Sunday, May 6, 2018

Bob Cornfoot Remembers Pepper Adams

In the last month I've worked my way through two lengthy and significant interviews that I conducted in 1988. The first one is with Pepper's college roommate, Bob Cornfoot. The others is with the Detroit-born drummer Eddie Locke, who worked for four years with Coleman Hawkins. The only interviews yet to be heard before I'm officially done with Part I of Pepper's biography (1930-1955) are those with the singer Lodi Carr, the saxophonist Doc Holladay, the bassist Major Holley, and the pianists Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan. Listening to, and taking notes about these last handful of interviews will help me finish Chapter 3, which covers Pepper's stint in the US Army and his time in Detroit from 1953 through the end of 1955.

Additionally, I finally located my interview with the saxophonist Bob Wilber. I'll listen to that one, too, to also see, as I do with all the others, if I've missed or misrepresented any important facts. In Wilber's case, I want to determine if I've overlooked anything important about Pepper's early days in Rochester, New York. Wilber attended the Eastman School of Music for one semester in the mid-1940s. While there, he, Pepper, Raymond Murphy and Bob Huggler spent a lot of time together, listening to jazz records and playing along on their instruments.

As it only relates to Pepper's time in Detroit before he moved to New York City in early 1956, the thrust of Cornfoot's interview was recalling a number of interesting facts about his time knowing Pepper at Wayne University (now Wayne State) and when they worked together at several record stores in Detroit. Cornfoot mentioned that Pepper liked Leo Parker's early work with Fats Navarro. They both adored Gilbert & Sullivan, and, apart from that, they listened together to recordings of Honegger's Pacific 231, and by Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Wardell Gray and Dexter Gordon. Pepper also liked Benny Bailey's trumpet playing. There was a lot of knocking on the walls at 3am, said Cornfoot, because of the late-night listening. The great Detroit pianist Bu Bu Turner used to come to their dorm a lot to listen to 78s at half speed and learn solos. In the dorm, Pepper practiced soprano sax.

While rooming together, he and Pepper in the middle of the week used to go to the Center Theater, about six blocks from Wayne, to catch matinees of older films that were made during the twenties and thirties. At all-night theaters they would catch comedies at the Mayfair Theater. They enjoyed shorts by Laurel and Hardy (with Charlie Chase), Bobby Clark, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and the Marx Brothers.

About Pepper's sense of humor, he said, "His humor seemed to be based more on human foibles, and bringing up short the pompous, the powerful. A tremendous punster. A lot of word play at times." When Pepper told a story, he would wait a few seconds, with a deadpan expression or a half-smile on his face, before laughing with his characteristic chuckle.

Cornfoot introduced Pepper to the works of Anthony Burgess. "He got all wrapped up in him," said Cornfoot. "When he got interested in something, he went thoroughly, all across the board."

Regarding classes at Wayne: "He used to use my notebooks because I was on the GI Bill. So they paid for my paper, and my notebooks, and that. So I'd come back from a class. Pepper would take the notebook and go to his class and make his notes. I remember he had a music appreciation class. They were covering Haydn. He had a marginal note that said, 'No wonder the guy write 104 symphonies. The son of a bitch only scored in octaves!'" Pepper did his term paper on Stravinsky. Pepper's favorite class was a film history course taught by Fran Striker. Striker wrote radio scripts for the Lone Ranger show.

Pepper told Cornfoot that he studied with Sidney Bechet. I've written Bob Wilber about that, because if true, it would have been when Wilber was living with Bechet.

"Hellure" is how Pepper answered the telephone, and "Cheers" is how he signed off on his correspondence.

Next month I'll tell you about the Eddie Locke interview and other things I've learned.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

More Pepper Biography News

It's been a dense month of listening to the many interviews that I conducted with a bunch of Detroiters, such as Hugh Lawson, Bess Bonnier, Phil Levine, Curtis Fuller and others. I still have a number of them to hear. All of them relate to Pepper's early days in Detroit.
The value of listening to them is to find little gems of information that I can still add to the book, or to make factual corrections to the existing text. When I add new text, of course, I have to take my time writing a new paragraph here and there, and then go through a series of rewrites. Here's a few examples of some new text. (I'm still researching what instrument Vigiletti played):

Adams’ friends mostly referred to him as “Pepper.” Some affectionately shortened his nickname to “Pep.” Others, such as Barry Harris, called him “Mr. Peepers,” because of his similarity, in appearance and affect, to the mild-mannered, bespectacled actor Wally Cox who portrayed Mr. Peepers on the popular American television comedy of the same name that ran from 1952-55. Some of Pepper’s oldest friends, such as Elvin Jones, preferred his birth name, “Park.”

Some Detroit musicians, however, didn’t care for Pepper’s playing. “When I got home from the army,” said Adams, “I discovered that what was mod and fashionable on baritone then was the very light, tender sound, and I had a number of people tell me quite seriously that if I ever expected to stay in music I would have to alter the way I was playing.” Several of these judgmental white musicians not only objected to Adams’ big sound, thinking it old-fashioned and too “black,” but they didn’t like his use of harmony, thinking that he didn’t know what he was doing. “He was so far in front of everybody,” said Hugh Lawson. “They mocked him because they didn’t understand it. That’s like Elvin Jones. They were so far in front.”
Three white players, however, did admire what Pepper was doing: Joe Vigiletti, the drummer Norman Purple, and the baritone saxophonist Frank Morelli. All three of them, according to Lawson, followed Pepper around from gig to gig. Morelli, who would much later take Curtis Fuller’s place in Yusef Lateef’s group, idolized Adams and wanted to study with him. Although Pepper was grateful for the admiration, as a “self-taught” player he somehow felt ill-equipped, despite his many accomplishments already, to teach the baritone saxophone to a younger devotee.

My co-author, John Vana, and I have at long last set up the contents of the entire Pepper Adams biography (see below). Again, our publication date is 2030, the centennial of Pepper's birth. The first half of the book is 100 pages in length, not including front matter. My last half of the book will be written in reverse chronological order. Chapter Four will cover the time when Adams was married, mostly after he left the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. Chapter Five will cover his thirteen-year period of time playing with Thad Jones. Chapter Six will deal with Pepper's arrival in New York until late 1964.
The formation of the Thad Jones-Pepper Adams Quintet, by the way, has been scaled back eight months, from March, 1965 to September, 1964. It turns out that the Quintet played gigs in New York City not soon after both Thad and Mel left the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band. This predates by two months Thad and Pepper's contribution to Oliver Nelson's legendary recording More Blues and the Abstract Truth. This new information will be reflected in changes that I will be making to my Adams chronology, posted at
As you can see by the headings below, Part Two of the forthcoming Adams book will give John Vana a chance to chart Pepper's growth as a soloist, discuss significant recordings throughout Pepper's thirty-year career, reveal his enduring legacy, and to get deeply into his important and extensive analysis of "The Big Three: Parker, Coltrane and Adams." I think that this section will be one of the most influential aspects of the book. Think of it: No one -- historians or fans -- puts Pepper Adams in their league. Yet he rightful belongs there, as Vana will explain through the use of numerous musical examples and carefully reasoned explication of what each has done in their playing career. All music examples will be posted at
As for the site itself, numerous upgrades have been made already to Please check it out.


Dedication                                                                                 v
Contents                                                                                                vii
Foreword by ________________                                                         ix

The Life of Pepper Adams

Ascent (1930-1955)
                        Chapter 1: What Is It?
                                          Interlude: Detroit Drives the Nation
                                          What Is It? (Part II)
                        Chapter 2: Inanout
                                          Interlude: A Brief History of Rochester, New York
                                          Inanout (Part II)
                        Chapter 3: Binary
                                          Interlude: Detroit Jazz, 1922-1954
                                          Binary (Part II)

Dominion (1956-1986)
Chapter 4: Now in Our Lives
                        Chapter 5: Conjuration
                        Chapter 6: Urban Dreams

The Music of Pepper Adams

Chapter 7: The Emergence of an Original Style
Chapter 8: The Big Three: Parker, Coltrane and Adams
Chapter 9: Key Recordings
Chapter 10: Jazz Innovator

Selected Bibliography
About the Authors

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Pepper Adams Biography News

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

A belated happy New Year to everybody! My apologies to those who have been awaiting a post from me. Yes, I've been away from the blog for some time. My life has been a little chaotic job-wise, though things have sorted themselves out recently.
I'm very pleased to announce that the first half of my Pepper Adams biography is now finished. I completed it a few days ago. It's about 100 pages. I began writing around the middle of April, 2017, upon my return from lecturing at four colleges in Utah. Looking back, I'm still amazed how I got all this done in eleven months. It sure helps to have 34 years of notes! During the next four weeks I'll be editing the manuscript, and going over my Pepper Adams interview transcript and listening to about 25 interviews, just to be sure I don't leave any important things out.

Here's an overview (finding aid) of Part I, what I call "Ascent":

Ch. 1:
Charlie Parker at the Mirror Ballroom
Move to Detroit, Rochester NY vs. Detroit
Skippy Williams
Arrival in Detroit, race relations
Detroit in the 1950s
History of Detroit, 1700-1900
History of Detroit, 1900-1950
Lionel Hampton
Wayne University
The Music Box, Little John and His Merrymen
Getting the Berg Larsen and Selmer, Detroit's baritone history, Beans Bowles

Ch. 2:
Pepper's father in Detroit
Paternal genealogy
Family's musical roots
History of Rochester
Early life in Indiana, move to Rochester
Age 4-9, father's death
War years
Rochester musicians during World War II
Age 10-12, Everett Gates
Duke Ellington at the Temple Theatre, Rex Stewart, trip to Seattle
Ellington, Skippy Williams, classical music
Importance of elders (especially Rex Stewart), Duke Ellington
Raymond Murphy, Bob Wilber
John Huggler
The Elite
John Albert

Ch. 3:
Service in the U.S. Army, Korean War
The Blue Bird Inn
The World Stage
The West End Hotel, Klein's Show Bar
Detroit's jazz history
Thad Jones, Wardell Gray, baritone players on the scene
Obscure Detroit jazz musicians
Pepper's personality, Detroit pianists
Maternal genealogy
Detroit musical education
Detroit's outlier jazz generation, Malcolm Gladwell outlier concepts related to Pepper
Pepper demo played for Prestige and Blue Note, Pepper sits in with Miles and Rollins
Stan Getz story, Pepper moves to New York City

I met with my trusted webmaster, Dan Olson, last week. We're planning important upgrades this year to New context will be added to "Radio Interviews" and "Big Band Performances." A link to a new WikiTree genealogy of Pepper Adams is planned.
I had to wipe clean the hard drive on my iPad a few months ago. By doing so, I lost my trusty app for Blogspot. If anyone has a recommendation for an app I can use that DOES NOT ask for my Google password, please let me know. It will help me format future posts.
I did submit my first section from Ch. 3 about Pepper's experience in the U.S. Army for publication in 2019. I'll let you know if it's approved. I'm

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Bird and Herbie

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and that you are anticipating a great Christmas season and new year. In the last few weeks one of my readers suggested that I open my Pepper Adams biography with the story of when Pepper heard Bird at Detroit's Mirror Ballroom in 1949. I end the opening section of Ch 1 with it, in a way building to it. He felt that, because it's about Bird, it would create far greater interest among readers than what I have now. Back to the drawing board, as they say.

I've been rereading the very fine biographical primer The Biographer's Art, written by Milton Lomask. One of the things he recommends is for an author to conceive of an ending well in advance, then work your way there as a destination. I'm toying with ending my biography with Pepper's appearance on the Grammy Awards telecast. It seems to me that the way the New York chapter of NARAS rallied behind Pepper when his appearance on the show was threatened with cancellation is a metaphor for much that occurred in New York when Adams got ill. Maybe I don't need to worry that much about the ending? The way the book is set up, the second section of the book (analysis) follows mine. Is it perhaps more appropriate to have John Vana's work summarize the entire book?

Over the last few weeks I also came across this great piece about Herbie Hancock:
Hancock discusses how he joined the ByrdAdams Quintet. Here's his only mention of Pepper:

"In December of 1960, a couple of months after the Coleman Hawkins gig, I got a call from John Cort, the owner of the Birdhouse, a small club in a second-floor walkup on Dearborn Street, on the North Side. ‘Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams are playing in Milwaukee this weekend,’ he told me. ‘You want to play with them?’ "‘Are you kidding?’ I said. ‘Yeah, I want to play with them!’ I couldn’t believe it – I’d just been invited to gig with one of the best jazz trumpeters around. Donald Byrd was a veteran of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and he’d earned a master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music. He’d performed with many of the jazz greats over the years, including John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, and in 1958 he’d started a quintet with the baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams. That was the group I was being invited to play with."

This piece is the most in-depth one I've read about Hancock and his "discovery" by Donald Byrd. It turns out that John Cort deserves much of the credit for recommending Hancock to Byrd.

One thing that has always surprised me is how little Pepper Adams is mentioned by Hancock over the years. I know that Byrd is the one who met with Hancock's mother and assured her that young Herbie would be fine living with Byrd in New York once the band left Chicago. With that in mind, it seems likely that Pepper didn't have the same degree of responsibility for Hancock as Byrd. Still, you would think that Herbie would have absorbed some influences from Adams, perhaps his harmonic usage? It sure would be fascinating to know what kind of conversations the two of them had during the year that Herbie was in the Byrd-Adams Quintet.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

New Pepper Adams Archive

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

I'm pleased to tell you that I've decided to donate all of my Pepper Adams materials to William Paterson University. How can I not make these important materials available near New York City, where so many researchers and musicians can use them? Moreover, how can I not add Pepper's materials to the archive where Thad Jones' materials are held? That's almost as silly as establishing a Harry Carney archive apart from Duke Ellington.

I've been in touch with curator David Demsey, and I've already boxed up twelve cartons of Pepper's material from his estate. All of the packed stuff is material that I eagerly scooped up after Pepper's death to protect it from destruction, when his widow was disposing of the contents of his house in Canarsie, Brooklyn. Much of my own materials that I've collected over the years, such as my many audience recordings, will get there eventually. The trick is figuring out a way to transport these things from Atlanta to West Paterson, New Jersey. The plan is to move everything there in phases as I finish the biography.

Some of the things that I saved from destruction that amazing day in late 1986 were Pepper's copies of alternate tracks that he recorded for Reflectory, The Master, Urban Dreams and Live at Fat Tuesday's. I've just gotten them digitized for posterity. Pepper's original cassettes will be going to William Paterson.

David Demsey and I have been discussing the provenance of the charts on the Ruth Brown/Thad/Mel date. In a private interview that Pepper did with Albert Goldman (discussed last month in this blog), Pepper mentioned that not all of the charts on the date are Thad's. Pepper affirmed that his feature on "Trouble in Mind" was written by Thad. Demsey told me that "Bye, Bye Blackbird" is Thad's too. They have the score in Thad's hand. Judging from the intro, does anyone have any doubt? We're still figuring out who wrote the other charts. Does anyone have any input on the matter?

I'm also excited to report that I've finally finished Chapter 1 of Pepper's biography. For over a month, the period 1900-1947 was a gaping hole in the chapter. Now it's been closed. It was my overarching aim to contextualize Pepper's experience by writing about the socio-political history of Detroit. Two sections (1701-1899) were done already, but writing about the first half of the Twentieth Century, so important to Pepper's sensibilities, lingered for quite some time. So much happened in Detroit then that affected the course of American history. Furthermore, Pepper worked in the auto plants, and was an impassioned advocate of social unionism. I needed to explore that to understand that part of him.

That led me to the Reuther Brothers. If you haven't seen the extraordinarily moving documentary Brothers on the Line, I urge you to watch it. Although I knew something about Walter Reuther before I watched it, I left with the strong conviction that Reuther was one of the towering figures of the Twentieth Century. If anyone should be designated for sainthood, it's Reuther. He and his two brothers' courageous work to raise the standard of living of American auto workers, in the face of all sorts of hostility, physical beatings, and assassination attempts, is the thing of legend. Do you know about his work with Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King in helping them advance their struggles for human rights, or his work with the Kennedys and Lyndon Johnson? Now almost fifty years after his death (which I suspect in 2020 will be celebrated), Reuther is far too little known. Please check out the film. Here's the trailer:

Now it's time to finish up Chapter 3, essentially the period 1954-1955 but with some intentional twists and turns added. This will conclude the first half of my part of the book. Part II is being written by alto saxophonist John Vana. He's making great strides with his analysis of Pepper's playing.

For those who like to hear Pepper Adams speak about his life, a whole crop of new interviews with him have been posted at

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Pepper Adams Interviews

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

This month hasn't gone as expected. I developed a case of eye strain from my previous months of writing and editing on my computer. Because of that, I've had to stay away from my manuscript and laptop, and instead fashion other tasks that still allowed me to move ahead with the biography. One of the most important things I've gotten done in September was listening to interviews that Adams did on the radio and in private. Over the years, I've been able to collect these gems:

Peter Clayton: BBC
Alan Stevens: BBC
Alfie Nilsson: Malmo radio
Ted O'Reilly: CJKT, Toronto
Len Dobbin: Montreal radio
Ben Sidran: NPR
Albert Goldman: private interviews
John Reid: private interview

The plan has always been to post some of them at so you can hear Adams speak about his life. While a few are posted there already, technology has changed and it's necessary to use different software and update the site. That's already in the works. Stay tuned for updates.

Besides the fact that I'm taking a necessary break from writing the biography, the main reason I've been working through these interviews is because Adams occassionally says things that were not covered in my interviews with him nor exist anywhere else in print. I've found that some of his comments not only add to the historical record but sometimes alter the way I have written about parts of his early life. 

Although some of these interviews are more entertaining in nature and mostly feature commercial recordings that Adams did throughout his life, those done by John Reid, Al Goldman and Ted O'Reilly are especially poignant. Reid's brief interview was done in Calgary after a gig in August, 1985. Adams was very blunt in his comments about critics, one of his pet peeves. At that time, already quite ill, Adams was far more direct than usual. Speaking privately after hours, he wasn't constrained by the same degree of politeness that he would convey in a radio interview. 

The same holds true to a certain degree with the private interviews done with Al Goldman. I have two of them. The first was done between sets at the Half Note in New York on September 10, 1971. Goldman, at that time a big Elvin Jones and Zoot Sims fan, was just getting to know Adams. 

The far more significant Goldman interview was done on June 19, 1975. Goldman drove from Manhattan to Adams' home in Canarsie, Brooklyn to conduct an extensive interview over several hours for a feature piece that he was writing about Adams for the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Ultimately, the piece was published in Esquire due to the fact that Goldman's editor at the Times left and the piece was orphaned. This is a dazzling few hours, certainly the most in-depth and fascinating interview of the bunch: two brilliant minds ranging over many topics in great length. I'm very excited to post it soon.

Albert Goldman was a brilliant man and quite a controversial figure in the 1980s and '90s, ultimately dying of a heart attack on an airplane flight to Europe. His obituary: 

He left his tenured English professorship at Columbia University to write several best-selling biographies on Lenny Bruce, Elvis Presley and John Lennon. While his work was denounced by some as sensational (see and, I interviewed him several times about his experiences with Pepper Adams. I always found him to be insightful, provocative, very encouraging to me in my early years of the work, and always on target with his assessments about Adams' life and music. All this comes through in his Adams interview. His profound admiration and respect for Pepper Adams is evident throughout their conversation.

The O'Reilly interviews, too, are extremely insightful because O'Reilly, like Goldman, is an adept interviewer who asks probing questions. I have two O'Reilly radio shows for sure, and possibly a third that I haven't heard in years. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Biographical Excerpts

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

It's Labor Day Weekend but it seems that my Pepper work never takes a break. It's what centers me and pulls me through each day. There's just so much work to do! I expect that tomorrow will be no different. Maybe that's a true indication that this project is a real labor of love?

I'm excited to report that I'm on the verge of finishing the first half of Pepper's biography. Since my early April lectures in Utah, I've been on fire, much to my surprise. I wasn't expecting to begin writing upon my return home. The thing that I find so gratifying is that the writing has flowed out of me, sometimes effortlessly. Perhaps it was just the right time to start? That's not to say that writing is ever easy. Much like scupture, the craft of writing mandates the continuous polishing until it reaches its final form. Getting ideas out might be fun but editing is always arduous.

It's because of my extensive reading, writing and note-taking over the last couple of years that I've been able to move so quickly in the last five months. In about a month from now -- hopefully in the next blog installment -- I'll  be able to report that Pepper's life from 1930-1955 is complete. I'm now at around seventy pages and I expect that I'll be at around 100 pages in a few weeks. That implies around a 200 page biography, then John Vana's musicological analysis will make up Part Two. I expect great things from him!

Chapter 3 of my part has several components. The first section is about Pepper's time in the US Army. Then I discuss his transition to civilian life in 1953-54, with sections on the Blue Bird Inn and the World Stage Theater. What follows that is a three-part history of Detroit, then a short history of Detroit jazz (1928 or so through the late 1940s). The chapter concludes with Pepper's time in Detroit in 1955, including a section on his mother, Klein's, and the West End Hotel.  

Once I get the first half done, I'm going to take a break to consider how I want to treat the second half of his life. Pepper hated cliches and I feel that, in respect to him, a chronological narrative is far too predictable. I find it boring too. I've avoided such a rendering thus far by darting around thematically. Yet there's a limit to how much you can move about and not confuse the reader. Some biographical theorists recommend reverse engineering. That is, inventing the ending first, then figuring out how to get there. I didn't need to do that at all because my Prologue in some sense "ruins" the ending. It gives me cover because in it I intentionally divulged the broad strokes of Pepper's life to make a case for why anyone should care to read the book. The Prologue has, in a sense, liberated me to at least consider some kind of experimentation with the narrative. 

Yesterday on my two Facebook pages I included an except from the book regarding Pepper and Charlie Parker. Here's two more excerpts from the book:

Pepper’s bunk was at the edge of the camp. Across the street in an empty lot Adams, Kolber and a few of their buddies planted marijuana. “We set up a schedule,” said Kolber. “We marked down everybody’s name to take turns going out. We had a water can and a big hat. We had a schedule made up to water it.” In the early 1950s, smoking marijuana was still somewhat of an arcane activity. In a glorious touch of irony that created more than a few snickers and knowing winks, the guys in Pepper’s platoon would roll a joint and then ask the military police on the base for a light. The MPs had absolutely no idea what was going on.

“Whenever we took physical training, he was beautiful,” said an amused Kolber.
When we had to jump and meet our hands above our head, he would never jump. He said, “Listen, I can play, that’s what I’m here for in this band, to play, and I can’t do all these other things.” He says, “It doesn’t take that much physical energy to strap a baritone sax around your neck.” He told the sergeant that. The officers always used to call him into the office so I never heard too much about what they did. He always came out smiling, smoking a cigarette, saying, “It’s all straight,” and they never bothered him but they did shake him out. He was too well liked. No one could really dislike him because he was an intelligent man, knew what he was talking about, so people didn’t monkey around with him too much. They knew, whatever he did, there was a good reason for doing it and no one really picked on him.