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I was off for much of the week, enjoying a few rounds of golf with a good friend. Because of that, the second part of my review of 50 Years at the Village Vanguard will be delayed at least a week. Thanks for your patience.
As of yesterday, I began preparing a new Pepper Adams lecture for at least four talks I'll be giving in Utah over a two-week period starting March 27. I've been invited to Utah State University for a few days as a guest of professor Jon Gudmundson. I'll be speaking about Pepper Adams in a classroom setting on April 4, and again at a pre-concert talk on April 5. The latter will be before a concert by the Utah State Jazz Band. They're performing some of Tony Faulkner's big band charts of Pepper Adams tunes, with Jason Marshall as the featured baritone saxophone soloist. The previous week I'll be lecturing to mostly music students at Westminster College (3/28), Salt Lake Community College (3/30) and Brigham Young University (3/31).
As I always do, I try to bring something new to these lectures. Apart from choosing different videos and music examples, I've tried to further refine why Pepper Adams remains overlooked. After all, why am I standing before these people, and why have so few in attendance not heard of him? Below is part of what I'll be presenting. (For one class I'll need to truncate my talk, hence the bracketed thing about Detroit.) I'm interested in your feedback. Am I on the right track?
PEPPER LECTURE #4: PEPPER ADAMS (1930-1986)
Thank you, ________. It's great to be here. Today I'm going to discuss Pepper Adams' contribution to American music [ . . . and I'll touch on why his postwar Detroit generation of musicians is unique in jazz history.]
Before I begin, do you have any burning questions for me about Pepper Adams or about my work about him? Have any of you seen pepperadams.com, my Instagram site, or my blog?
Before my lecture here was announced, how many of you had even heard of Pepper Adams? . . .
There's no doubt that among jazz musicians during Adams' lifetime, and for many insiders up to this day, Pepper Adams is viewed as a jazz titan, an icon. Nevertheless, he still isn't widely known as a musician of significance, as I think he should be, nor even discussed in any depth in jazz histories that really should know better. Despite the reverence he commands among musicians, Adams still lingers as somewhat of a footnote to history. That disconnect, albeit gradually improving over time, is something I've dedicated my life to changing.
I've been working on Pepper Adams for 33 years, since I met him in the summer of 1984. I knew him during the last three years of his life, two during his terminal illness. I'm continually struck by how much he's overlooked as an innovator. Part of this, I think, is due to the sheer complexity of his style. There's a lot going on, a lot to grasp, when you hear a Pepper Adams solo!
Another reason, as I see it, is the bias in the way jazz history is told and the way it's sold. For me, they are two sides of the same phenomenon. If you look through the histories of jazz, you'll likely notice that so much of it discusses bandleaders and their recordings. Those who led jazz bands have historically made the most well-known recordings because they are the ones most promoted by record companies, PR firms, radio and TV, and other affiliated industries. Such bandleader recordings in turn have gotten the most press and continual airplay. So, around and around it goes in a circular, self-aggrandizing cycle of promotion and acclaim.
Yet, I'd like to point out that there's a lot more to the history of jazz than music made only by bandleaders. The way they've been anointed as the core history of this amazing music is myopic and unfortunate. For one thing, there's the overlooked history of music made in major cities such as Detroit. Fortunately, this kind of localized scholarship is really beginning to flower.
Then there's the issue of sidemen. Some of the greatest jazz musicians, such as Pepper Adams or Sonny Stitt, to name just two saxophonists, preferred to tour as soloists, playing with pickup rhythm sections throughout the world. They didn't want the responsibility of leading a band and running a business. Being a sideman doesn't make them any less important as players, nor, as I've said, shouldn't marginalize them in term of their historical influence. It's simply a business decision they've made, though it certainly has its implications, doesn't it? Even Charlie Parker, by the way, though extremely well known, also spent much of his career touring this way.
So, part of Pepper Adams' lack of recognition is due to issues related to commerce, as well as the common narrative sold by the media and told in jazz books. In addition, he played the baritone saxophone, an instrument that before him was thought to be cumbersome and unwieldy; a low-pitched instrument that early in the Twentieth Century was somewhat of a novelty instrument. One of Adams' great contributions to music is the way he brought the level of playing on the baritone saxophone up to the level of all other instruments.