Monday, June 1, 2020

The Homestretch

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

I’m only a few weeks away from finishing Chapter Ten of the Pepper Adams
biography. It’s the last one that I still have to complete, Chapter Eleven, already
written, is my summation of his life and accomplishments. Ten includes my lengthy
discussion of the ByrdAdams Quintet, plus a section about Adams's post-West
Coast work in late 1957. I've recently updated subchapters on Monk, Mingus,
Bobby Timmons, critics, heroin use, and living with Elvin Jones, among other
topics. All that's left is to polish what’s written, discuss Pepper's only known original
poem, write about his time on the West Coast and with Stan Kenton, and then
finish up my concluding comments about Adams’s first months in NYC. I have tons
of notes, so it should move quickly. I hope in a month’s time I can report to you that
the book is finished.

Considering all of the anxiety and anguish that’s being experienced all over the
world, here’s an excerpt from Chapter Eight regarding Pepper’s sense of humor:

Although Pepper Adams at root was a very private person, his friends knew him
as a funny guy with an extremely wry sense of humor. “That cat had one of the
keenest and quickest wits,” said the bassist Ray Drummond. The first time that
Adams met the young baritone saxophonist Howard Johnson was in Boston in
1962, when he and the drummer Tony Williams asked Adams to sit in at his gig
at Connolly’s. At the time, Howard Johnson’s was a well-known U.S. restaurant
chain, noted for its ice cream that was widely sold in supermarkets throughout
the country. When it came time for Johnson to step up to the bandstand and play
a number, Adams ad-libbed his brief introduction: “Here’s Howard Johnson,
who is responsible for the ice cream flavor mint clam.” 

Kenny Burrell felt that Pepper’s sense of humor was indicative of his “keen
intellect and a great awareness of current events. “He was a funny guy,” said
Burrell, “but it wasn’t just funny in terms of old wisecracks. He was right up to
date on what was happening.” Bob Wilber agreed that Adams was an amusing
guy. “He had a marvelous sense of humor,” said Wilber. “He could see the funny
things, the ironic things.” One such example took place at a saxophone clinic,
when a student asked members of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis reed section who
they suggested aspiring players like himself should copy. When it was Pepper’s
turn to respond, he broke up everyone in attendance by responding, “If you copy
from one person, it’s plagiarism. If you copy from everybody, it’s research.”

The saxophonist Bob Mover remembered a hilarious moment in Cambridge,
Massachusetts at Adams’s early April, 1982 gig at the Hasty Pudding Club.
When he, Pepper, and the guitarist Joe Cohn were trying to decide what tune
to play, Pepper said, “Let’s do one everybody knows, like Death and
Transfiguration.” Another time, before a concert in New York and very ill
with cancer, the photographer Mitchell Seidel asked Adams if he felt good
enough to play. “It beats staying at home pondering the term ‘life expectancy,’”
was his mordant response. 

Adams liked using puns and one-liners. On the birth of Bess Bonnier’s child,
Adams called her with congratulations, leaving on her answering machine the
concluding quip, “We all knew you had it in you.” Occasionally, rather than
use profanity, Pepper enjoyed using silly euphemisms a la the comedian W.C.
Fields, such as “mother of pearl” or “Godfrey Daniels.” When he told an
amusing story, he would wait a few seconds, with a deadpan expression or a
half-smile on his face, before breaking into laughter.

“He always had me in stitches,” said Frank Foster. “I saw him as a great
American humorist.” Foster spent a lot of time laughing at Pepper’s comments
while they were members of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis reed section. He felt
that Adams, much like the Danish pianist and comedian Victor Borge, could
have very successfully combined music and humor if he had chosen that route. 

In the right setting, Adams enjoyed doing physical comedy bits on stage. In 1960,
at Montreal’s Little Vienna, the guitarist and harmonica player Toots Thielemans
dropped by to sit in with Pepper. Thielemans was in town, working with the singer
and actor Yves Montand. “Toots was playing harmonica,” wrote Keith White,
“and Pepper was doing some bits with his cigarette. He would put it in his mouth
by manipulating his lips, as if to swallow it, and then he would pop it out again.
During one of these episodes, he inhaled deeply, the cigarette was flipped back into
his mouth by his lips maneuvering it, and then he just looked at the audience for a
moment, who didn’t know what exactly to expect, when, suddenly, smoke seemed
to shoot out of both of his ears! Everybody started to break up. Toots even had to
stop playing for a moment.” 

Sometimes he would try to amuse himself. “He was a very warm, outgoing person,”
remembered Ron Kolber, “misunderstood because some people did not appreciate
his sense of humor. They didn’t know what to make of it. They always thought he
was putting them on. If a friend of his would say, ‘I’ll see you later, Pepper,’ he
would say, ‘Thanks for the warning’ or ‘Don’t threaten me,’” and then utter his
customary, idiosyncratic chortle. Adams had a great smile, recalled Ray Mosca, and
Pepper’s ears would stick up like an elf. 

Plenty of musicians admired the droll wit that Adams exuded in his saxophone
solos. One time, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra was playing for a large group
of jazz fans in Belgium, who rented space for their get-togethers above a police
station. “Pepper’s right in the middle of “Once Around,” remembered John Mosca,
“which is a fast, minor solo for him. He’s burning away, really tearing it up, and a
police car comes with a siren on, and he goes right into “I Don’t Want to Set the
World on Fire.” I swear, right in the middle of this solo, and it broke everybody up.
It was very funny!” Another time, when Jones/Lewis was performing a concert at
an amphitheater in Italy, the venue had also been presenting Verdi’s Aida. “Most of
the stage had been cleared,” wrote Lucinda Chodan, “but the props for the opera –
Egyptian-style artifacts – cluttered one side, in full view of the audience. When it
came to Adams’s first solo, his big baritone blasted out a couple of bars of Celeste
Aida, one of the opera’s arias. The crowd was impassive. Thad Jones was laughing
so hard he had to stop playing.”


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: