Happy New Year! I was able to fit in a trip to New York over the Christmas holidays. In anticipation of finally delivering the first batch of Pepper Adams materials to William Paterson University’s Living Jazz Archive, a few weeks ago I emailed the following announcement to my jazz research colleagues around the globe:
I'm very pleased to announce that in the next few weeks I will be delivering to William Paterson University the first batch of Pepper's materials from his estate. My goal was to make his materials available somewhere in the New York City area, where far more researchers would have access to it. Furthermore, the idea of pairing his materials with Thad Jones' was irresistible. Many thanks to David Demsey for making this possible.
Mostly LPs and 78s are all I can squeeze into my little VW this time around. On subsequent trips north, I will deliver his papers, photographs and ephemera, plus my research notes and many rare audience recordings and broadcasts. Some of Pepper's documents have already been posted at my Instagram site: https://www.instagram.com/pepperadamsblog/
Additionally, all of my interviews with and about Pepper, about 275 at last count, are being digitally preserved by Worcester Polytechnic Institute's Jazz History Database: http://jazzhistorydatabase.com/index.php Available to anyone with internet access, all of the audio should be available starting this summer.
Also, while editing the final draft of the first half of my Adams biography, I sent the following excerpts of my galleys to my good friend Anders Savnoe. He’s the author of Bluesville: The Journey of Sonny Red, (Scarecrow, 2003), the study of Detroit alto saxophonist Sonny Red. I knew he’d appreciate reading all my references to Red:
Donald Byrd met the alto saxophonist Sonny Red in 1945 at the Hutchins Intermediate School. They had classes together, played school dances, and were in the orchestra and concert band.
Charles Boles, Claude Black, Sonny Red, Donald Byrd, Paul Chambers, Doug Watkins, Teddy Harris and Tommy Flanagan all attended Northern High. Its program was run by Orvis Lawrence, who had played with Glenn Miller and the Dorsey Brothers. “Claude was in the choral group with me,” remembered Charles Boles:
We all did the Messiah every year. We were very good. They had a very good [voice] teacher there, Claire Weimer. . . . I couldn’t play in the concert band because I couldn’t read as well as Donald Byrd’s sister, Martha Byrd. She was a classical pianist. So I ended up playing bells in the concert band, and then I played piano in the dance band. They very rarely played any dances. We just played jazz tunes, and blues of course. In that band were people like Donald Byrd and Sonny Red, Paul [Chambers]. Paul and I used to eat lunch together every day. When he got to the 10th Grade, he went to Cass. Him and Donald Byrd both.
Claire Roquemore is still another Detroit legend. “There was this great trumpet player named Claire Rocquemore,” wrote Miles Davis in his autobiography. “He was one of the best I ever heard.” “He could play anything,” remembered Charles Boles:
He’d wear Miles out. He’d wear anybody out. Donald [Byrd] 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.
Roquemore “was a wonderful, young, Caucasian-looking trumpet player,” recalled Roland Hanna. “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.” When Charlie Parker came to town, he would ask, “Where’s ‘Roque?’” Teeter Ford, yet another obscure trumpet player who never fulfilled his immense potential, replaced Roquemore in Barry Harris’ group (with alto saxophonist Sonny Red) in the early 1950s, According to Frank Gant, he had a better tone than Rocquemore, but not Roquemore’s extraordinary breath control. Harris believed that Ford would eventually become jazz’s greatest trumpeter.
When Frank Foster moved to Detroit in 1949, he taught many of the young musicians, including Barry Harris, how to work with tritone substitutions. “I think Frank Foster was probably one the best things to happen to Detroit when he came,” said Barry Harris. “He knew a lot about music. He was our biggest influence.” In turn, Detroit shaped Foster. “When I came to Detroit,” Foster told the audience at Thad Jones’ memorial service at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in New York City, “I could play. But Detroit taught me how to swing.” In 1950 or so, before he joined the U.S. Army, Foster would meet with some of the budding Northern High School musicians. “He was becoming a pretty astute arranger,” said the pianist Teddy Harris. “He would get Donald Byrd, Sonny Red, and myself and Claude Black, and take us to his house, where he would teach us how to read his arrangements.”
Detroit’s musicians revered Harris as much as they feared his mandates for self-improvement. After high school was out an any given day, some of Detroit’s most dedicated young players went to either Barry Harris’ house or Bobby Barnes’, depending on how they were faring with Harris’ jazz assignment from the previous week and how much courage they possessed. “At Bobby Barnes’ house,” remembered Charles Boles, “Roland Hanna was the piano player, Gene Taylor was the bass player, Claude Black played trombone, and Bobby Barnes played the sax.
Sometimes we’d go to Bobby Barnes’ house, who lived on Russell on the North End, or we’d go to Barry Harris’ house. Sonny Red would go back and forth. . . . We would come out of Northern High School — me and Paul Chambers and Sonny Red — and we’d catch the Woodward bus. . . south, downtown to, say, Warren, and then you’d catch the crosstown bus to Russell. And then you’d catch the Russell bus to Barry’s house. . . . At Barry’s house, it was almost a situation where it was either Doug [Watkins] or Paul. They were in fierce competition. . . . When we went to Barry Harris’ house, more than likely you’re gonna get slaughtered! You know what they do? They would egg you on, and do everything they could do to get you to play, and then they’d play something like “Cherokee” or some hard-ass tune. Of course, they’d play it at some ridiculous speed, but you couldn’t keep up. So you’d go home and you’d practice that all week long, and you go back and they’d play it in “A,” or play it in some other ridiculous key that would have nothing to do with the tune at all. They’d say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m in ‘A.’” Whatever you practiced would be null and void. You could barely play in B-flat! When you get your butt kicked at Barry Harris’ house, then you’d slink on over to Bobby Barnes’ house the next two or three days. You wouldn’t dare show your face at Barry Harris’ house when you got killed already. He was a master teacher, though. I tell you what: If you continued to go there, he would help you. He would teach you how to improvise.