Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Pepper Biography Almost Done


April has come and gone, seemingly in a flash, and I’m still housebound. 
Georgia is beginning to relax its quarantine restrictions but I’m not ready 
to emerge. And why should I? The local library is still closed, among other 
public spaces. Does COVID vanish just because a governor opens up 

During my house arrest I’ve cleaned out my basement. It’s now cleaner 
than it has ever been. And I’ve dug out many of my CDs and DVDs that 
were stuck down there in boxes. I now have a lot more music to hear. As 
for my Pepper Adams biography, I just finished Chapter Eight and sent it 
off to three readers for their evaluation. It was the second-to-last chapter 
that I needed to write before I’m completely finished.

I say “finished,” knowing of course that my handful of trusty readers will 
continue to propose additions and corrections. I’m still awaiting comments, 
in fact, from my last three readers regarding 19301955, the first half of 
the book. Their last comments will likely come early this summer. With that 
in mind, I anticipate a September publication date.

As for the very last chapter I still need to write, it’s already about 25% done 
and I have a ton of notes. Although I do hope to be done with it by summer, 
this last one covers 1956-1963. There's a lot to cover: Byrd-Adams, drugs, 
Bobby Timmons, Elvin, Mingus, Monk, Kenton, etc. 

Regarding the first half of the bio, some nice advance-praise blurbs have 
come in already: 

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter Eight:

Adams’s very first European gig as a touring soloist took place in mid-

December, 1969, following the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra’s second tour of 
Europe. After working with the big band in London, Adams worked for two weeks 
at Montmartre in Copenhagen with the house rhythm section of (American 
pianist) Kenny Drew, Niels-Henning Orsted Pederson and Ole Streenberg. Pepper 
“was a real gentleman,” said Pederson. “He was one of those guys who didn’t come 
over, like, ‘Here I am. I come from the States, so everything I say has got to be 
right.’ In those days, it could be a little bit like that but he wasn’t like that at all.”
After a subsequent gig in Aarhus, on January 13, 1970 Adams flew to Faro, 
Portugal to visit with the bartender David X. Sharpe, his old friend from New York. 
Sharpe had relocated to this picturesque coastal city to open the restaurant Godot’s. 
Adams played a week at his establishment, then worked another week in Sweden 
before returning to New York. It’s not known who Adams played with during that 
week in Southern Portugal but “a real jazz man,” said Eddie Locke, “will play his
 instrument no matter what”:

He’s gonna play. He’s not gonna make an excuse for not playing by saying, 
“Something is going wrong, I can’t play.” If you love it so much, it doesn’t 
make any difference. No dollars, bad musicians, good musicians, mediocre 
musicians: You’re gonna blow! Pepper just happened to also be a great player. 
But he was a real jazz man. . . . A real jazz man is rare. That’s a lifestyle. 
That’s not just going to school. And that’s what Pepper was about. In Detroit, 
you played in the joints: slop jobs in those old, funky places. That’s a jazz man. 
He wasn’t trying to play in Carnegie Hall every night. He was just going to 
play some music because he loved to play. . . . People wanted to play with him 
because he was a jazz man.  . . . I don’t care who he was playing with. He’s 
gonna sound good because he’s gonna blow! He doesn’t give a shit about the 
other cats. If they play the wrong change, he’ll play the wrong one. That’s a 
true jazz musician. Bird was like that. Coleman Hawkins was like that. I put 
him in some heavy company there but that’s what I’m talking about. 

Monday, April 6, 2020

COVID-19 Time

I hope this finds everyone healthy and well amidst the global COVID-19
pandemic. My university lecture tour in the Midwestern U.S. has been
cancelled. In its place, I’ve spent all four weeks listening to all of Pepper
Adams’s solos from 1956-1969. Quite a lot of material, and lots of
surprising things I’ve discovered that I’ll be discussing in the second half
of the biography.

Because of COVID, the publication date of the Pepper Adams biography
has been delayed  too, as I await my final readers’ suggestions while they
deal with the crisis in their own way. Thus far, their very useful suggestions for
improving the text have necessitated tweaks and rewrites, with others no doubt
forthcoming. Although it’s kept me from formatting the ebook and finally making
it available to the public, the eventual book will be much better indeed.

Since I haven’t yet turned to actually formatting the ebook, I’m not sure if I can
embed music links in the text itself, as I’ve originally planned. With this in mind,
as a backup plan I’ve decided to assemble an appendix with all the music links in
it, organized by title. Here’s how some of the links found in Chapter 8 look thus far:

Appendix: Selected Music

Soon after Pepper Adams moved to New York City in January, 1956, he became
a first-call section player, who participated on many superb recordings in which he
wasn’t asked to solo. Because his dates as a leader and his saxophones solos are
given primacy throughout the book, below, for the sake of contrast, are some of his
notable projects in which he does not solo. Please also note that on many of the
recordings mentioned in the book where Adams is asked to take a solo, there are so
many other great performances on those dates in which he only functions as a
section player. The remaining eighty percent or so of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis
Orchestra’s extraordinary body of work would be a good starting point.

A Child Is Born (Chapter 8, 17 May 1975)
A Child Is Born (Chapter 8, 13 December 1975)
A Child Is Born (Chapter 8, 22 February 1977)
A Child Is Born (Chapter 8, 28 February 1977)

Afternoon in Paris (Chapter 8, 17 May 1975)

A Secret (Chapter 8, 8 November 1972)

Alone Together (Chapter 8, 28 July 1974)

Autumn Leaves Chapter 8, 28 July 1974)

Bouncing with Bud (Chapter 8, 10 September 1973)

Bossa Nouveau (Chapter 8, 12 December 1975)

Cherokee (Chapter 8, 17 May 1975)

Civilization and Its Discontents (Chapter 8, 10 September 1973)
Civilization and Its Discontents (Chapter 8, 1 May, 1977)
Civilization and Its Discontents (Chapter 8, 9 February 1975)
Civilization and Its Discontents (Chapter 8, 20 April 1975)

Donna Lee (Chapter 8, 23 November 1975)

E-7/A7 Vamp (Chapter 8, 24 November 1975)

East St. Louis Toodle-Oo (Chapter 8, 17 July 1977)

Ephemera (Chapter 8, 10 September 1973)
Ephemera (Chapter 8, 17 May 1975)

Falling in Love with Love (Chapter 8, 17 May 1975)
Falling in Love with Love (Chapter 8, 13 December 1975)

Did You Call Her Today (Chapter 8, 12 December 1975)

Hellure (Chapter 8, 10 September 1973)
Hellure (Chapter 8, 24 November 1975)

I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart (Chapter 8, 17 May 1975)

In a Mellow Tone (Chapter 8, 1 May 1977)

In a Sentimental Mood (Chapter 8, 6 November 1972)
In a Sentimental Mood (Chapter 8, 24 November 1975)

Jitterbug Waltz (Chapter 8, 5 June 1970)
Jitterbug Waltz (Chapter 8, 10 September 1973)

Julian (Chapter 8, 13 August 1975)
Julian (Chapter 8, 20 June 1976)

Jumpin’ Punkins (Chapter 8, 17 July 1977)

Lady Luck  (Chapter 8, 13 August 1975)

Main Stem (Chapter 8, 17 July 1977)

Mean What You Say (Chapter 8, 9 February 1975)
Mean What You Say (Chapter 8, 23 November 1975)

Mr. Wonderful (Chapter 8, 5 June 1970)

On Green Dolphin Street (Chapter 8, 20 April 1975)

Patrice (Chapter 8, 10 September 1973) 

Quiet Lady (Chapter 8, 10 September 1973)
Quiet Lady (Chapter 8, 21 June 1974)
Quiet Lady (Chapter 8, 9 February 1975)

Royal Garden Blues (Chapter 8, 21 June 1974)

Sophisticated Lady (Chapter 8, 9 February 1975)
Sophisticated Lady (Chapter 8, 20 April 1975)
Sophisticated Lady (Chapter 8, 1 May, 1977)

Stella by Starlight (Chapter 8, 10 September 1971)

Straight, No Chaser (Chapter 8, 21 June 1974)

Sweet Sue (Chapter 8, 12 December 1975)

Three and One (Chapter 8, 5 June 1970)

Three Little Words (Chapter 8, 9 February 1975)

’Tis (Chapter 8, 13 August 1975)
’Tis (Chapter 8, 12 December 1975)
’Tis (Chapter 8, two versions from 20 April 1975)

Twelfth and Pingree (Chapter 8, 20 June 1976)

What Is This Thing Called Love (Chapter 8, 20 April 1975)

Witchcraft (Chapter 8, 12 December 1975)

Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams (Chapter 8, 24 November 1975)

Lastly, I’m also very pleased with the new book covers that Pete Lukas has
designed. He’s also added a drawing of Adams to my dedication page. Here’s some
info on the book:

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

A Peek at Jazz from Detroit

This is a selective review of Mark Stryker’s eagerly awaited Jazz from
Detroit. I’m reminded of my undergraduate sociology professor, who
marked down one of my term papers, claiming that I was “intellectually
dishonest” because I did a book report but didn’t read the entire work.
It was 800 pages long, its last few sections seemed extraneous, and it
was the end of the semester. Nevertheless, the lesson was learned.

Only about half of Stryker’s fascinating book covers the period
before 1956, after which Pepper Adams left Detroit for New
York. (Parts Four, Five and Six of Jazz from Detroit cover the
Detroit scene after Pepper relocated.) Even some of the author’s
portraits from the first half of his book (Louis Hayes, Milt Jackson,
Ron Carter, Sheila Jordan, Joe Henderson, Charles McPherson),
seemingly related to Pepper’s time in Detroit, are of peripheral
interest to me, despite Pepper’s friendship and recordings with them.
Gerald Wilson, for his part, never worked with Pepper at all, though a
gig with his big band, with Adams as the featured soloist, was
scheduled at the very end of Pepper’s life. As things turned out,
Adams was too sick to make the gig. This leaves Stryker’s historical
overviews, the entire section about the Jones Brothers, and the
author’s portraits of Byrd, Harris, Burrell, Lateef, Fuller, Hanna
and Flanagan as my particular focus.

In Stryker’s Preface, the author lays out his rationale. His overarching
aim is to demonstrate how the jazz history of Detroit was fundamental
to the larger history of jazz in the U.S. Certainly, the author, to his
credit, has in many ways laid the important groundwork for such an
assessment. Ultimately, it may be the job of a Ph.D. candidate (WINK,
WINK!) to tear into this topic over the course of many years and finally
assess Detroit jazz in its entirety, or even era by era. As I wrote in my
forthcoming Pepper Adams biography about Adams’ postwar circle of
astounding musicians, “More than sixty years later, jazz historiography is
still devoid of a thorough assessment of how these Detroiters washed over
and revitalized jazz. As a consequence, this marvelous circle of musicians
is still overlooked as an important mid 20th Century American music

Part One of Stryker’s book is comprised of one eight-page chapter that
discusses early jazz antecedents in the city, and how Detroit’s economy
was fundamental to the city and its musical culture’s growth. Part Two
discusses the “Golden Age of Jazz” in Detroit, 1940-1960. With an opening
five-page salvo, it’s followed by profiles of Wilson, Lateef, Jackson, Jordan,
and ten others who were much closer compadres of Pepper Adams (Barry
Harris, Flanagan, Burrell, Byrd, Roland, Curtis, Louis Hayes, Ron Carter,
Joe Henderson and McPherson). 

I enjoyed reading the Wilson, Lateef, Jackson and Jordan pieces. It allowed
me to, in a sense, reconnect with old friends. I shared a panel at the Detroit
Jazz Festival with Gerald Wilson, and interviewed the other three. Lateef
and Jordan were especially kind, just as Stryker rendered them. Of the three,
only Lateef worked steadily in Detroit with Pepper -- at Klein’s Showbar in
1955 for a spell. Pepper did work with Bags in 1953, after he returned to
Detroit from Korea, but rather sporadically. Jordan, for her part, didn’t get
to know Pepper until they met up in New York City. “Bags” was irritable in
my phone interview with him, as if I was somehow intruding on Pepper’s
good name after his death -- that is, until I repeated that I worked closely
with Pepper on his memoirs. That chip on his shoulder, that testiness, was
well captured by the author in his anecdote about Gary Burton. 

I approached the Barry Harris section with alacrity. Harris had a central role
in Detroit among Pepper and his peers. Pepper worked often with Harris, and
studied with him at his salon. “His teaching was a critical component in the
city becoming a world-class factory for modern-jazz musicians,” wrote the
author. Stryker does a great job discussing Harris’ history as a pedagogue,
especially his work in New York City. Like Whitney Balliett, Martin
Williams and Gary Giddins before him, Stryker has a knack for explaining
jazz in clear, breezy, sometimes eloquent prose. Unlike them, though, Stryker
has musical chops. He ventures into musical concepts, using terminology to
explain his points, in an organic, non-pretentious way.

Several interesting points emerged in his portraits that came as a surprise to
me. One was Donald Byrd’s possible Bell’s Palsy condition, and how it
affected his trumpet playing beginning in the 1960s. In fact, the author’s Byrd
portrait is one of the book’s highlights, principally because he plumbs the
depth of Byrd’s interesting life, in this way getting more deeply into his
biography than seen elsewhere, where the work is the main focus. The
Roland Hanna portrait is equally gripping in this way. In the latter, I was
surprised to learn that Hanna graduated from Cass. It’s not mentioned
anywhere else. Really fine research on the author’s part! Stryker’s assessment
of Roland Hanna is one that I agree with wholeheartedly: Hanna “remains the
most elusive and underrated of the great jazz pianists to emerge from Detroit at
mid-century.” Had I written that, I might have deleted “at mid-century.” That’s
the level of esteem that I hold for Hanna after admiring his body of work with
the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra all these years. 

The Curtis Fuller portrait is very good too, interlaced with interview material
that the author conducted. I took two quotes from it and placed them directly
into my Pepper bio. The same goes for the Joe Henderson chapter. Equally
excellent. Henderson’s last few years of popularity harken back to Charles
Mingus’ and Zoot Sims’ similar experience, and makes me wonder if Pepper
Adams would have benefited from the same fate, had he lived another few
years. Henderson was one of Pepper’s favorite tenor players, but I did have
to skim part of the portrait. The same goes for the Hank Jones section, even
though he appeared on several important Pepper Adams recordings.
Again, it’s somewhat peripheral for me at this juncture. The Thad and
Elvin Jones pieces, however, I read carefully, even though much of the
author’s superb Thad piece was serialized about a year ago in the Free Press.
I read it then with much admiration. 

The seven-page portrait of Elvin Jones has some wonderful parts. I
especially like the following, uttered by the tenor saxophonist Bobby Jasper,
since it helps explain why the New York critics had so much trouble grasping
Elvin’s style, and why Pepper Adams endured so much heat for retaining
him in his Five Spot band in 1958:

“Detractors said he was loud and confusing, and it took a while for many
musicians to feel comfortable with him. ‘He played so many strange
overlapping rhythms that I found it hard to hear the basic tempo,’
saxophonist Bobby Jaspar wrote in the Jazz Review in 1959. ‘I thought
that he was in poor form and just couldn’t keep time. . . Then, little
by little, I began to understand the mysteries of Elvin’s playing.’”

Mark Stryker has spent the better part of his career as a reporter and arts
writer for the Detroit Free Press. Now retired, I certainly hope that he stays
involved with jazz, particularly Detroit’s. As a sage, he could shepherd
the next two or three generations of research on Detroit’s extraordinary jazz
history. Wayne State, Michigan State, the University of Michigan: Are you
listening? It’s high time for a major research university within the state of
Michigan to finally establish the Detroit Institute of Jazz Studies, with
someone of Mark Stryker’s pedigree guiding it.