Sunday, September 2, 2018

Return of the Pepper Bio

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

I've begun writing Part II of Pepper Adams' biography (1930-1986). In the last two weeks I've written about forty pages, starting with Pepper's death at home on September 10, 1986 and working my way back in time. My plan is to write in reverse chronological order until I reach the end of Part I, when Pepper packed his bags and moved to New York. Then, having come full circle, I'll conclude by assessing whether what he set out to do in music was actually achieved.

I've finished listening again to the interview I did with Tommy and Diana Flanagan. They had a lot to say about how Pepper approached death, how and why his marriage collapsed, and what really took place versus what the New York jazz community thought was going on. I quote a few very poignant letters to give a sense of what Pepper was enduring at that time. The one below was written as a kind of confessional and published in the July, 1986 issue of JazzTimes. By the time of its publication, he would only have about six more weeks before he passed away:

I’d like to thank you for the kind words in the current JazzTimes, and thank you particularly for stressing the fact that I’m continuing to work. People have been exceedingly kind, and their contributions have been quite helpful, but opposed to the cost of the treatments that are, to put it bluntly, keeping me alive, private charity can only go so far. The bulk of the costs have been offset by my own efforts in being able to work, and work effectively. And, if I may say so myself, I’ve done remarkably well for fourteen months, and the next three months appear quite secure.

And this despite the efforts of a few unscrupulous agents, who have used my name to secure work and then, when the job was secure, informed the purchaser that I was too ill to perform and substituted someone else. I’ve learned about these incidents when the purchaser (club owner, festival executive, etc.) would call to commiserate about my health when I was sitting home, feeling fine but out of work. I wonder if these agents considered that by eroding my reputation for reliability they were diminishing my chances for survival; if they did think about it, they were obviously not deterred. Which is why I consider it important that people be reminded occasionally that I’m still a credible working musician. . . .

I must report, though, that my string of playing every job I had contracted for has finally come to an end. It happened on my last trip to Europe, in April, which ended in near-disaster. It started at the Dublin Festival, where they drove me into the ground like a tent peg. I had five concerts with five different bands (four of them requiring lengthy rehearsals), a 2 1/2 hour master class, and a live television show, all within three days. I was already in a lot of pain when I arrived in Paris to work seven straight nights at Le Petit Opportun; after five nights the pain became so overwhelming that I had to sit out the last two nights.

When I got home it was discovered that I had a severe case of pleurisy, which was raging out of control since it had been there, untreated, for ten days or so. My oncologist held off the chemotherapy while I was in such rotten shape, but finally the point was reached when it had to be administered, ready or not. I could tell that the doctor was worried and, frankly, so was I, but it’s worked out well. I’m recovering nicely. I’ve felt nearly myself for several days, and still have a couple of weeks to recoup my strength before I resume work. My itinerary through the middle of September is sprinkled with nice paydays, and at no point so burdensome as to tempt a return bout of the pleurisy, nor of the pneumonia I went through twice last winter. Things are definitely looking up.

Since I'm donating my large book and periodical collection to Georgia State University, I have in front of me access to this huge jazz library that for fourteen years was packed up in boxes in my basement. I've spent this month skimming through many articles from Wire, Cadence, JazzTimes, Down Beat, Jazz Journal and many others to locate interesting tidbits I can use for color in the narrative. So far, I've found these:

“He was terrified when the band started to swing, he didn’t understand it,” said the bassist Red Kelly.

“If Elvin was anything drum-wise, it’s about fullness of sound . . . the absolute fullness of the tonal palette,” said the saxophonist Dave Liebman.

“It was very grueling," said Joe Temperley. "There used to be some awful bus journeys. It was a hard life, you know: ten-hour bus ride and you’d get to the job twenty minutes before you had to hit, then change your clothes in the toilet downstairs and play all night. And then, maybe sleep that night and then the next night you would hit and run; but you play the gig. You sleep all night and travel all day to the gig, and play the gig -- this is the second night -- play the gig and then travel all night to save a night’s rent. Those were the days. That happened all the time.”

“New York was vibrant then," said Joe Temperley. "You could go and hear Al and Zoot; go one night and Phil would be sitting in with them and another night Richie Kamuca would be sitting in with them. You could go hear John Coltrane and sit all night -- buy a bottle of beer, two bottles of beer -- and sit all night and listen to the music.”

“When I left in ‘68," said Art Farmer, "the United States was in a very bad situation. There were assassinations, social unrest, people afraid to go out at night, and with so many jazz clubs in the so-called ‘ghetto areas,’ people felt that they were taking their lives in their hands if they went out to hear jazz. That had a bad effect on a person who tried to play for a live public.”

Mel Lewis’ greatest influence was the drummer Tiny Kahn, said the bassist Red Kelly.

“I heard Pepper say a couple of things that made me know that he and Thad had been very close in their lives," said Seldon Powell. "And I think they were still close, but there maybe was a rub or two here and there. Pepper told Thad one time, when he figured that he wasn’t getting his share of solos and whatnot. But I remember Pepper saying one time -- somebody said something about that to Pepper, and he turned and said to him, ‘When I was in the army and they sent me to Japan during the Korean War,’ he said, ‘I received two letters the entire time I was over there. One of them was from Thad Jones.’ And the inflection that was in his voice told me something about how he felt about [Thad]. They might have had a conflict here or there but I’m sure they felt very close to each other as human beings and as musicians, and they were the giants of their time.”

See you next month,