February was a productive month, even though the great
bulk of my Adams work is now completed. First,
pepperadams.com continues to grow as an amazing
research and performance tool. The transcription page
(https://www.pepperadams.com/Transcriptions/index.html)has 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
(https://www.instagram.com/p/CadUnM0prRE/ ).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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Meeting ID: 974 9547 6280
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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
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: https://www.pepperadams.com/Reflectory/index.html