Monday, February 3, 2020

Big Band Recording Released!

After a seven year delay, the big band recording of ten Pepper Adams compositions has finally been released. What a relief! Hugs to all my Kickstarter contributors who so graciously made this happen, who so patiently awaited for this recording to see the light of day. The various twists and turns that we experienced are detailed in the liner notes, reprinted below.

The tunes are available digitally on CD Baby:
Physical CDs will be produced, but not before the first half of my Pepper Adams biography is published. 

The University of Illinois Concert Jazz Band 
Chip McNeill, Director
featuring the University of Illinois Jazz Faculty:
 Tito Carrillo trumpet and flugelhorn
Jim Pugh trombone
Chip McNeill tenor and soprano saxophone
 Glenn Wilson baritone sax 
 Chip Stephens piano
Larry Gray bass
Joel Spencer drums

In 2012, I traveled throughout North America on a forty-city book- and record-release tour. My travels took me throughout the Midwest and East Coast of the U.S., up and down the West Coast, and across Canada. Mostly, I gave lectures to university jazz students about Pepper Adams, reading excerpts from my book Pepper Adams’ Joy Road. But in certain cities, such as Montreal, Vancouver, Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Francisco, various bands also performed Adams’ music. 
The highlight of the entire tour was “Pepper Adams Week” in New York City, sponsored by Motema, the record label that released my five-CD set of Pepper’s music. The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra performed several Thad Jones’ charts that originally featured baritone solos; Gary Smulyan and George Mraz played at various venues throughout the week (including a three-baritone event in Harlem with Frank Basile and Ronnie Cuber); Alexis Cole had a record release party at Smoke; and on the last night, a twin-bill at Birdland featured Lew Tabackin performing Pepper’s music, plus Bevan Manson conducting his octet arrangements of Pepper’s music for jazz and string quartets. After 28 years of work on Pepper Adams’ life and music, everything came together so beautifully. It was immensely gratifying to see how many musicians turned out at the various events out of respect to Pepper’s legacy.
Although I had already produced Adams’ entire oeuvre of 42 compositions for small-group, and the co-branding of my book and Motema project/tour was still in the exploratory stage, I remained especially intrigued by the idea of showcasing Pepper’s music for big band. To see if commissioning a few big band charts of Pepper’s music was even possible, in 2011 and early 2012 I reached out to the saxophonists Frank Griffith and Osian Roberts. I had known Frank since 1983, when the two of us were students together at City College of New York. Frank has a ton of experience writing big band arrangements, and, ultimately, I hired him to write charts on “Rue Serpente” and “Reflectory” Roberts, for his part, told me how much he adored Pepper’s playing and compositions, that his goal was to write a group of big band charts to Pepper’s music that he could play with a large group in Prague, where he lives. Similarly, he too did charts on Adams’ sumptuous ballads ”In Love with Night” and “Civilization and Its Discontents.”
Certainly, it was great to have these in hand, but my goal, of course, was to have an album’s worth of material. Even better would be to extend Motema’s “Joy Road” Adams series to a sixth volume, and produce a big band date. To that end, Motema initially expressed interest in the project. Then, with Frank Griffith’s recommendation, I hired a colleague of his to write a number of charts, some of which received their premiere in Vancouver with Jill Townsend’s terrific big band at Cory Weed’s The Cellar. Ultimately, a total of 32 arrangements were prepared, including several for tentet.
I had the arrangements, but, obviously, the cost of producing a big band is astronomical. With this in mind, I thought the best approach would be to engage a first-class university jazz program, thinking that possibly some of their faculty could either participate as guest soloists or function as the rhythm section. My first choice was Denny Christianson and his wonderful program at Humber College in Toronto. It was a no-brainer, really, due to Christianson’s work with Adams on Suite Mingus (JustinTime Records, 1986), the fact that he’s a stellar trumpeter and conductor, that he ran Humber’s jazz program and could make things happen, and he built a top-notch recording studio at the school. Further, my hope was to have some of his faculty participate, especially the extraordinary saxophonist Pat LaBarbera, who I produced on Alexis Cole’s vocal date (Joy Road, Volume 5). Unfortunately, as much Denny wanted to do the project, only a year earlier, a parent of a Humber student had gotten embroiled with the school regarding his child’s rights to a recording that Christianson’s student band had made. Because of that legal issue, Humber’s administration decided to henceforth cease allowing their students to participate in any recordings that were intended for commercial release.
No longer able to do the project at Humber, I turned to the University of Illinois, which has long had one of America’s finest jazz programs. The baritone saxophonist Glenn Wilson, a Pepper devotee who at the time was on the faculty, got very excited about using my charts as a means of promoting their program. Moreover, Illinois just like Humber, had their own record label that they used to promote their program. Wilson offered to record the charts at the school’s expense. Although we agreed that Illinois’ Concert Jazz Band is one of the leading college jazz orchestras in the world, I felt we needed to insure that the performance was at a professional level and consistent with the rest of my Pepper Adams CDs for Motema. As co-producers, Glenn and I concluded that the best way to achieve this would be to rehearse the student band all semester, then, at the very end, add the world class Illinois faculty as soloists and as the rhythm section.   
So we moved ahead. I delivered the charts. The Illinois band, under the direction of the saxophonist Chip McNeill, polished them over several semesters. After performing them at various venues, the band recorded them over the 2013 Easter weekend at the university’s Smith Memorial Hall Rehearsal Room in Urbana. 
Then things got complicated. First, a hectic Kickstarter campaign was successful in raising funds for studio time. But Wilson’s files weren’t in the preferred format for the engineer Paul Wickliffe. After some difficulty, Wickliffe was able to reformat them. That fall, I traveled to Wickliffe’s New Jersey studio to produce what I thought was a great recording for commercial release. My approach was to in some cases edit down performances, and to also exclude two tracks, to render a fifty-minute CD of what I felt was the strongest material.
Soon thereafter, I learned that sales of the Motema’s five-volume Pepper Adams series was lackluster, that they could not release another date of Pepper’s music. On February 15, 2014, I updated my 97 Kickstarter donors:

I’ve heard from Motema, and they have rejected putting out the CD, even despite an earlier commitment to at least release it digitally. The backup plan was to get re-engaged with the folks at the University of Illinois. Both Chip McNeill and Glenn WIlson have record labels they record with, and the University also has its own label. As soon as things are resolved I'll let you know. The date still needs to be mastered. In the meantime, enjoy the music I've sent you. As always, thanks so much for supporting my ongoing work on the great Pepper Adams.

Since I no longer had a label committed to releasing the date, it became incumbent upon Chip and Glenn to either find another label or have the university’s label release it. Illinois then moved ahead with the project. They reinstated all the edits, had Wickliffe engineer the two deleted tracks (“Patrice” and “Doctor Deep”), and master the final product. On July 8, 2014, five months later, I explained the situation:

I’m happy to report that the University of Illinois is currently working with engineer Paul Wickliffe to reinstate a few solos and edit two extra tracks. Once this is complete and the tunes are reordered, UI will be shopping the date to other labels, now that Motema has suspended their Pepper Adams series. I'll update you as I learn things. Again, thanks so much for your support and patience. 

Throughout the following months, I stayed in touch with Chip and Glenn. A year later, I was relieved that things were finally in place. Accordingly, on September 8, 2015, I sent my Kickstarter donors this update:

I’m very happy to report that Armored Records will be releasing the Pepper Adams CD that you so kindly contributed to some two years ago. Again, thanks for your generosity and your continued patience while mastering was concluded and a label was finally procured. I haven't been given a release date, but I think it's likely it will be out by this Christmas. Once I receive the stack of CDs, I’ll let everyone know so I can reconfirm shipping addresses before mailing them out to all those who contributed at that price level and above.

For the next two years, many emails went back and forth between Chip, Glenn and me about the status of the recording. Finally, in the Fall of 2017, I emailed this out:

I hope this finds everyone well. It’s been almost three years since all of you so kindly contributed to this important CD and tour project. Your funds made so much possible: mastering the big band CD, supporting the one-month North American tour of concerts and lectures, paying for these great arrangements. Some of the footage from the tour will be posted on YouTube soon. It was a fantastic experience for all involved. I hope all of you have enjoyed the rewards that were sent out in December, 2014. 
As I wrote previously, some time ago Motema discontinued the Pepper Adams series. As you may recall, the original fall-back plan was to post the CD at CD Baby, then send you a physical copy. A better strategy was then devised to instead find another label and release the physical CD. If that wasn’t possible, then the University of Illinois’ own label would be used. 
After about a year, the folks at Illinois got a deal to release the date on Armored. That was a great plan, and we were all excited and relieved. But there have been delays with that too, mostly costs for packaging that Illinois has been struggling to budget. If you don't know, the state budget of Illinois is in very tough shape. Along with Pennsylvania, the Illinois state university system is weathering severe cuts, more than anywhere else in the U.S. This has slowed the ultimate release even further.
Although I’ve proposed it several times, and it would take only a few weeks to make the date available digitally at CD Baby, it would be an act of bad faith on my part to release it that way and harm Illinois’ market share. We do remain hopeful that the CD can be released this summer, once Illinois sees if any money remains after the semester is concluded. CD Baby always remains a fall-back plan, if Illinois can not get it out, though the likelihood of that is slim. It could still take another year for them, all things considered, to scrape up the packaging costs.
We thank all of you for your continued patience with this. The folks at Illinois were blindsided, and still have to maintain their excellent jazz program. In the meantime, the arrangements you paid for are being played around the world, and Pepper’s music is being heard, thanks again to you! Yet another concert of this great music is scheduled in two weeks at Utah State, with Jason Marshall as soloist. And one of the arrangements, “Doctor Deep,” has been released by Humber College on their label. Humber’s concert was one of the high points of the tour you supported.

Woefully, the recording sat on the shelf for nearly two more years. Finally, it became clear that neither Chip and Glenn’s contacts nor Illinois’ record label was a viable alternative. At long last, in early 2019 the decision was made to have me take over the project and release the recording. Because I was so involved working on my Pepper Adams biography, however, I wasn’t able to address the project until now. 
In retrospect, despite all the unforeseen circumstances that caused the seven-year delay, I can honestly say that everyone always preceded with the best of intentions. More importantly, after listening anew with fresh ears, I’m really quite pleased with how the recording turned out. I hadn’t heard it for quite some time, but I think you’ll agree that the charts, solos, and ensemble playing are crisp, spirited, evocative, often downright superb. How can you go wrong with Pepper’s music, and some of Chicago’s finest musicians playing it?

Gary Carner
January, 2020
Braselton, Georgia

Recorded on March 30-31, 2013 at the Smith Memorial Hall Rehearsal Room, University of Illinois, Urbana IL

The University of Illinois Concert Jazz Band: Zubin Edalji, Bobby Lane, Justin Dyer, Kevin Bourassa, Dan Wendelken tp; Euan Edmonds, Ben Ford, Austin Seybert tb; Reginald Chapman btb; unknown frh*; Clark Gibson, Tom Meyer as; Mark Hartsuch, Jeff Erickson ts; Jon Griffith bs; Chip Stephens or Marcelo Kuyumjian** p; Sam Hasting g; Larry Gray or Sam Peters** b; Joel Spencer or Matt Endres*** dm; GUEST SOLOISTS: Tito Carrillo tp, flh; Jim Pugh tb; Chip McNeill ss, ts; Glenn Wilson bs.

*Two French horn players were added on at least one track.
**Peters and Kuyumjian likely play on only one or a few cuts in place of Gray and Stephens respectively.
***Endres instead of Spencer on “Patrice.”

Producers: Gary Carner and Glenn Wilson
Executive Producers: Nat and Cindy Charatan
Recording Engineer: Glenn Wilson
Mixing and Mastering Engineer: Paul Wickliffe
Post-Production Assistance: Daniel Olson
Special thanks to Matt Endres, Glenn Wilson, Chip McNeill, Jeff Erickson and Zubin Edalji.

We gratefully acknowledge all those who contributed to the Kickstarter campaign that made this recording possible. We’re especially grateful to Frank and Carol Bubel, Steven Cerra, Nat and Cindy Charatan, Pat Collins, Flavius Cucu, Claire Daly, Richard Davis, Kurt Eherenman, Joie Gifford, Jon Gudmundson, Nils Erik Hagstrom, Andrew Homzy, Ernie Jackson, Ken Kellett, Andrew Layton, Joe Lex, Larry Miller, Colin Mills, Dan Morgenstern, Gilberto Munoz, Jonathan Nathan, Peter Jason Riley, Ellen Rowe, Ben Sidran and Ed Xiques.