Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Blowin' Hot and Cool


© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Happy New Year everybody! We made it through 2020. A few days ago, on

New Year’s Eve, I sent my final draft of the first part of the Adams bio to two

readers for final comments and edits. After emailing them, in a rush of excite-

ment, I commanded my new Amazon Echo to play Pepper Adams, and, lo

and behold, the first tune it played was “Time on My Hands.” How prophetic!

In recognition of finally concluding my work on the biography, last week I de-

cided, as a kind of rite of passage, to finally read John Gennari’s exhaustive

study of jazz criticism that he published in 2005. I figured it’s the least I could

do, considering all the time he spent reviewing my Adams manuscript. If

nothing else, I thought, I could catch up on various topics, such as gender,

black, and literary studies, or the vicissitudes of the various culture wars, that

have ensued since I walked away from academia in the nineties. Maybe, too,

I could use snippets here and there as a clever way to do some fact-checking

on my bio, or even buttress some of my commentary with a few of his pithy


I say pithy because I’ve known John since around 1990, when I invited him to

write an article on the history of jazz criticism for an anthology of articles about

jazz literature I was editing for the Black American Literature Forum. Pithy, also,

because his keen intellect, expansive knowledge of jazz and American culture,

and wonderful prose style, I felt, was bound to reveal some clever turns of

phrase I could grab, or interesting perspectives to reconsider, for my bio at the

eleventh hour. 

Since the publication of his terrific article, Gennari spent the next fifteen years

researching the field, reading widely, and writing about his many observations.

The result is Blowin’ Hot and Cool: Jazz and Its Critics, one of the most

important books ever written about jazz. Jazz fans love to talk about “desert

island records,” the handful of indispensable recordings they would want with

them if they got marooned on a desert island a la Tom Hanks in Cast Away,

Similarly, Gennari’s book is definitely one of a handful of books that I’d want

with me if I was washed up somewhere. I recommend it to anyone who wants

a much fuller appreciation of the art form.

What Gennari has achieved is no less than a dazzling literature review of

jazz’s history, but as seen through the writings of many of its most distinguish-

ed English-language commentators. So many of the early jazz histories that

he discusses and comprised my very large and now defunct jazz library (that

I donated to Georgia State University) are books I’ve never had a chance to

read. Gennari summarizes each work with depth, showing how they in-

fluenced jazz discourse, commerce, and subsequent generations of writers.

Written with wit, unprecedented erudition, and an impressive command of the

subject, I was blown away by its breadth. To his credit, this monumental book

is not a history of jazz’s recordings or musicians per se, though the author

discusses many. Instead, unlike all other studies of jazz, he has moved the

focus from musicians to, as he writes, “the channels of distribution to make a

less static model of jazz.” In this manner he discusses how jazz critics served

as middle-men arbiters between the musicians and their audience, and he

analyzes their many sectarian arguments and how they influenced the history

of the music, all the while bringing to bear his deep understanding of gender,

literary, political/historical, and American cultural studies. 

Thumbing through the book, it’s amazing how much ground Gennari covers,

and it’s clear why he needed fifteen years to finish his exhaustive study.

There’s just nothing like it. Here’s someone who has listened widely, thought

deeply, and probably read more thoroughly about jazz than anyone before or

since. With his singular focus, he’s certainly a man after my own heart.

As a biographer, I greatly enjoyed all of the biographical portraits in the book.

Some, such as the ones about Leonard Feather and John Hammond, for

example, are rendered at considerable length and crafted with tremendous

grace. In the great Whitney Balliett tradition, they give the book a real sense

of immediacy, and nicely counterbalance some of his more weighty intellectual

forays. Further, they served as a source of nostalgia for me, rekindling my past

associations with a number of prominent jazz writers, most notably Martin

Williams, Nat Hentoff, Dan Morgenstern, Gary Giddins, Stanley Crouch, and

especially Albert Goldman, but also others I’ve come in contact with over the

years, such as Barry Ulanov, John Szwed, Bob Blumenthal, and Francis Davis.

It made me recall the time John Hammond popped in one day as a guest of

John Lewis’s, who was teaching the jazz history survey class I took at City

College of New York in the early 1980s. It also rekindled my memory of the

only experience I had with Nat Hentoff, when I needed to get his permission to

republish a piece he wrote on Miles Davis. How cranky and miserable a person

I felt he was; what a difficult shit, I was left thinking.

In Gennari’s description about record collectors’ zeal for hunting down obscure

recordings, I remembered those times in my teens when I took hour-long bus

rides from the northern New Jersey suburbs to the Port Authority bus station,

then walked to 42nd Street to comb record stores for obscure blues records

recorded by Arhoolie, Delmark, and other independent labels. In the 1970s,

42nd Street was really dicey. I always walked the streets really quickly and

moved with a palpable unease until I reached my destination.  

In the end, yes, Gennari’s book did help me ground some of the comments I

made in Reflectory, my forthcoming Adams bio. I added a few new quotes to

further contextualize my points, some regarding “The White Negro,” and how

the rock/youth culture affected jazz after Pepper Adams moved to New York


As I get my ideas together for a six-week jazz history class for college edu-

cated Georgian adults, I wonder how Gennari’s book will inform me. The class,

“Jazz Lives,” borrows its title from Michael Steinman’s blog, in which he says

that “lives” is both a verb and a noun. Will I lean towards the deification of four

or five jazz figures I’m covering? Will I present portraits of their lives? Maybe I

will come up with my own synthesis? I’m not sure, though the class begins on

January 13. One thing that still sings for me, and will serve as a kind of mantra

for the class, is this from Blowin’ Hot: “Because jazz demands that musicians

find their own sound and stamp their performances with a singular individuality,

those who succeed in music tend to be distinctive, singular individuals.” 

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Pre-Christmas Doings


Gosh, the year is soon coming to an end, something I think everyone

is eager to see. I've ben busy acclimating to the dry, high-altitude 

climate of Utah. It's quite beautiful and rugged here, but I'm not able

to enjoy the perks of living in a city due to COVID. Other than things

being close by and convenient, I can't visit the museums, or partake in 

the restaurants or nightlife.

Maybe that's partly a good thing? In the last few weeks, I've had the 

time to revise my entire Pepper Adams biography, making, in some cases, 

appreciable improvements. It's great to get some distance from the 

manuscript, thereby catching errors and improving its readability. I'm only 

waiting for the responses of a few readers before I begin formatting the book 

for publication. That process includes posting a number of previously 

unknown recordings to YouTube, and linking them to the book. Infusing the 

text with numerous links to the music I'm discussing is one advantage of 

producing an eBook. At around 400 pages, I'm envisioning a $19.99 price.

Is that a good value? Please let me know.

In the meantime, enjoy these newly restored videos, posted at pepperadams.com

They are four superb solos that Adams did in Montreal in 1978: 





Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Road Trip


(see below)

I’m writing from a hotel in Amarillo, Texas. I’ve reached the halfway point on my 2,000-mile journey from Atlanta to Salt Lake City. It’s taken three days to get this far, with about fifteen more hours of driving to go. The first day, my wife and I were dodging downed power lines and traffic jams as a result of a tropical storm that hit Atlanta very early that morning. I’ve heard recently that parts of the city are still without power, four days later. 

In Jackson, Mississippi, we stayed at a Hilton hotel that reeked from a combination of mold and some kind of Clorox COVID disinfectant. The hotel had been at least half empty since the outbreak. Fortunately, we were able to move to a slightly better room. Apart from a very tasty takeout pizza and salad, that gave us some momentary joy, we were mostly glad to get out of town.

Last night, we stayed at a really nice Hyatt Place hotel in Fort Worth, Texas. I had researched yet another high-end Italian eatery, and the late-night dinner agenda, again, was pizza and salad. After a second very long day of driving, we both drank our fair share of wine, and I passed out quickly. I was struck how aggressively the folks in Dallas/Fort Worth drive. At 80+ miles an hour on I-20, pushing ahead constantly, weaving and tailgating in multiple lanes, whether in trucks or cars, it reminded me of New York City’s frenetic pace.

Yesterday, we took, at least at first, an easy, uneventful 5-hour drive on U.S. Highway 287, from north of Fort Worth up to the Texas Panhandle. The weather was glorious, though the landscape, at least to Wichita Falls, were somewhat bland. About  thirty minutes after a rest stop there, we suddenly had to pull over to the side of the road due to an aggressive patrol car that was responding to an accident a little ways up the road. His approach to controlling traffic to one lane to protect that accident on the right side of the highway was really ambiguous. After subduing the cars behind us, he circled in front of our car, since we had dribbled a few hundred feet ahead before deciding to pull over, as we saw the cluster of cars do behind us. The cop, in dramatic fashion, got out of his vehicle, walked briskly towards us, asked me to “roll down” my window, after I gestured submissively with both hands, and said, pointing furiously to the left-most lane of the divided highway, and with a loud, testosterone-laden voice, “Drive in that  lane, drive slowly, and pay attention!” It was the closest anyone without a face mask had breathed on me in many months.

The road northwest to Amarillo is dotted with old, grim and grimy, mostly desolate small towns every thirty minutes or so, whose fortunes, if they ever had them, have long ago passed. Empty storefronts, piles of rubble and scrap metal, and impoverished homes, if not already completely deserted, were everywhere. We wondered what, if anything these folks do.

Sometime along the way, I got a voicemail from our Amarillo hotel, asking me to call them. They had some kind of “mechanical trouble,” and, because of that, “moved us to another hotel across the parking lot.” Fortunately, COVID is not too rife here. Both hotels, it turns out, were fully booked because of some local hockey event, and members of the team were staying at our hotel. Who attends these events during a pandemic?

We’re off to Santa Fe in a few hours, only four hours away. We’ll get a little bit of a break from the drudgery of driving, and unpacking and repacking our loaded Volkswagen. We’ll stay there two nights. I’ve always wanted to visit both Santa Fe and Taos, so it will be a welcome, scenic reprieve from the monotony of driving through the Plains. I just learned that Santa Fe is at 7,100 feet. I had no idea.

As for my Pepper Adams work, obviously that has been put on hold as I relocate. I did give a memorable remote lecture to Jim Merod’s Ellington and Armstrong class a week or so ago at Soka University. Before this road trip, I was supposed to get a copy of Philip Roth’s novel Indignation  so I could look for some coloristic descriptions of the Korean War and its effect on the servicemen who fought there to ideally bring a little more life to my chapter on Pepper’s military experience. That book never made it to my local library before I left town. My able reader John Gennari suggested three upgrades to Chapter 10, only one of which I was able to address before I left, and I’m awaiting Brian Priestley’s reading of Part Two (“Dominion”) for his assessment. Both Merod and M.L. Liebler will be reading the manuscript soon, too, so there might be some more tweaks. I still need to make improvements of my own to Chapter 10, and to 7 to much lesser degree. Then I can focus on formatting it for publication.

I just learned that Amarillo is the 14th most populated city in Texas, With a population of about 200,000 people, it’s surprisingly high in elevation. I don’t remember climbing at all on the drive up here. Maybe it’s because I was too busy stuffing my face with the two burrito bowls that I bought at Chipotle? At nearly 3,600 feet, it explains the cold nights, and snow that landed a few days ago. Rock salt was strewn about on the front walk of the hotel. 

We’re off to more striking vistas. I’ll circle back in a month. I hope everyone in the U.S. has a wonderful Thanksgiving. I’m especially looking forward to it, finally being reunited with my daughter after a two year hiatus. 

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 lulu.com

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.”