Sunday, March 6, 2022

February Doings


February was a productive month, even though the great

bulk of my Adams work is now completed. First, continues to grow as an amazing

research and performance tool. The transcription page

( now exceeded 100 solos with the addition of new ones

by John Vana and Pete Lukas. And you can expect more to

come, too, as Vana continues to study Adams’s entire oeuvre

in preparation for his Pepper book. It will be added to my

biography and also available individually in time for Adams’s

centennial in 2030. 

I’m excited to report that Dan Olson, my trusty webmaster, is

busy revamping the transcription section of the site so that each

transcription is paired with the complete performance of the tune.

In that way, musicians can get deeper into each performance by

having both the PDF of each solo and Pepper’s performance of

it at their fingertips. I hope to see the new page posted soon.

Leif Bo Petersen recently alerted me to a photo of Charlie Parker

at the Mirror Ballroom

( ).According to his research, this is the actual performance that

Pepper saw in mid-April, 1949. The photo will be added to the next

revision of my ebook. Also, Petersen wrote a very perceptive review

of Reflectory that will be published in Danish in Jazz Special. See

the English translation below.

For those who have access to “Hot Sounds on Zoom,” Jazz History

Database’s weekly internet show, I’ll be on from 5-7pm Eastern this

Thursday, March 10. I’ll be reading from my Pepper biography and

playing tunes included as links in the book that have never been

heard by the public. I hope to see you there. 

Time: This is a recurring meeting; we meet here every Thursday



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Pepper Adams Biography

Jazz historian Cary Carner, perhaps best known for his documentary

compilation The Miles Davis Companion (1996), is in the process of

creating a comprehensive work about the American baritone \

saxophonist Park "Pepper" Adams (1930–86) together with alto

saxophonist John Vana. The first part, a biography written by Carner,

was published in 2021 and is now available in a revised version. The

second part, containing musical analyses, written by Vana, will be

published in the run-up to the 100th anniversary of Adam's birth.


Carner's work is based on many years of thorough research based on

an extensive material of interviews with Adams. These are complemented

by an impressive collection of interviews with musicians who have played

alongside him and other individuals who were part of his life.

I have no doubt that the  work will stand as a definitive monument

over Pepper Adams, and it will undoubtedly create a broader interest

in and understanding of his music. Personally, before reading, like

many others, I had only a sporadic knowledge of Pepper Adams. He

was mostly a name that I often confused with west coast saxophonist

Art Pepper.  When Pepper Adams himself was subjected to such

confusion, his comment was: "My sax is bigger"  or " No, I never spent

time at San Quentin."  The lacking recognition of Pepper Adams' position

is probably due  to his main instrument, the baritone saxophone, which

as a deep-sounding instrument often has stood in the shadow of the

other saxophones. Baritone saxophonists have therefore mostly been

confined to the role of sidemen in big bands and combos.

Having now listened more carefully to his music, I have become convinced of

the merits of the status he is granted in the book: a jazz improviser in the upper

league, a musician who, like others such as Bud Powell, Wardell Gray, Fats

Navarro, and J. J. Johnson, with point of departure in Charlie Parker's musical

language, managed to make this flourish on their own instrument without being

an epigone and fully integrated into a personal expression.


The first part of the book covers the years 1930–56. Adams' upbringing and the

factors that led to his decision to become a jazz musician is treated in four

chapters. Here important factors are the possibility to listen to jazz music on

the radio and at concerts, but not least an American school system that

emphasized and allowed for musical expression and education.

At the same time, these chapters give a thorough insight into the social

background he grew up in Rochester, NY, and Detroit, MI. He lived here as

an only child together with a mother who had twice in quick succession

become a widow. She was overprotective and very controlling even after he

returned  to Detroit after completing military service in Korea at the age of 23.

You also get a thorough introduction in the musical environment in Rochester

and specially in Detroit, which in the 40s had a jazz scene that created excellent

modern jazz musicians, such as Howard McGhee, Lucky Thompson, Wardell

Gray, Milt Jackson, and Hank Jones.

Pepper Adams got his musical maturation in Detroit in the company of a new

great generation of musicians such as Barry Harris, Donald Byrd, Tommy

Flanagan, Frank Foster, and the brothers Thad and Elvin Jones.

The composition of the four chapters is unusual, starting with his and his

mother's move to Detroit in 1947 and their lives there until his military service

started in mid-1951. It works fine and provides a more varied reading experience

than a traditional chronological presentation.


The second part of the book, covering the years 1956-1986, deals in 7 chapters

with his career as a professional jazz musician and his achievement of the status

as an highly outstanding soloist on the baritone saxophone.   In this connection

we also we get a thorough introduction to the hip neo-bop environment in

Greenwich Village, NY, in the 1960s.

Here, too, the composition of the chapters is unusual. Starting with the final year

leading up to his death, the following chapters move backwards through his life

and career ending with his arrival in New York in 1956. It again provides a varied

reading experience, but after reading you are left with very kaleidoscopic overall

impression of Adams' life and career.

Told chronologically, shortly after his establishment in New York, Adams gets

a longer engagement with the Stan Kenton orchestra, which for a time takes

him to the West Coast. He returns to New York in 1957, where he starts a

career as a combo musician first in the company of Donald Byrd, Bobby

Timmons, and Elvin Jones.  In the early 1960s he had gigs with Benny

Goodman, Thelonious Monk, Lionel Hampton and Charles Mingus. In 1964

he began a combo collaboration with Thad Jones, and when the Thad

Jones/Mel Lewis orchestra was formed in 1965, Adams became a permanent

member for the next 12 years. The orchestra did not exist on a full-time basis,

so during this period he also worked alone as a soloist both in the United

States and in Europe.  Although he was successful as a big band musician,

e mostly saw this activity as a survival strategy: "Certainly, there was very

little pleasure involved, except for rehearsals.   I always like rehearsals with

a big band 'cause you've got something to react to: When you're seeing the

music for the first time and learning to play it, and getting the blend within

the section and with the other sections. All the stuff you can do at rehearsals,

that's fine.... If I stay in a big band for too long, once I have all that covered,

then it becomes hack work and is no longer interesting. The next thing is to

memorize all the parts and see if you can play all night with your book closed

– and get dirty looks from the bandleader. After you have that covered, the

only remaining challenge is to see how drunk you can get and still play the

book accurately. That can be bad for you after a period of time."

Adams left Jones/Lewis in 1977 to concentrate on his soloistic career, which

developing in the following years unfortunately ended abruptly when, in

December 1983, he  was accidentally run over by his own parked car and

sustained a serious leg fracture.  This kept him out of work for a while, and

when he finally got started again in mid-1984, he  wassoon after diagnosed with serious lung cancer. He died in 1986 after

unsuccessful radiation and chemo treatment.

The book is published exclusively as Ebook, a choice made because the market for

such a book in physical form these days is limited. I have become increasingly

accustomed to reading books and other written material in digital form. This has

the advantage that the price of the materials is cheaper and that there is more

possibility for the author to write a comprehensive book and to publish revised

editions.  Some will probably find the level of detail thus obtained for exaggerated

and distracting, while others will perceive it as an asset seen in a jazz historical

research context.

Along with the book you get hundreds of hours of music with Pepper Adams from

the period 1947–1986 in the company of Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Elvin Jones,

Roland Hanna, Tommy Flanagan, and many others. It is a big plus that the text

continuously contains links to the music that is described, so you can easily

combine reading and listening.

Gary Carner, Reflectory: The Life and Music of Pepper Adams (revised edition 2022).  559 sider. $ 24,99.

The book can be purchased here: