session), were released posthumously. Adams, very weak from cancer in February, 1986, made it through the recording but it was a Herculean struggle for him to get through the date. Denny told me that, for the first few takes, the rhythm section was pulling back the time to stay with Pepper because he was back-phrasing. Denny had to instruct them to keep the time in place so Pepper could express himself as he wished.

Christianson has run the esteemed Humber College jazz program in Toronto for eighteen years, building it to its current state as one of the world's finest. At age 75, he has just retired. He intends to begin writing his memoirs once all his things in his office are organized and packed.

It was a joy to reminisce about Pepper with him and his wife, Rose, and to share parts of the first half of my Pepper book with them. Later, saxophonists Pat LaBarbera, Kirk MacDonald, and Shirantha Beddage, all on the Humber faculty, came by for a barbecue. What a great experience! From Denny, Rose and Kirk I was able to record some more valuable interview material that will be helpful in the second half of the biography.

While in Canada, before returning to Toronto, I hung out with my pepperadams.com webmaster. We made considerable progress with the Dedications page, gathering performances. That page, and Big Band Arrangements, are currently being updated. New Chronology files have already been posted at the site. In some cases, these are the first updates in over a year, with much new information, including the newly researched inception of the Thad Jones-Pepper Adams Quintet.

My co-author on the Pepper biography, John Vana, and I have adopted a new working title for the Pepper Adams book. We're running with Reflectory: The Life and Music of Pepper Adams. Do you like it? John felt that the title underscored Pepper's contemplative, intellectual side. I felt that it had an air of poetry to it. The subtitle needs to be there to reflect the bifurcated nature --  Pepper's life and the musical analysis -- of our twin approach. As with my first Adams book, Pepper Adams' Joy Road, we'll use on the cover what I feel is Pepper's most iconic photograph.

I've added a surprise, very special guest to write an Afterword to the book. Still another contributor is in the works. The idea is to have at least one world renowned jazz scholar/musician validate some of John Vana's observations, to add weight and emphasis to them. For one thing, putting Adams in a class with Bird and Trane will surprise some, if not many. I feel it's important that Vana's conclusions not be perceived as the ranting of a biased fan. Having an Afterword will silence the cynics, and startle those who have been asleep about Adams.

To that aim, Vana will be teaching a graduate course at Western Illinois University in the Spring, 2019: "The Big Three: Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Pepper Adams." I expect he'll make all sorts of discoveries that will make its way to our book.

I've been listening recently to my interviews with Tommy and Diana Flanagan. I'm nearly finished with them. The great value of this documentation is that it helps me understand the last few years of Pepper's life, especially how he dealt with his final illness.

I did listen to my interview with Bob Wilber that I conducted in 1988, between sets at the Sticky Wicket Pub in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, where he appeared as a soloist with a rhythm section. Wow, was he tremendous that Sunday afternoon!

Here are some Wilber interview excerpts about Pepper:

"He saw the possibility of taking the big sound from the baritone, from Carney, and applying it to bebop jazz -- which was a difficult thing to do because when you have a really big sound it tends to be sluggish. It tends to slow you down."

"One of the tensions that he achieved in his playing was this feeling of being slightly behind, as though he was falling behind. It added tension to his playing."

"Yeah, legato tongue, where Carney tended to be more legato without any tonguing. He had great harmonic sophistication. He explored all the possibilities of using the diminished scale, and all kinds of things. Very sophisticated harmonically."

"A gentle guy. He had that soft way of speaking."

In the next few weeks I'll begin cataloging part of Adams' collection before I drive up to New Jersey to donate it to the William Paterson University Archive. I'll be including a list of Pepper's 78s and LPs, as well as his personal 8-Track collection, as appendices in the biography. How appropriate to have the Pepper and Thad Jones collections together at the same institution!

Last month I promised to share Eddie Locke interview excerpts. That will have to wait until my next installment. I may also include some of Doc Holladay's interview excerpts next month too.
Happy Summer to all!