Monday, October 5, 2020

Not Quite in the Rearview Mirror


First, my apologies for not posting anything last month. I was very distracted by my upcoming cataract surgery, all the preparation necessary for it, and my move from Georgia to Utah. Fortunately, since then, both eyes have been done, all is well, and the move looks more likely, beginning on Oct 29th.

Thanks to the recommendation of one of my able readers, I’ve decided to publish the entire Adams biography as one eBook. Since I wrote the second half much quicker than expected quickly, there’s no longer any reason to publish them piecemeal. To do so, however, will necessitate more editing, of course, that will likely delay its publication. I’ll keep you updated, and I’m really eager to finally get the book out.

Many thanks to Noal Cohen for sending me a copy of an AFM contract that affirms a slightly modified date (July 10, 1957) for Pepper’s Mode recording, his first date as a leader.

I also want to thank Jim Merod for writing a foreword to the Adams biography. His, with the one written by Chick Corea, certainly enhance the book. I’ve also asked Gary Smulyan to write a few words. 

I’ll be giving a bunch of Zoom lectures about Adams in the next few weeks. The first one, for the University of Wisconsin, takes place on October 8th, Pepper’s 90th birthday. Others will be for Soka University, San Jose State University, Texas State University, and the University of Minnesota.

Monday, August 3, 2020

July doings

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

We made it to August. How about that? Predictably, the weather in the Southeast has been hot and humid, and COVID is still with us. The recent spike in reported cases has kept me away from the city. In fact, I haven’t heard a live jazz band in at least a year. That’s not a good thing at all.

My July was mostly consumed by getting ready to move west from Georgia to Utah. Packing, donating, discarding, repairing, throwing stuff away, letting go of formerly cherished things: that’s been my gig. Packing has given me a much needed break from the Pepper Adams book project. And distance is a really good thing. Whenever I get back to it after a layoff, I find small details that I didn’t see before; things that need tweaking, areas that need upgraded transitions, or sometimes even sections that need to be moved around.

Just yesterday I heard from Walt Szymanski, the Detroit trumpeter who now lives in Ecuador. He read the first four chapters of the Adams biography, and is planning to review the entire book in Spanish. He told me how he “devoured” the first half in two days, eagerly reading about many of the musicians who he worked with while living in Detroit, such as Charles Boles, J.C. Heard, Sam Sanders, Johnny Allen, Marcus Belgrave, Johnny Allen, Harold McKinney, and Ali Muhammad Jackson. 

Getting his email prompted me to return to Chapter 1. A few weeks ago, I had moved some sections around, thanks to the suggestions of Bob Blumenthal. Sure enough, besides making a few very minor improvements, I’m now also considering upgrading one transition to an entire section I moved from Ch. 4. 

As for Chapters 5-11 that comprise the second half of the book, I’m awaiting feedback regarding Chapter 10 from one reader, then it goes out to another. My longest chapter, 10 covers the rich period 19551963. It basically functions as the ending of the biography per se, and it includes my discussion of some of Pepper’s key recordings from that time period, all the way back to his arrival in New York City. 


Designing a narrative structure in reverse chronological order for the second half, beginning with his final illness, was challenging because, unlike the first part, I had to interlace so much information about Adams’s recordings and keep everything flowing. The approach I came up with was a kind of terracing, with Ch. 6 fitting in with the overall time frame of 5, and 8 doing the same with 7. Ch. 9, about Pepper's various women, deserved its own chapter.

Taking the book back to 1956 and his arrival in New York was my way of linking Ch. 510 to the opening of my conclusion in Ch. 11: "What became of the teenager who was so bedazzled by Charlie Parker? Did he accomplish what he set out to do in 1949?" I wrote my summation many months ago, so I'd know my ultimate destination.

Here’s how the second half of the biography, subtitled “Dominion,” now lays out:

PART ONE: The Life of Pepper Adams

Dominion (19561986)

Chapter 5: I Carry Your Heart                                   

Chapter 6: Joy Road

Chapter 7: Conjuration                                    

Chapter 8: Civilization and Its Discontents

Interlude: The Late 1960’s New York Jazz Scene                                                                                                       

Civilization and Its Discontents (Part II)

Chapter 9: Lovers of Their Time Chapter 10: Urban Dreams       Interlude: Bohemian New York in the 


Urban Dreams (Part II) Chapter 11: Ad Astra

I’ll include a finding guide to Dominion’s contents next month. As for the publication of “Ascent,” my title for Chapters 1-4, I’m only awaiting Joshua Breakstone’s comments on Chapters 3 and 4. I’ll make the changes, reread the entire thing, and send it off to Barry Wallenstein for his final reading. After that, I’ll be ready to format it for publication. Be well everybody. I’ll catch up with you in September. Hopefully, my house will be sold by then.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

After Three Years, It's Done!

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Sorry for the delay in posting this. I’m very pleased to finally report that I have completed writing the Pepper Adams biography. After a few more rounds of editing of my last three chapters, it’s now in the hands of my readers to make suggestions and corrections.

The first four chapters will make up the first eBook. Once I hear about chapters 3 and 4 from my final two reviewers, I’ll be ready to format it for publication on

It’s been a fascinating journey, and I’m so happy it’s in the rear-view mirror. Here’s Adams’s comments about Thelonious Monk from Chapter 10:

Monk was “wildly eccentric,” said Adams. “and so much so, and so unstable, that I think crazy is probably apt, which by no means is to denigrate what he did musically, because he knew what he was doing.”

And his personal eccentricities, I think, sometimes tended to hide the fact that he was not your untaught genius-off-the-streets type. He was a thoroughly schooled, grounded musician, and knew just what he was doing. But what he was doing was a lot different from what other people were doing, but he had sound musical reasons for that. But his behavior patterns were sometimes so wildly eccentric that I think it gave many people the impression that this all carried over into his music. But to me they were two very separate compartments of the person. His music is highly individual, but it’s fine music, and it makes sense in a very individual manner, which I think is its great value in that it is so different. But he himself could be wildly unstable, irrational, very unpredictable to be around. I never saw him violent, at any rate, but I’ve seen him very obstinate!

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.